All land in North America is Indigenous land. Yet too often Indigenous peoples’ past and present relationship with the landscape is not discussed as though it was part of this continent’s history. The stories of cities, states, and the United States itself are told as if they began only when White settlers arrived. In these narratives, if Indigenous people mentioned at all, they are usually given only a few token sentences or are treated as merely passive players in the history of a place.
In reality, Indigenous peoples actively shaped every place in North America long before Europeans arrived, and have continued doing so right up to the present. Indigenous people have also shown astonishing resilience in the face of genocide, and through activism and education have increasingly made their presence felt in educational, political, and cultural institutions. Only Indigenous people themselves can speak fully and authentically to their communities’ experience; however, those of us descended from settlers also have a responsibility to educate ourselves about Indigenous history that helped shape the world we live in today. We must also learn about the wrongs committed against Indigenous peoples by White settlers, so we can work toward correcting past and present injustices.
It is with this in mind that Reconnect Earth is organizing Decolonizing Bellingham’s Landscape on Sunday, March 10th, an event where folks from any background are invited to join us on a walk through Bellingham’s downtown and waterfront areas during which we’ll discuss Indigenous history associated with places and things we encounter. We’ll also talk about the colonization of Washington and the forcible removal of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral territories. Sign up to join us here.
This is not a highly formal or scholarly event: it’s just a group of people getting together to share information and try to educate ourselves about a hugely important piece of local history. It’s also very important to note this is not a substitute for learning directly from Indigenous people themselves. That is the only way to learn authentically about the Indigenous experience (to the extent settlers can ever understand an experience which is not part of our own cultural heritage). At the same time, we recognize Indigenous community leaders in and around Bellingham are being asked more and more often to speak to and educate settlers. While this is encouraging in some ways, it’s also important to realize these leaders have many demands on their time and cannot be expected to do all the work of educating others.
As an important part of this Reconnect Earth trip we’ll discuss local opportunities to learn directly from Indigenous educators in ways that respect their time, and we strongly encourage participants to take full advantage of those opportunities. Our goal for this event is to give folks some foundation in basic history with which to go into deeper conversations about the Indigenous past and present. We can’t stress enough any learning which takes place on this trip will be only a small first step toward gaining an understanding of local Indigenous history.
By organizing Decolonizing Bellingham’s Landscape, we’re trying to strike a balance between helping folks educate themselves about Indigenous history, and encouraging everyone to go much farther by learning directly from Indigenous teachers. Are we getting it right? Honestly, we’re not completely sure–but we plan to give it a try and are open to constructive feedback. We feel not trying at all would be by far the worst option.
Please join us on this journey toward a more accurate understanding of Bellingham’s and Washington’s history. We’ll be meeting at Holly and Commercial Street at 11:00am on Sunday, March 10th. Sign up to RSVP here.