Michelle Cook, a Diné attorney, was one of the guests of the Annual Solidarity Day of the CSIA-Nitassinan, on October 12th, 2019. She is now preparing a Ph.D. in political sciences at Arizona University, on the, in the USA not separable issues of Indigenous Human Rights, disinvestment and gender. She is founder of the Water Protectors Legal Collective (for those who tried to stop the DAPL in Standing Rock, from February 2016 to April 2017). She is a member of Women Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN). She has been touring Europe for a campaign (Divest Invest Protect) that aims to put pressure on banks and insurance companies to remove their funds from racist projects, deadly to environment and peoples depending on it.

Michelle Cook  en français
Also on Censored News
October 12th, 2019
Transcription and photos Christine Prat

I think in terms of Divest, Invest, Protect, I don’t consider myself so much a lobbyist as a reality check, and someone who is merely delivering facts and truths. And ultimately, I think that one of the important things we are doing is that we are not there to ask these banks to pity us, we are giving them a very clear warning that their time of dominating this earth is coming to an end.

After the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was a pipeline that over 10,000 people fought, in the heartlands of the United States of America, we were able to achieve, within the Obama administration, a halt to the pipeline. Yet, when the Trump administration came to power, within days that easement was denied and the pipeline was allowed to go through and under the Missouri River. Before that, since August 20, 2016, I had to watch our people being abused. I watched and had to witness and document the dog attacks, the bite marks on the breasts of my peers, on the breasts of the women. I had to sleep wondering whether or not my friends would be murdered. We had to watch as two of our precious Diné tribal members were injured. Their eyes were blinded through the use of so called non-lethal weapons by the police forces.

So, when the pipeline was going through, after the Trump administration took office, for me, for my own healing and my own wellness, I needed to know who paid for this. I had to see them, it was important. I needed to go where they thought they were safe. And they had to see me, so that whatever tears and whatever pains I had to carry was no longer mine, that all that violence and all that trauma that was given to us by their finance, they were going to take it back to them. So, when we visit these banks, I leave that pain with them, I leave that suffering, I leave that trauma within the walls of their institutions. I think that, on a very  basic level, what we are doing is trying to change financial laws, but I think on a much deeper level, what we are doing is really an exorcism of the system, of the spirit of predation, that has existed on this planet, that has disconnected us from who we are, that has alienated us from our inheritance as sacred creatures, sacred children of this earth.

So, I learned a lot from these meetings. From that particular A.G.M., this Annual General shareholders Meeting. As we approached the building, I could see the snipers on the roof. And here we are, Indian women. What have we done? Why do we need a sniper on our head? What more did we have than my feathers and pollen, and the medicine? So, I went to that meeting with those guns on us, and so did those women. And we were watched and we were followed by maybe security officers. Every time I went to the bathroom I was followed, every move I made, I was watched, in that space. Because we had entered into the temple of their god. Because money is the god of the colonialists. It has taken the place of the sacred. So, instead of chants you hear corporate songs, instead of seeing the sacred symbols of life you see their corporate image. This is a reverse prayer. When I was in that meeting I felt – a lot of people see that and say “Oh, you must be so brave”, but we are only brave because we have to be, only brave because of necessity, we have to, I have to. And, even though I had these men with guns following me, I had to meditate in there, and say to myself “I am going to do this, I can do this.” I think everyone has moments where you are going to be confronted with something that you feel that you can’t do. But you have to work through those fears, to be able to take the steps that are going to be necessary to save this planet. So, I was the last person to speak at the A.G.M. and as soon as my first colleague was on the stage, the audience was hissing at us, yelling and hissing at us. Immediately, as we entered the stage, despite of the fact that there were more shareholders there who were speaking, as soon as we got on the stage, we felt all this wave of malice and hostility. And the meditation that was required, in the face of that adversity, was very difficult. Because the point is, they are to knock you off so that you can’t communicate the truth. But I understood what was happening and through that meditation, through that prayer, I was able to maintain that calm center and to give them a message to hiss about. So, I think the process of taking women into those institutions is on its own an act of exorcism, because I think the very presence of Indigenous women is an act of purification of these temples of this so-called Western Civilization.

What I think is unique about the campaign and the message we carry as Indigenous women within this divestment movement, is that it’s not just about taking money from that bad bank and placing it somewhere else. Centrally, what we are asking is for individuals to question the construction and the abstraction of money itself. We really need to understand the creation story of the banks of Europe in order to understand and to revive, to restore the ancient economic traditions of Indigenous Peoples that can be alternatives and that can heal this climate genocide that we are currently faced with. I think it’s also asking people: “Ask yourself what are your values, what have you been told as your value? Is your value just based on what you earn? Is your value based on your gender? Is your value based on your race? Are you good enough, are we ever good enough? Are we ever whole? Are we ever full?” We are never full in this capitalist system, there is never enough and is that value? What is your value? For us, as Indigenous people, we are taught even before we are born. When the baby is still in the womb, it receives songs, inside, in-utero, it is already encoded with the ancient knowledge of who you are. That is how it works, because when you are removed from your true identity as a sacred being of this universe, you don’t understand your power, and you don’t understand that you are never alone, that you are always connected, that you are always surrounded by your ancestors and by Creation, the elements are your relatives.

And this has been the civilizing mission of the so-called Western Civilization since the cult of Rome began. And it was those papal bulls issued by Pope Alexander Borgia that issued the Doctrine of Discovery that allowed the “Manifest Destiny” theory, to allow the colonization of the entire world, but also here against the tribes of Europe. You just happen to be closer to the seat of the empire, centuries ago. We just happen to be farther away, so we remember the time before the cult of Rome came. But that knowledge and your connections have been removed violently from you, by the Inquisition. That history of colonization, of imperialism, and inherently that racism and that feminicide, is all part of the intersectional forces that are bringing us to that problem that we have now with climate genocide.

So, as Indigenous Peoples we are the guardians of that knowledge of the time before, and that is why it is so important to listen to Indigenous Peoples and to follow their leadership. Because, in order for us to survive, we have to realign, in order for us to survive, you have to heal yourself. We are coming up to the 400th anniversary of the first ships coming to our shores, and now Indigenous Peoples are coming back here, so we see this full circle coming, and I see our presence here as what I hope will be a real awakening for the people of Europe. To re-awaken and to rekindle that sacred spirit that is inside us all, so that we can heal and bring together back what has been broken.

So, I invite you to join us and to really understand that I am not different from you, that we are one, that we are one people. We should not be divided and we have to unite, we have to come together now, there is no more time. I invite you to join and give yourself permission to follow your higher purpose and to find what you can contribute and what you can do to participate in the healing of this earth and to heal what has been wounded through colonization. In terms of the bank work, that kind of the simple part, that is just asking to follow Human Rights. But in order to really shift and transform society, we have to shift and transform you. So, what is it you need, what is it you want to hear, because you are here listening to us, you are all here, why are you here, what is it that you need to hear from us? I want you to ask for that from yourself: to wake up in the morning at dawn – this is what we do and this is maybe a knowledge I give you so that you can reconnect. So, in the morning wake up very early, when the sun is beginning to come up. Be disciplined. Wake up and give what you have, if it’s tobacco or if it’s corn pollen or if it’s corn meal. Offer that to the Earth. And ask for your healing, ask for the Creator to give you the strength and the knowledge. It is through this reciprocity, through this spiritual currency that you can realign and find what true power is. And that is your true inheritance as a sacred child of this universe.

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