Niłch’itsoh, Hai, and Power

The coming of the big wind and snow.

Niłch’itsoh is here, and that means Hai (winter) is on its way. Niłch’itsoh means “big wind” and is the beginning of Hai (winter). It is also the last month, December, of the Gregorian calendar. This year, Niłch’itsoh and Hai remind me of something. They remind me of power.

Growing up, I enjoyed the first snow. I enjoyed seeing the beauty of the snow falling and lying on the ground and covering up the trees. It piled itself on top of one another, fortifying itself and covering the world. While at the same time, it is coaxing people to realize that the cold is here and the time for coats and sweaters is upon us.

Yet, it was also the time for my peoples’  Trickster stories to be told and string games can commence. All because of the spiders, bears, snakes, and lightning and thunder people are beginning their winter slumber. The winter was a time for helping my mother and grandparents with gathering firewood for the woodstoves that cohabited with us in our houses.

 The power of wind and water, gathering and warping together to create a season that many dread throughout the year, reminded me of something; the power of collectivity. This power occurs during this season, as people assist each other with chopping wood, keeping each other warm, and enjoying each persons’ presence.

Interpretations of power have been on my mind for this past month, especially for myself and those within my community.

What and how is power defined? How is it defined for us, the Diné, or for indigenous peoples across the world?

Last year around this time, I quoted Winona LaDuke on my Facebook;

“One of our people in the Native community said the difference between white people and Indians is that Indian people know they are oppressed but don’t feel powerless. White people don’t feel oppressed, but feel powerless. Deconstruct that disempowerment. Part of the mythology that they’ve been teaching you is that you have no power. Power is not brute force and money; power is in your spirit. Power is in your soul. It is what your ancestors, your old people gave you. Power is in the earth; it is in your relationship to the earth.” ― Winona LaDuke, Ojibwe (Anishinaabe)

Native and Indigenous peoples exist on the edges of societies alongside many other racialized people of color. We live in spaces that have become known as ‘Fourth Worlds’, which is a nation-state status term that refers to populations who exist in ‘First World’ countries, but who live in ‘Third World’ conditions. Structurally, we’re oppressed. Our voices are not heard or even listened to, especially as we have seen with #NoDAPL, in which the Oceti Sakowin (Seven Council Fires) are being forced to accept the construction of an oil pipeline through their land and water. Our knowledges and understandings of ourselves have been targeted, shamed, and demonized within the academy, despite our knowledges being older and more experiential. We learn from doing, and we learn from each other.

We are aware of our own oppression and just as Winona LaDuke said, there is a misconception of power both within and outside our communities. Power is often conceptualized as a brute force that exists in weaponry, going to war against or committing genocide.  To have power is to have control or dominion over the land, life, and people.

There is more to power.

Power is surviving genocide. It is strategically silencing one’s voice to ensure survival in the face of death. To accrue power, or to have power, is to reclaim what was considered ‘lost’. There is power in allowing yourself to feel and experience your emotions – joy, happiness anger, sadness, hope, loss, dread, and everything between.

Power is both an inaction and an action and these instances of living and existing are power in of itself. This power, this existence is a gift that was given to us by the wind. In Diné creation stories, niłch’i breathed life into us. Niłch’i allows us to have breath and live. To have that knowledge of our origins, and to have access to that ancestral power is a gift in itself. Winona LaDuke reminds us that power is in our soul. It is within the earth, waiting and reaching towards us whenever we feel lost and disconnected.

Power is intrinsic. It is intergenerational. It is within.

As ‘marginalized’ and ‘oppressed’ peoples, we are powerful. Earlier in another blog post, I mention that the Diné Aesthetic involves healing, surviving, and fighting. Inside each of us, we hold trauma and stress that has become part of bodies, part of our souls, part of our everyday being. We are already powerful people because of the gifts from our ancestors. The healing that will come will allow us to become even more powerful. Because our struggles and our obstacles guide us and allow us to grow and learn. What we inherited and what we will give to our children is our own power, our own gifts, and our own light.

It is within that light and darkness that we will find the balance of ourselves to wield both sides in a way that promotes health and love towards us and towards the ancestors and to the children who will inherit the earth after us. There is this collective of power that we each have inherited and will continue to pass on.

This power, this ancestral knowledge, this gift, this skill, this anything that is an essence, comes from deep within.

We, both as individuals and as a collective, are encased with the strength and resilience of a people who have been pushed to the edge and who refuse to be pushed further. To refer to a bilagáana, and to claim legitimacy, Michael Foucault defines power as a relation. It is exercised by a variety of people and it exists everywhere and within everyone. Our connection to our culture, our people, our friends, our family, ourselves, within all of that, is power. The connection that we have is power and this empowerment is as old as human thought and existence as we have been told in our creation stories and by our ancestors.

This year, Niłch’itsoh and Hai bring me a reminder. A reminder of the power of myself, of our people, and of our ancestors. A reminder that together as one, we are immensely powerful, and that we can overcome change, because we have each other.

#DearNativeYouth don’t be afraid of the light within yourself. Learn, thrive, and inspire.” – GrandmaSaidNo via Twitter

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