What It Means To Be A Native

mothernature

In this time and age, you hear indigenous people saying, “This time is a good time to be a Native”.

What does ‘Native’ mean, and what does the statement mean?

‘Native’ is a term used by Native Americans when they refer to themselves as indigenous peoples of the Americas. But since I’m not going to talk about Native Americans only, I interchangeably use the term ‘indigenous peoples’ as this term has a broader scope, geographically and politically speaking.

In my understanding, the statement “this time is a good time to be a Native” implies that compared to a time in the past, this time is a good time for indigenous peoples to show-up as they are. They are now freer to wear their Native identities, even as they find themselves living in a predominantly non-indigenous setting where upheld standards and values are maybe different, and may even be detrimental to their very existence. This time is a better time for Natives because compared to a time in the past, they no longer have to deal with much of the burden their ancestors have had to deal with during the times of colonization, occupation, and enforced acculturation and assimilation.

I could, of course, be wrong. For many indigenous peoples around the world, this time could still be as difficult as in the past. Indigenous peoples the world over have undergone different hardships and levels of resiliency, but one thing they still suffer from in this post-colonial era is their marginalization. Their grievances are real. And this is why they are categorized to belong to the Fourth World*.

Living closely and harmoniously with nature is one thing indigenous peoples are known for. To this day, they occupy natural and mineral resource rich territories which are the continuing source of conflict and clashes between them and governments that are backed by capitalist companies that are seeking to explore and exploit these remaining protected areas.

What would happen if the remaining natural environment is poisoned and destroyed by mining and logging? Where will the indigenous inhabitants build their self-sustaining communities. Where will they plant their food and where will they bury their dead? Removing a person from the natural environment he or she is best suited to thrive in is fatal; it is like depriving fish of water. As the most knowledgeable people of their ecosystem, and as longtime stewards of nature, when indigenous peoples continue to be incapacitated, reduced, or even wiped out off the Planet, the natural world, and the Native peoples’ centuries-old knowledge of the natural world, will likely perish with them.

Real great minds, advanced technology, and nature can co-exist as they complement one another, but shortsightedness and greed are something else.

The topic about indigenous people is close to my heart. For one thing, I am indigenous. For another thing, I feel a bigger purpose for being indigenous.

For being indigenous, I was able to make it to the top university in my country through its educational affirmative action program for indigenous students. Then as an indigenous student, I was hand-picked and fully sponsored to participate in various educational programs and extra-curricular activities. Other students (non-indigenous) either had to pay their costs or had to demonstrate exceptional academic excellence in order to get strong recommendations from university mentors. Scholarship providers and foreign universities favored me not because I was the smartest-ass among the other applicants vying for exactly the same grants. In fact, some of my peers graduated with honors while I did not. Yet I had been “a chosen one”, I presumed, it was because I’m indigenous while the others are not. At that time, my indegeneity was the only observable difference between me and them.

This is why I feel deeply for the cause of indigenous peoples.

While I am very grateful for all the privileges that came my way, and thankful to all the people I had the opportunity to interact with, I don’t feel indebted to the governments and business companies that unconditionally and generously paid me to study any course I was interested in, in the international private universities that I chose to study in. While they paid for my foreign travels, while they wined and dined me and showed me the world, I did not forget the reason why I was having those beautiful experiences.

The reason is because I am indigenous. Being indigenous gave me the edge to be a representative of something different.

My scholarship providers, or rather, their human representatives, had their own reasons for choosing me. I could only guess some of their possible reasons. Perhaps they thought of me and my ’cause’ (no matter how vague it was at that time) as exotically appealing? Or they felt I was someone to be pitied for coming from a marginalized society in whose lands their roaring machines were busily hauling gold, silver, copper and iron from? Or they genuinely sympathized with me, awed by my idealism, and moved by my seemingly strong sense of purpose? Or, it could also simply be that they were intrigued and amused by my youthful brazenness and audacity.

So for me, what does it mean to be a Native?

While I sympathize with the many Native People who are bitter about the horrendous events done in the past and frustrated by ongoing imprudent exploitation of remaining Native lands, while I’m fully aware of the past and present grievances of ‘my people’, I believe that amidst all these hardships, to forgive and to show compassion is an inherent Native trait – at least, as long as I can remember, forgiveness and compassion are primary indigenous values my elders always reminded me of.

Meanwhile, many spiritual practitioners and spiritual gurus teach that there is nothing wrong with the Planet as nature knows how to regenerate, restore, balance and heal herself. They are right. And that’s why we are here. We are an integral part of this Nature who is self-healing, restoring, and regenerating herself. Those of us who feel strongly called to do something for the environment are spawned by Nature herself to tell stories of caring, of healing, of balance, of compassion, of restoration and harmonious co-existence.

Now is really a good time for Native Peoples around the world to come out and share their stories, may it be a sad or a happy story, may it be to teach or to simply amuse and entertain – for the benefit of all humanity – Natives and Non-Natives alike.

This time is called the Age of Communication for a reason.

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Happy EARTH DAY everyone!

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* The First Worlds are the rich countries. The Second Worlds, arguably, are the socialist countries. The Third Worlds are the poor countries. And the Fourth Worlds, where the indigenous peoples belong to, are the poorest or most disadvantaged of all.

Allu Kuy

Allu Kuy

“Allu Kuy” 48″ x 36″ Oil on Canvas, 2015, by JEF CABLOG

I don’t know why this enigmatic painting was named after me. I have not talked about it with the artist, yet. I presume it was named after me because it was spelled exactly the way I spell my name; the artist could have spelled it different way if he wanted to. And he painted this after  reading my story.

I do not look like the subject in the painting, neither does my grandma (the shamanic mentor mentioned in my story), look like her.

So I take this opportunity to talk about my name.  ‘Allu Kuy’, in my mother tongue, refers to the invisible spirit beings that roam the dense virgin forests surrounding my hometown. At some point in my people’s history, the Allu Kuy were so influential that the townsfolk were very respectful, even to the point of being slightly fearful of them. As a result, when villagers go to the forest to hunt, to fell trees or gather herbs, or to clear a part of the forest for farming, they have to be very considerate, respectful and careful of their activities so as not to disturb and disadvantage these spirit forces whose main job and purpose is to look after the well-being of the forest environment.

My people believe that everything comes from the  Creator, and that every set of creation is special and equal in the Creator’s eyes. Grandma always told me that just like us, human beings, who live in village and town settlements, the Allu Kuy who inhabit the forests have their own houses, families and children to take care of, and that the forests and mountains are their respective territories to also protect. The same is true with rivers and creeks which are also inhabited by another group of spirit beings that must also be acknowledged and respected by human beings.

So when the villagers went to the forests to fell big trees, they asked for permission from the spirit beings that live there. When they hunted animals for consumption, they asked for permission and offered tokens as an act of reciprocation.

From my grandmother’s stories, I understood that all of us, creation-beings, live in parallel universes even within planet Earth. And each type of creation-being has its own designation. These parallel dimensions interweave and the beings within each dimension interact on various tangible and intangible levels. There is no hierarchy and no stratification; each one is different  in configuration but equal in essence. To maintain and foster harmonious co-existence, respect and consideration are expected from each set of creation-being. Otherwise, there would be ramifications.

laketufub

One of my hometown lakes during summer

These spirit beings inhabiting the rivers, mountains, fields, etc., are usually minding their own roles in their respective territories. As they were not configured to carry material bodies, nor do they build material structures, to survive, they practically do not need anything from the human-being group of creations. Only when they are disturbed or provoked by human beings, through the latter’s inconsiderate, destructive and greedy activities, that these spirit beings get back at humans.

Back  to the painting above, I am guessing that the subject’s peculiar expression gives us a hint on what the artist may have had in mind when he painted it. If you look closely at the painting, especially the background, you would see eyes, faces, and other obscure images or formations. These are the Allu Kuy, and the human in the painting feels their presence.