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Martin Chartrand of Bangor works in the home weatherization industry. He has been active in various movements for social and economic justice in Greater Bangor.
This past year challenged me to more deeply consider what my white and settler privilege means for how I relate and find purpose. My family owns property, and offers me ample resources for education and support, in a society built through slavery of Africans and violent land theft from indigenous peoples. I live and work on the traditional homelands of the Penobscot people, who continually struggle for land and water rights needed for their traditional way of life.
When I open to the trauma, lost lives and shattered dreams my privileges are connected to, I feel grief. Naming this feeling and its source is the first step toward healing.
During these chilly days and early dusks around Winter Solstice, grief pierces deeper. So does longing. In the Christian tradition I grew up in, we practiced opening to these emotions as we lit candles through Advent, preparing ourselves to feel the joy and power of Christ’s birth. As 2021 begins, could we follow this ancient path in our souls through the grief of facing the pain caused by settler colonialism and systemic racism, into a longing powerful enough to create change?
As white people and settlers, this is our grief. Our wholeness depends on undoing and healing settler colonialism and racism. As scholars like Penobscot author Sherri Mitchell have shown, these structures prevent us from being valued and loved as whole beings — rather than as members of a distrusted, privileged group — and pass us down the trauma of witnessing or committing violence.
Healing will mean relating to one another, to land and to all of creation in new ways. Instead of seeing resources we are entitled to utilize, we might see gifts entrusted to our care. This shift would also address the suffering of all who lack housing, food, quality education and health care, including many white people.
Change can start in exploring our own emotions. I wonder how much the unspoken trauma of racism and genocide contributes to violence, addiction, depression, and suicide in America. I wonder how it has emerged in my life as fear, shame, and doubt about my worthiness. As I’ve sought belonging through work and relationships, these feelings have created barriers — habits in how I relate that limit intimacy and collaboration.
I’m grateful to have found belonging despite these barriers. Gratitude inspires me to work to heal my trauma. To me, healing must extend to all relations I am in, and that means working for decolonization and reparations for systemic racism.
I have much to learn about this work. It will require more than land acknowledgements and removing monuments to brutal slaveholders and colonists, though these are first steps. We cannot check off reparations and decolonization and return to our lives. We must undertake many unique, interconnected healing processes, led by the many different affected communities.
While this is long-term work, there are immediate ways Maine communities can change colonial and racist institutions to open pathways for healing. Teaching anti-racism and decolonization, land returns, Wabanaki sovereignty legislation, undoing racist criminal legal systems and building restorative justice/ indigenous peacemaking are some examples.
I yearn to hear others’ experiences around these issues and work to understand my own. These acts can create immediate change while building skills needed to heal our emotions, decolonize and make reparations.
2020 has challenged us all. Amidst COVID-19, unemployment, housing shortage, addictions, overdose deaths, budget shortfalls and much else, racism and settler colonialism can seem like huge issues we are too busy to address. I have no neat answer to this. I do know that settler colonialism and racism have burst into our consciousness for a reason. To overcome the crises we face, we must address what divides us.
As we celebrate a new year and new life, let‘s not suppress the grief that arose in 2020. Let’s nurture the gleam of new awareness into an unstoppable longing for a future beyond systemic racism and settler colonialism.