On October 14, 2017, I did a project for Skowhegan Performs at Socrates Sculpture Park, in Queens. For this performance I gathered wild plants from the park and cooked them on a small homemade rocket stove I had brought with me, to produce a magic potion. I told participants that drinking this potion would aid in the decolonization process that we so desperately need to go through, and served it to them. The plants in the magic potion included mulberry leaf, pine needles, rose hips, rose petals, mint, sumac, and mugwort. It tasted pretty good too.
COLONIZATION is EATING US UP: a WILD TEA PARTY
A performance project using the edible wild plants growing around the park. I harvest them and explain to people what they are, as I prepare them and infuse them in water for tasting as WILD TEA. I make a brief speech about the colonization of indigenous lands by settler societies, and the historical justification of these morally bankrupt actions, through reference to the idea of finding a “promised land” for Christian people on this continent. Colonization has an etymological relation to digestion, which I draw upon in my speech, in order to make clear the truly hideous gluttony of our contemporary consumer society. I challenge participants to take on a practice of occasional fasting, to remind us viscerally of our decisive power to choose decolonization actions over remaining subdued by the restrictive potentialities of a worldview into which we have all been indoctrinated, known generally as western civilization. The goal of my performance is to disrupt the hegemonic complicity of the average person in the white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchal empire that we call “the beast,” in whose “belly” we are slowly being digested. After the conclusion of my speech, before each person tastes the WILD TEA offered them, I ask them to make an oath, speaking in unison, repeating after me:
“From this day forward I intend to do everything in my power to decolonize my mind, body, and spirit. I intend to think deeply about the possibility of radical land reform on the land that I occupy, as well as lands occupied by my family and friends, in the interests of respecting the sovereign rights of this land’s indigenous people, who were and are systematically dispossessed, enslaved, killed, assimilated, disappeared, and ignored. Moreover, I intend to stand up and protect lands raped by illegitimate governments, which extract resources for the benefit of false profiteers, which look to false prophets for their moral authority. I intend, by cooperating with my friends and neighbors of all kinds, to find a way to rip a gaping hole in the colon wall of the beast of empire that has us stewing in the digestive juices of its belly. As I take this WILD TEA into my insides, I also allow inside me the possibility of freeing myself, along with everyone else, from the bondage of civilized society, that I have complied with so meekly until now. This has been through no fault of my own, but rather out of a gripping fear for my safety, under the constant threat of a violent, military state that dominates and subdues us all. This WILD TEA is a MAGIC POTION, which reminds me of my wild animal soul, buried deep inside, that longs for me to unleash it upon the world. May this MAGIC POTION protect us all, and give us courage, in the endless struggle for justice, peace, and love that looms before us.”
After my 26 mile walking performance, Mapping the Audible Dominion of the Mission Church Bells, I began leading group walks of public spaces to think about the private property ownership structure we live within. Here are a few images from the first two walks, which were part of a “Day of Action” at Emmanuel College in October, 2017. We circled counterclockwise around the bell tower at the Catholic college where these young people study, performing three widening circumambulations and talking about evidence of the history of the colonization of this land (the homeland of the Massachusett Indigenous Peoples), as we encountered it along the way.
During these walks we carried sticks with which we banged on fences, making a kind of music, almost as though we were ringing bells of our own, as a form of permanent revolution against the control and legal structure of church & state represented by the church bells and the fences alike.
We also did some innocuous trespassing on posted private property, for the same reason; a simple transgression, but with great symbolic power in the individual imagination.Each of these Walks for Decolonization was two hours long, marked by bells ringing from the tower we orbited around at the start, middle, and end. I invited participants to react to the ringing of the bells however they liked. We knelt down for the first one, spun in circles for the middle, and played dead for the last, in honor of the ongoing genocide of indigenous peoples in this land.
Seven Widening Widdershins Circumambulations for Decolonization (How to Get to Know This Land)
On August 3rd and 4th, 2017, I performed a 26 mile walk, which I have mapped out here, circumambulating nine times counter-clockwise around the beautiful Mission Church in the present-day Mission Hill neighborhood of the traditional homeland of the Massachusett people (greater Boston, Massachusetts, USA). At the time I was living in the neighborhood, as a resident artist at Emmanuel College, a private Catholic liberal arts school. My idea was to map the sphere of influence of the church bells, which ring out over the neighborhood every 15 minutes. I got the idea because the bells would wake me up in the morning through my bedroom window, which was a pleasant enough alarm clock, if a little invasive. For this performance, I intended to widen my course with each loop around the church, never recrossing my path, until I circled it seven times, or until I could no longer hear the bells, whichever felt right. A summary of my research informing this project follows.
In English folklore, it was believed that to go around a church anti-clockwise or “widdershins,” as I did, was unlucky. For example, take the fairy tale of “Childe Rowland, where the protagonist and his sister are transported to Elfland after his sister runs widdershins round a church.” This superstition was bound up in the long history of the spread of a Christian worldview to people of other belief systems, including so-called pagan and animistic spiritualities. These terms come from the nowadays discredited social evolutionist discourse of early anthropology, which takes monotheism and science as the culmination of social evolution in so-called civilized societies, in contrast to the beliefs of so-called primitive societies. Our contemporary pop-culture notions of elves and fairies are remnants of belief systems that existed in Europe before conversion to Christianity happened, and remain important to some people. In Ireland’s traditional spirituality, for example, fairies are known as the aos sí or the Tuath(a) Dé Danann. Non-Abrahamic (Judeo/Christian/Muslim) belief systems are still vital for many indigenous peoples around the world, who have successfully survived centuries of genocidal and assimilationist policies, and maintain their commitment to practicing traditional cultural and spiritual beliefs.
Christendom’s specific role in the colonization of the Americas and the ongoing genocide of the indigenous inhabitants is indisputable, and tragic. The various Catholic Popes of the 1400s and 1500s issued numerous papal bulls (declarations) in support of colonial land claims by European royal powers, including the Spanish and Portuguese imperial projects, laying the foundation for the colonization, Christianization, enslavement, and genocide of the “new world,” as well as Africa. These papal bulls make up what is known in the U.S. judicial system as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has been cited in decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court as recently as 2005. The important precedent case of Johnson v. M’Intosh (1823) forms the basis of all Federal Indian law and settler property claims. This landmark case has been cited in numerous land disputes regarding treaty claims by Native American Nations ever since. These matters are thoroughly elaborated in the works of indigenous legal scholars Steven Newcomb and Robert J. Miller.
Additionally, the ongoing genocide of colonized native peoples has been carried out by individual settlers, by policies of settler governments, and by the assimilative drive of Christian churches, particularly in the history of residential boarding schools and missions work. Many progressive Christian groups have joined indigenous groups in calling for the repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery in recent years. For instance, in 2014, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (which represents about 80% of Catholic nuns in the U.S.) passed a resolution stating, “We humbly and respectfully ask Pope Francis to lead us in formally repudiating the period of Christian history that used religion to justify political and personal violence against indigenous nations and peoples and their cultural, religious, and territorial identities.” However, in 2015 Pope Francis canonized the controversial Spanish Missionary Junipero Serra, to the dismay of many indigenous people of California, who view him as the architect of their peoples’ genocide, and the destruction of their languages and cultures; a far cry from saintly behavior indeed.
Despite the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against, and much progress in the growing transnational indigenous rights movement, indigenous people remain among the most marginalized and ignored groups in many settler societies, including the U.S. and Canada. Indigenous cultures, ways of life, and sovereignty remain under constant threat from the culturally hegemonic neoliberal white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy, managed by the elites that rule our world. Additionally, the facts of the genocide of indigenous peoples remain painfully under-recognized by citizens and governments of settler societies. The decolonization of indigenous lands and peoples is an ongoing project of indigenous rights activists and allies around the world. These indigenous leaders dispute the claim that we live in a “post-colonial” era, following the deconstruction of European colonies in Asia and Africa in the mid-20th century. The fact is, colonialism is alive and well in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia, to name just a few of the biggest offenders, as evidenced in current dealings with indigenous peoples inside their borders.
My small action of walking against the direction of the clock is in solidarity with the Bolivian government’s 2014 adoption of a “decolonization clock” running counter-clockwise, as a sign of their commitment to the indigenous population of the nation, as well as upending Eurocentric northern-hemispheric domination. As Bolivia’s foreign minister, David Choquehuanca remarked, “Who said clocks always have to run the same way? Why do we always have to be obedient? Why can’t we be creative?”
I take this action in denial of normative hegemonic notions of property ownership, reflected in the legal structures of Federal, State, and local governments. I trespass frequently and with great enthusiasm on my walk.
Ultimately, I take this action with the deeply-felt intention of reversing the colonization of my mind, body, and spirit; as well as holding intention for decolonization of the land I walk, and of the people I meet along the way.
I imagine organizing and performing future group “Walks for Decolonization,” in the tradition of the Situationist dérive and in solidarity with Indigenous Walking Tours taking place today in Canada, embodying a commitment to unravelling the mess we’re in, through an active practice of looking, listening, and engaging in social discourse on these pressing matters.
With any luck, or rather unluck (in this uncivilizing process I embark upon, feeling it to be my uncivic duty as an uncitizen), I might even get to visit Elfland sometime soon :) …or at least, to begin to really know this land that I call home.
(2 hours 15 minutes)
(7 minute excerpt)
This was a two-channel video installation with additional objects, placed in a public hallway at Emmanuel College, a small Catholic liberal arts college in Boston, Massachusetts, after the action described above. The work includes the video documenting my decolonization walk and a playlist of youtube videos I curated of indigenous leaders and scholars as well as Christian allies working to undo the impacts of the Doctrine of Discovery. The space was set up as a lounge for students to hang out and watch the videos, while playing “We Are the 99% Chess,” for which I had redesigned the rules of chess and created a takeaway printed chessboard, as well as an assortment of scholarly reading materials related to the content of the videos.