Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Surviving the Alien Invasion

Stephan Hawking, noted celebrity physicist was quoted the other day as saying that contacting alien life is too risky. "We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn't want to meet," he says. Any alien species might burn through the resources of its home planet and search for new areas to exploit. "Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach," Hawking says. Far from being a benign visit by benevolent aliens, it might be more like Christopher Columbus' first trip to America, "which didn't turn out every well for the native Americans," he says.

Well no duh, huh.

And who would want to be oppressed? It sucks. Imagine all those poor white people, chained and broken, forced onto little plots of land to eke out what pitiful survival they could until the galactic masters either got bored with them and finished the job or simply drifted away to another planet to reap its resources.

Oh man, who would want that?

Ask me what it was like. It happened to my people, and countless others who were the indigenous people of a place. We know all about it, and could tell you some stories. Some of us died outright. Others were assimiliated. Still others prevail.

Here on Turtle Island, those of us who remain are survivors. Survivors of smallpox, war, genocide, conversion to the colonial invaders’ religion, residential schools, family breakdown, alcoholism, drug abuse, despair and racism. We survived all of that. And it wasn’t because we laid down and took it either. It’s because those of us who survived it cultivated a core deep inside ourselves made of resistance. We were able to find ways of sheltering our customs, languages, religions, rituals, and tribal lore. We were wily, adapting to what the other culture offered, taking from that what we needed to survive, to get our numbers back from the brink of extinction, to protect the languages from being lost forever, for teaching our children the legends and stories of our Old Days and ways, and defying the colonial government when it came to take the last of our lands. We survived, and thrive today, because some of us were able to live in defiance, in resistance.

That living in defiance has shaped so much of my character, it’s hard to see where I learned it or where it began. It seems to be inherent in so many of the people that I know, that I grew up with, in my family and the community that I come from.

Defiance and resistance are as natural to us as breathing. We’re formidable, tall and strong and stony in our silence and our resolve. But when you get to know us we are funny, and caring, and smart. There’s still so much more work to do in our communities, in remaking our culture and reclaiming what is rightfully ours, but we will do it. We can’t help it. We were made to defy, and to adapt, and to endure. And maybe that’s what is at the heart of it. A stubborn, firm belief in our inherent right to exist, to be the People Building a Longhouse Together, and to know that we will prevail.

The older I get, the more I realize that my individual choices – the music I like, the books I read, the politics I choose to practice, and even my job – all of these are representative of a person who is shaped by resistance, and by defiance. First and foremost, I have always been something of a rebel yell. And remain so. Even as I live in the colonizer’s world and speak their language and bend to their rules and their tribal customs, in my heart I remain a woman of the Kanienkah’keh, of the Haudenosaunee, and that identity is born in the blood. Even if I don’t, at first glance, look it -- this is what I am. A warrior, a survivor. A survivor of an alien invasion.

Now real alien masters -- that may be a tad different.

But take heart, Stephan. It can be done!