by Bo Sanders
Last week, I got a new calendar for 2012. I’m not a big fan of calendars in general so I refuse to spend much money on them – which is why I waited until February and got one from the ‘extreme discount’ bin at a news stand.
Once I got it home, I was flipping through the pages and I noticed something that really odd. It was a time-zone map for daylight-savings. The thing that struck me so odd is that not all of the lines were straight. For instance, in easter Oregon the line for PST does not follow the eastern boarder of the state. It jogs west for a section.
I thought to myself “wow – I wonder how that was decided? Did that come from the people? How would someone have the sovereignty to do that? What did that process even look like?”
The reason this seemed to odd to me was three fold:
- I lived in perhaps the flattest place on earth: Saskatchewan. And while it is flat I still find myself smirking when I look at a map and see the straight lines of provinces and states … because not even Saskatchewan is that flat! The straight lines on our maps should be a warning to us. They should be a screaming siren and a flashing light that something arbitrary and unnatural has been imposed upon the landscape.
- My favorite historian to listen to as I drive is John Merriman at Yale. He has a presentation about straight lines and how after wars they are drawn up literally with a ruler. It is one of those things that can jolt you out of an imperial slumber. When you grow up in a colonial mentality, so often you take the as-is structure of your reality as a given and never question how straight lines are laid over mountainous regions or winding terrains. You never question the arbitrary nature of border placements and boundaries that literally could not have been devised on site. They would have had to be conceived remotely – literally with a ruler on a flat piece of paper.
- I was reading Canadian news on my Yahoo! reader and there was a headline about the Oil Pipeline needing Tribal approval. As a dual citizen I am constantly explaining to my American friends that it works a little different in Canada. First Nations are recognized in way that is foreign to most Americans (I am using these words intentionally). You can read about Tribal reaction to the pipeline’s defeat here. The thing that haunts me is the confusion in my friend’s eyes when tribal sovereignty interferes with something like the pipeline. “They can do that?” I know is what they are trying to ask as they stumble through their awkward attempt at understanding political power and land rites.
Several years ago I heard Randy Woodley present a paper about working with the land – not imposing things on the land or doing something to the land. He used the example of highway that was to be constructed through a reservation in a Western state. The easiest way was to make the road a straight line which would require blasting through hills and filling in ravines. Native leadership protested and a decision was made to adjust the design of the road so that it flowed with the bends of the landscape instead.
I think about that story all the time. I hate that a new highway had to cut through what had been unbroken space. We don’t live in a perfect world – it is all compromises and lesser of two evils. I am not a romantic or idealist … but I think that we live in grave danger. It is one thing that we ‘need’ to build a road or need to extract more oil. That is not my primary concern. What really concerns me is that we don’t even see the straight lines. It never even dawns on us that they don’t exist. They occur nowhere in nature. They are imposed upon the land and laid over the land. They don’t come from the terrain and are not in partnership with the place. They are completely foreign and often arbitrary.
And yet we never see them. The western mind sees what-is and assumes its giveness as a self validating presence. This is the first of three posts this week where I want to examine the underlying ignorance, and engage some new possibilities in the hopes of embodying a new way of being in these days.
The two trolls that guard the bridge to a new way are named Colonial Christianity and Environmental Dualism. When we assume the as-is structure of modern existence we choose to stay asleep and allow the machine to roll-on – to roll-over, and crush everything in its path. When we fail to recognize how things emerge from the earth, we falsely import and impose our straight (and thus false) lines on the earth. We must change our relationship to the earth and begin to work with the earth.
I will be back on Thursday to talk about what happened in 1421 and why nipples and bellybuttons matter. I look forward to your comments and questions.