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  • Kelly Limes-Taylor

Once upon a Time, Part 1

Updated: Jun 4

Let me re-tell you a story.

Throughout their existence, most humans have, at some time or another, abandoned the life of the migrating herd for other ways of being, congregating into ever-larger groups and refusing movement. The inevitable resource depletion caused by this refusal to move on – the refusal to let the living Earth replenish herself – led to fear and stress, and the settled humans would become aggressive in their dismay.

The humans would address this fear and stress in a variety of ways – sometimes in ways that made their existence more beautiful, and sometimes in ways that made their existence very ugly.

Though they were settled and no longer moving, humans could not escape the ups and downs, ebb and flow that all created beings experience. Sometimes, the settled humans remembered they were part of this cycle. When they did not, life became harder for both the humans and the other created beings around them.

The humans had a long history of cycling through settled life, with their settlements beginning, growing, ending, and fading back into the earth.

They were used to it. It became normal for them.

Occasionally, a group of settled humans would become particularly aggressive, crashing through nearby settlements and lands, and claiming them as their own. While these bellicose humans were subject to the same cycles of beginning, growing, and ending that limit all created beings, they would forget or ignore the inevitability of the cycle. They would convince themselves that their people and their ways would exist forever – and that they were the exception– though they were not.

Then came the time when a group of particularly aggressive humans came to this Land. Like aggressive ones of the past, they crashed through, claiming all things in their path. They killed everyone that stood in their way and assumed possession of the Land, though they had no knowledge of it.

While these actions were not unfamiliar to human existence, a peculiar new thing began to emerge in this time: the all-encompassing lie.

Thomas King once said, “[t]he truth about stories is that that’s all we are.”[i] This is true, I believe. It’s why I’m telling you this story now. When we each go the way of all created beings, when we melt back into our Mother, all that will be left of us are stories told about us. This is true of individual humans. This is true of groups of humans. So while darkness on this Land began with this group of aggressive ones crashing through, darkness remains because of the false stories used to justify who they have been and what they have done.

Soon after coming here, the powerful among them began to deny or excuse events the horrors that occurred. They began to make up stories about the people and places they hurt. They taught this denial to their children and forced the hesitant among them to concede to these specious revisions. Those who resisted would be killed, either quickly or slowly.

While this sort of behavior had been reserved for the particularly terrible rulers of the yore, it was now perpetrated on a wider scale; indeed, this denial of truth and insistence on falsehood became the way of knowing and being for the peoples new to this Land:

  1. The aggressive ones claimed that all other the created beings were the aggressors and, thus, needed to be controlled, tamed, managed, or eliminated.

  2. They claimed that no other knowledge existed outside of what they knew, and that anything they knew was their own original knowledge.

  3. They claimed that all things good were from them or theirs to use; all bad things were an aberration.

  4. They claimed all that truly mattered was them. Knowing or thinking otherwise was betrayal.

  5. They claimed that there was no history outside of theirs. There is no nation outside of the one they made up. Nothing was real unless they said it was real.

While such inculcation seems irrational, it was for a particular purpose: these aggressive ones did all they could to physically supplant the nations already existing on this Land or stolen from other ones, but they could only successfully create their own nation that justifiably and reasonably existed by also mentally supplanting the previous nations.

Perhaps they assumed this because the previous nations of the Land had no reason not to exist – they were not eliminated due to their own hostility or wrongdoing, for example. The aggressive ones simply came and stole what was not theirs, which was an untenable act even in their own moral and religious systems. The aggressive ones likely understood that their new nation shouldn’t exist, but they still desired/demanded its existence anyway. Some among them, then, knew that in order to erase the pre-existing nations and create a new one, they would have to do so both on the Land and in the mind.

All peoples on this Land were expected to accept and live by this aggressive new nation’s claims. If they refused or resisted, they would be pushed toward their own deaths, whether quickly and slowly.

In the same way that swallowing any untruth poisons the heart and mind, however, the aggressors’ way of knowing and being threatened the health of all living on this Land (both human and non-human), just as it threatened the Land itself. Though these untruths were meant to be swallowed, there was too much real-life evidence pointing to the terrible things happening on the Land. The dissonance between the righteous stories of the new nation and the gloomy lived reality was too much to take, too hard to live with.

As the years passed, some of the aggressive ones came to understand that teaching children this denial of reality – this new nation’s story of itself – meant that, eventually, most people in the Land would refuse to believe their reality and adhere to their myths. They would ignore what they know to be true in their heart and gut. They would deny their own body- and spirit-knowing, and instead defer to what they were told. The aggressive ones believed that these teachings would finally, really transform the narratives of what occurred on this Land from unhappy memories to the fabrications of a made-up nation. They could redefine the rights of existing on the Land and re-establish who should have those rights. And they believed that these teachings could happen through schooling.

But I am here to tell you that, two hundred years on, there are many, many of us from the supposedly-supplanted nations who know we should not believe the myths of a made-up one. Especially when that nation is predicated upon our erasure.

I am here to tell you a story about those of us who have not, in fact, been supplanted. About those of us who refuse to look to others’ legends to guide us – particularly when those legends were never meant for our good. A story about those of us who cannot hand over ourselves or our children.

This story is not new, but aspects of it have been hidden, ignored, or mis-told. I hope that this story, just like any story, will get as close as possible to the essence of past events or to the hope of what’s to come, since the only truly accurate thing is the present moment. And this story is not just one, but is many stories bound by resistance, true health, and love.

If all we are is stories, let those of the still-present nations tell our own, so that they can stand up against the pervasive myths of this age.  Let us rend these falsehoods with our truths until we find ourselves whole.

So our children can know us as whole. So that our children can be whole.

Let me re-tell you a story.

[i] Thomas King, “The Art of Indigenous Knowledge: A Million Porcupines Crying in the Dark,” in Handbook of the Arts in Qualitative Research, ed. J. Gary Knowles and Ardra L. Cole (Los Angles: Sage, 2008).

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