There’s something I’m coming to realize about the culture I grew up in, the “paradigm” that I swim in, and was educated in. It is fundamentally extractive. This shapes us all – we’re always asking, how can I be the most productive and how can I get the most out of this situation/encounter…. (Does this feel familiar to anyone?) This is how we judge worth, success, value… our own, others… and it is quite different from asking, how can I be useful or how can I be most present in this situation/encounter. It seems like I’m just messing with words, like it’s a small shift, shuffling letters around on a piece of paper… and as a point of reorientation, it actually is small… it might be barely noticeable. It feels largely internal – and at the same time, I think it’s huge.
I am so used to wanting to be productive (as my way of being useful) – wanting to prove my worth, by generating something, an outcome, a product, an action item, another thing to do… that it is kind of radical to say, “what if I can be of use, of service, make a contribution, without necessarily being obviously productive.”
I fear I might not be communicating this clearly… probably because I’m still in the bog of it all, trailing mud and swamp juice and clingy lily pads with their long long stalks… entangled in what pulls me back to what I know, and what I sense is calling me forward…
But, an extractive mindset is always wanting to get something of value to warrant it’s time investment.
In this world, nothing is for free, especially things that are free. So, all those social media offerings are extracting our attention and all of our personal information to aggregate into massive data stockpiles that help create more intelligent targeted marketing and are growing the intelligence of artificial intelligence.
The temptation, I have experienced, when learning new plants and about the possibility of “wildcrafting”, is to immediately harvest everything you encounter, without realizing that, instead of being transformed by your new learning about plants, you’re just taking your extractive tendencies into new terrain. (Something is getting transformed, but, oh no! it’s the land again, not your inner landscape. Doh!) The shift, into being able to identify something medicinal or edible, when you’re out walking, and JUST LEAVE IT THERE, or saying hello, or thinking about taking a photograph and asking its permission first, or making an offering of thanks in response to what you pick, is radical, and vital (if we’re going to slow down our massive scale extraction projects that are causing right now the 6th mass extinction event that Earth has experienced.)
I was in some online gatherings last week, and at the end, everyone was frantically dropping their LinkedIn handles and links into the chat, as if this 90 minute conversation wasn’t of full value unless you also go a few more connections for your network out of it. It was curious to me to sense the frenzy of those sidebar exchanges.
Even wanting to know people’s stories can be extractive… this is something I have pondered a lot, when I sit down with my little tape recorder.
And yet, the same action: asking for someone’s contact info, asking someone to share their story, harvesting a plant you meet, can also be done in a good way. It’s not the action that is the problem, so much as the approach.
This week, Ta7talíya Michelle Nahanee, a Squamish Nation member who runs Nahanee Creative, a consulting practice grounded in Squamish Matriarchy, that provided some professional development learning for our teachers at Signal Hill, shared, via instagram, that even our desire to learn how to do better and make reparations, can feel extractive, if we approach it in the wrong way.
It is not our responsibility to educate you about our sacred laws, our ways of knowing or how colonialism continues to impact us.
It is your responsibility to educate yourself about who we are, how we do things and what you can do to live in reciprocal relations with us.
Don’t ask us to perform your conditioned ideal of who we should be, including imagining that we should somehow all agree on everything when no other group of racialized peoples are expected to agree on everything. We’re allowed to each have agency & opinions within our cultures.
Do ask for consent every time you want to ask us anything! Do pay for our time & knowledge – not because of capitalism, because its our protocol.
You should never demand we tell you more because you don’t understand us – that’s extractive & manipulative.
You should practice good relations and understand what an honour it is if you are blessed with receiving Indigenous Knowledge.
We, as Nahanee Creative, are honoured to share what we can, in ways that we choose to, in accountability with our communities, representing our names, nations & Ancestors in the best ways we can.
We’ve slowed down sharing via social media because it can be outside of the good relations we strive for. But this week has been a lot & this message needs to shared.
OCM \o/ Ta7
This can be hard – especially if you are programmed, like I am, to be productive, get stuff done, and you feel the urgency of having spent so many years of your life misunderstanding something, and you want to know how to get it right, now… with the maximum effect and efficiency. But what we’re really asking for, reorienting towards, needing, is a complete transformation of approach… from, I suggest, being productive to being useful, from getting something out of an experience or encounter to being present. I think it’s unsettling and uncomfortable, because being useful and present actually might mean not doing anything, not being able to be busy (distracted), but having to just sit and feel heartache and confusion and regret and discomfort. And which of our productivity hacks has trained us to do that? I mean, who has ever scheduled an hour in their dayplanner: “sit and feel shitty about colonization”, “go to the river and grieve the children,” “do a mind map about all the things i’m ignorant about but don’t realize.” HARD. These things are HARD. And being busy, productive, efficient, is easy. (Also, a big part of why the world is in the state it’s in, IMO. We are all running very very hard to keep ahead of the uncomfortable things that begin to stir if we slow down for long enough.)
So maybe, the great Turning begins with a great ReOrientation which begins with asking ourselves the question, what would it be like, in this moment, not to worry about how productive I am, but instead to try and be deeply present – to the little wild orchid I just encountered (and instinctively want to pick), to the person I just met for a coffee (whose brain I’m hoping to pick about best to further my own agenda), to the suite of products on the shelf (that my hand is reaching out to pick.) “Ooh, is that my in-built extractive programming kicking-in? Hello in-built extractive programming. I am glad I noticed you before I killed the plant, pulled out the credit card, treated someone as a resource or a stepping stone on my quest, instead of a beautiful being. I’m just going to take a deep breath. And ask, how can I be most useful in this situation? Is the gift of my attention the most useful? Is taking the cue that it’s time for me to say thank you and take my leave the most useful? Is getting up to clean the table the most useful? For I would like to be useful, even if that means sitting still and being uncomfortable. May it serve Life.”