As genealogical histories go, the records of the modern day Netherlands, in most cases, do not go back very far; most records get jumbled and lost beyond the 16th century. Because of this, I feel more or less stranded in my family history. While the names of both sides of my family very clearly indicate Dutch origins, this does not definitely mean much of anything in terms of which ancient tribal cultures I ought to identify with based on my genetic heritage. Why is this a problem?
Firstly, it is a problem because I no longer comfortably identify with the legacy of Christianized European colonizers in the recent centuries here in North America that I was born into. My experiences have altered me personally such that I feel incompatible with both the majority of modern ‘Christian’ culture in North America and Christianity in its many historical forms, and the history I have learned of this continent has also made me despair at my European ancestor’s role in what has become of the indigenous Americans as well as the other non-European peoples brought to North America against their will by those ancestors. And I cannot simplify things by laying the blame for their colonizing ways to rest at their feet because they too were colonized by the Roman empire centuries before any of that happened. They merely continued the awful cycle of abuse, the abused child becoming the newest abuser.
But they were humans none-the-less, so why choose to seek connection with these pre-Roman ancestors when humans have been doing despicable things since time immemorial? I suppose to some degree the decision could be called arbitrary although I don’t readily agree to that characterization. I subscribe to the idea that, in the times when humans lived in smaller tribes, people in these tribes lived in a more conscientious, holistic way amongst themselves, with the land, and with other groups of people out of necessity. This experience, this worldview, cultivated individuals and societal structures able to create livelihoods that, in my opinion, best and most honorably reflected the place of the human animal in their environment.
Why do I feel the need to put foundations to my practice in some historical context? As evidenced by the extensive genealogies of various cultures around the world, how the individual comes to be in the world is a very common human query. Economically, it has been used as a guideline for inheritance of material things such as land or tools or cattle. Politically, genealogies have directed transference of power and loyalties. Socially, who is responsible for the well-being of whom tends to correlate with familial ties. In some ways this has helped foster the growth and continued existence of communities, and in other ways this mentality leads to deadly us-vs-them conflicts that still go on today. These practices are deeply ingrained in the ways that humans operate together, and I am no exception. There is just something about realizing the connections that you have with the thousands of individuals in history somehow all managing to survive to produce the individual that is you that fills one with feelings of awe, humility, and a place in the world. Remnants of all those people live on in the individual that is me.
Historically, humans naturally develop close relationship to the land on which they depend for survival, often taking the place name as part of their identity reference in dealings with other humans. In the United States today, this relationship has been greatly diminished by comparison, and it is my opinion that failing to acknowledge and address this loss, among others, is a large part of the foundations for many of the problems we currently face, both locally and globally. Given my ancestral history of decimating the peoples that already had a close relationship to this land before their arrival, in what ways can I ethically develop a relationship with this land? If I live on this and develop a relationship with it, how can I relate to my ancestors of lands far away? How can I authentically express my self and avoid cultural misappropriation, yet another symptom of ancestral colonization? These are the questions that are permeated with the feeling of being stranded, lost, and in many ways alone in a sea of people.
These questions weigh on my heart, but at the very least I feel I can make some attempt at moving forward with living my authentic self by simply living through Love. I love this land called Michigan, “the land that shares my heartbeat”.