Years ago, the late Princess Chee Chee Thunderbird Haile first reminded me what “sacred space” means.
On Tuesday, August 25, I was among a group of allies who joined Shinnecock Nation tribal members outside the Southampton Town Hall to once again, after 20 years of trying, decry the desecration of tribal burial grounds, making way for white people’s mansions. There’s no other way to say it.
When Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman came to greet those assembled, instead of appearing like a talk show host, letting the group know he would answer questions, dodge and bow and twirl, he could have changed the story, could have noticed the burning, could have recognized that we are living in the time of “the great turning.”
He could have walked out of the red brick settler colonial hall, into the circle, and looked into the eyes of Rebecca Genia, Jennifer Cuffee, Denise Silva Dennis, the young ones playing and listening, and all sitting and standing with masks in the 90-degree heat. He could have said: I acknowledge that I am standing on the tribal lands and waters of the Shinnecock people. I honor the elders, past, present and future. I know that I have not properly heard before. I know that I have not properly acted.
I am here to listen. I am here to respect my neighbors who have suffered the most egregious brutalities, the most virulent virus, relentless attempts by those inside the walls of this building and throughout these towns, villages and states, to erase, diminish, and disregard the rights and cultures of the original caretakers of this land.
But I am here to learn now, to begin to understand that no amount of money, no Realtor, back pocket, no light skin, or price tag can equal the meaning of a loved one’s grave; that it is up to a people to decide how they will live and how they will say goodbye to the bodies of their beloveds as the spirits move in their journeys.
I am here not to ask forgiveness, not to get reelected, not to be popular, not to go down in the books as less racist, but to become a stone on the path of change, so that tomorrow I might look at my children, at my constituents, look in the mirror, and know that I’ve taken one tiny step away from denial and supremacy and moved closer to the guidance of the soul. Perhaps, today, I can make some “good trouble,” to quote the late Congressman John Lewis. By doing something different.
That is what he could have said.
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One fine body…