The Sweetgrass Meaning of Solidarity | Sojourners

The Sweetgrass Meaning of Solidarity

Four hundred ninety-eight years and a few days after the invasion began, I light a stalk of sage and watch the fast way it burns. The burning sage glows red. A cloud of smoke burns my eyes, blurring my vision. Smoke enters my nostrils. The burning smell clears my head. For a moment, the blurring, burning cloud hides the other cloud. "The stink hiding the sun," Creek poet Joy Harjo calls it.

Under the sage cloud, I smell strength. I breathe clear, clean air. I touch five centuries of invisibility that refuses to vanish. Sage gives me power -- for a moment. Then the cloud is gone and the other smell returns. My smudge pot is black from the ashes of the sage stalk now consumed.

I reach for a braid of sweetgrass, the medicine that does not light easily nor burn fast. The sweetgrass smell works slowly, moving from my nostrils into my mind, arriving before announcing itself. In it, I see a wisp, not quite invisible. And I smell a different strength -- a patient strength. The smell lingers amid other smells, 498 years and a few days after the invasion.

Soon, 498 will be 499, then 500. The U.S. Quincentenary Jubilee Commission will spend $80 million dollars to celebrate five centuries of attempted genocide and cultural imperialism. Countries around the world will celebrate five centuries in which Europeans first exploited native peoples' land and labor, then violated the dignity of humans around the globe, exploiting them as slaves, then cheap labor, to fuel arrogant greed.

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