Injustice & K’é in the Borderlands
by Jaclyn Roessel
Growing up I heard many stories. Shared by my late Nalí’s (paternal grandparents), my masaní (maternal grandmother) and from my parents about our life as Diné (Navajo). Whether it is was the poetic story of my Nalí Hastiin seeing my Nalí asdzaan for the first time. Or the stories my masaní would share about her time at boarding school. These stories were reminders of love, trial and the strong family I came from. Many of these stories reminded me how this country’s history is a repetitious contradiction of what is just and humane.
As I have written here before, one of my ancestors was a survivor of the Navajo Long Walk. My late Nalí asdzaan would share her story with me throughout my life. My great-great-great grandmother escaped from Hweełdí (Place of Suffering aka Ft. Sumner or Bosque Redondo) to return to Diné Bikéyah using the medicine of her family to help her home. She’s long been my motivation to live my life with compassion, empathy and in service of others.
In partnership with fellow co-producer Alix Blair, I have been assisting the creation of an audio documentary about the impact of the Navajo Long Walk 150 years since the signing of the Treaty of 1868. While, this self-funded project is outside of my work with Grownup Navajo, it is one that has fundamentally challenged my outlook about the culture, history and future of my people. In the year that Alix and I have been co-creating, this project has changed me. It is through this process I was able to access a part of the story I never allowed myself to feel and subsequently, it helped me process anger and grief, I didn’t know I was holding.
As Alix and I spoke with various Navajo community members about their families’ stories, I felt the pain of the separation from family and land. It was the first time in my life where the triumph of returning home after four years of imprisonment, did not mask the pain of knowing this occurred to people I knew. I grew up aware of this story, so I began this project without illusions, I knew thousands of people’s lives were lost, the treatment of my relatives was horrendous but again it was through working on this project I felt safe to grieve. To feel the loss of not only who did not return home but to understand parts of our life ways, sovereignty completely shifted as a result of this catastrophic event. In this place of grief I was also given a gift. Further insight into the power of K’é and the power of possessing compassion for others.
Lately, this same grief and rage has boiled up in my chest, as I read and watch the horrible to news of the treatment of families fleeing their homelands. Families often seeking asylum from violence in Mexico and many Central American countries including Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador**; only to be stopped, deported and have their children ripped away from them and be imprisoned by the US government. I’ve cried over dinner at the haunting photos of children, the same age of my nephew, screaming for their parents. My heart aches at the lack of humanity with which this administration is treating these people. People. Let us not forget, they are people.
This country is continuing the legacy of xenophobic practices used to “conquer” and subjugate Native people put in place decades ago. They have tested these tactics before at the border, in the south and in schools across the country. The omnipresent argument of manifest destiny serves as an eerie reminder of paths this government has walked before. But I see through the biblical justifications for placing babies in cages and leaving children to keep warm under mylar blankets in converted warehouses. I can’t not stomach it and yet, I can’t look away as I don’t want to ignore what is happening.
The Navajo concept K’é often is simplistically describe as “kinship”. But in the ways that I have studied and learned about the K’é from my elders and family it is not simply being related to each other. K’é is the recognition that in being in relationship/kinship to each other whether through our clan system or the simply connection as a Bilá ashladii or “five-fingered person” we are therefore responsible to each other.
I believe we, as Navajo, Indigenous people, those with liberal, conservative beliefs need to connect with our humanity and take action. The trauma that is being exerted over these families and children is corrupted power that will create deep generational trauma. How is it that I know this? Because this kind of trauma and deep reaching pain is one that is still being lived out in Native communities as a result of the systemic racist treatment seen throughout the continuum of federal Indian policy. To be clear, I am not comparing pain between communities, but simply saying these policies have been “tested” and proven to work. I refuse to be complacent in my actions to help these families today by giving to this cause both monetarily and by offering my voice in this reflection (and beyond) in the spirit of k’é. I pray these children and their families will not only find comfort, safety and justice but that they will be able to remain together regardless of which side of the border they make home.
Information on How to Support Families:
Organizations to Donate To:
The Florence Project – This Arizona-based organization offers free legal services to men, women, and unaccompanied children in immigration custody. (Disclosure: this is the organization I have supported.)
RAICES – This Texas-based organization offers free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and families.
More on the Injustice:
**Correction: This post first appeared designating only Mexico as the only country of origin from which migrant families are traveling. This update aims to distinguish the rich cultures, nations and communities Latino families call home and claim as their heritage. As each family carries with them the rich history of their people, we want to participate in this dialogue as an ally who acknowledges and works to understand these intricacies in a way that does not erase experiences and identities but values where we all come from.