Wa.e ak.we Seattle DSA. That means hello in Tlingit. But what it really means is, “Is it you?” That’s how we greet each other.
Wa saa iyatee? How are you doing tonight? Wa saa iyatee?
I am here tonight giving the land acknowledgement for Seattle DSA as a Native Alaskan who grew up here on Coast Salish land, and I want to thank the Duwamish and Coast Salish peoples for their stewardship not just of this land but of the cultural values they continue to uphold, many of which my people, the Tlingit, share.
I want to thank the local tribes for your activism, both historical and present. Seattle is named after one of the most famous Native American activists. But it is also still named after the local tribes’ oppressors, in an act of continued violence: think of all the places named Stevens, after a former governor who ran on an anti-Indian platform.
Think of all the places in this city named after settlers who took this land, often violently, and changed it in ways that severely and permanently disrupted the ways of life and ecological systems that had been in place for thousands of years.
Now think of the power that it takes, after more than 100 years of active oppression, to keep fighting for your home, your basic rights, your language. Think of the strength- you know how hard it is to live in the struggle.
At DSA, we understand the importance of language: we use words like “comrades”, “class warfare”, “the oppression of capitalism”, “solidarity”. We tell our stories with these words because of the way they feel inside of us. These words shape the ways we see the world.
My people, we are storytellers. Words shape us. These native languages have been physically beat out of our tribes’ children, because they are powerful. Because they shape the ways we see the world. But we are holding them still, bringing them new life, fighting violence with active and persistent learning and teaching.
Because what worlds would be lost if we gave up our languages? What ways of seeing the world?
Look at the strength of the tribes of this place. Look at the words: “land back”, “decolonize”, “imperialism”, or the remembrance and use of even a few words in original tongues. The acknowledgement of Cedar, of Salmon, if you write them down as proper nouns.
Notice how these words feel in your body: “Friends” versus “my people” versus “comrades” to refer to your fellows in struggle.
None of us is free until all of us are free. Please take this moment of acknowledgement to think not just about the land, but about the people that occupy this place, including me, including you.
Think about what it would take to decolonize your spaces, your ways of life, the words you use to tell stories inside your own mind. I will give you silence for a moment.
Gunalcheesh ho ho. Thank you, my friends.