I have stayed at three places now where the people are trying to live closer to the land, take only what they need and plant more to help facilitate the rejuvenation and restoration of often degraded land. One place was in Japan, where I worked at a family-owned organic and natural foods cafe and restaurant, and sometimes at their farm where they harvested most of the food for the two. I was impressed with their knowledge of the land, and their compassion for it and each other. Another place was in India, where a deforested area was being slowly and painstakingly replanted by mostly volunteer labor. The volunteers, some local Indian people, and the family that started the project all lived together in huts, used composting toilets and solar energy, and where planting gardens for everyone to eventually get all their food. The diet was even strict vegan, AND on top of that no caffeine or spicy foods (in India!) were allowed. I spent two weeks eating mostly fruit, vegetables, beans and rice. I did cheat some nights with some volunteers by going out to the nearby village and drinking chai and eating spicy parotas. I was particularly impressed with this place, and told the man who started it that I thought that what they were doing was beyond just "sustainable living"; it was "regenerative living". More and more, I believe that the latter is the only way to pull ourselves out of this mess we're in.
And now White Earth...upon reflection, I reminded myself that this is a place torn apart not only ecologically, but the people whose original land base this was, have been torn apart and repressed as well. To some degree that was true of Japan, and India, but nothing to the degree of this place. What I mean is, where the people in those places in Japan and India where working hard, sometimes fumbling around for the right path, but supporting each other and staying mindful of their common goal, here I have witnessed a dysfunction in the human relationships, and a disconnect to the one's own impact on the environment that I didn't expect to encounter, especially not from a group of people who were working so hard to do the opposite. Can't climb out of the burning oil without scalding yourself on the pan first, I guess. If that makes any sense. The more I get to know people here, the less I realize we have in common in our pasts, and I feel like I've been riding on a wave of White Privilege all my life. Even so, I'm tired, I feel drained here, and I want to go home. I didn't come here with any expectation that I'd make a big difference, or "save" anyone, I just wanted to learn, and hopefully become more inspired by the work and the people working around me. I have felt that way some days, but for the most part I have seen dysfunctional communication, disorganization, and a sense of hopelessness. Some days I feel like I'm the only person who cares enough to clean up after myself, or after others, or encourage others to work a little more before the next break (and there are many). Or be on time. I guess it's just everyone runs on "Native Time". I totally believe in taking time out and really appreciate your surroundings and all that, but sometimes the stalling is just about avoiding work.
This weekend, I got to hang out with Winona LaDuke for a few hours. Somehow, after spending more time with her, I feel a little better about being here. She works hard--is in fact as they say constantly in motion, always planning something, and she has done a lot. However, in the process other important things have been neglected in her life, and I've learned a lot from what I've seen. I would not tell anyone not to do an internship here, because I have learned so much, even from the bad stuff. And the forests are beautiful, the wildlife abundant, and I've met some great people and hope to stay in touch.