“I am”, I responded.
According to the Great Law of the Anishinaabeg, philosophers and intellectuals were an important part of the larger community. Their work was valued to be equally as important as the clan members who were hunters, clan members who chopped and gathered wood, clan members who took care of the children, clan members who sewed clothing, and clan members who cooked. The short story is all clan members were equally important and all clan members worked together to live the good life. Hunters provided for all, where in turn wood choppers provided for all, where in turn cooks provided for all, and where in turn the intellectuals provided for all. It is said that the sacred circle provided equally for everyone.
Today we live in a top down power structure where oppressive power is inherent in all of our structures such as our medical and housing structures. This power structure is also laden in our education institutions where as such many people who work within them have limitations in what they can say and do. They have to be careful because they must not upset their employer and risk the economics and benefits that they are stitched into. Of course these employees are doing important work; no one would deny this. Regardless, we must not confuse an employee as the ideal intellectual and human rights advocate because, again, they are edited, monitored, and controlled in what they say and do by their institution and employer.
While this is the case today, there remain many intellectuals and human rights advocates who consciously opt not to work within the crushing limitations of oppressive structures such as universities or government institutions. These intellectuals and human rights advocates opt to work outside of these institutions because they do not want to be complicit in top down power, do not want to be censored, do not want these institutions to monopolize their time, effort, and voice, or because they need the freedom to do the hard work that has to be done. They must and want to remain at the community level. Like the muskrat, they do have a strategy.
Unfortunately today community intellectuals and human rights advocates who work outside of institutions are not valued at the community level by community people, the very people who need and want change. Despite all the discussions of the need to de-colonize, for some reason too many people continue to think community based intellectuals do not need to be provided for. Some people who wish to see and experience change contradictorily think these community intellectuals and human rights advocates should go get a job when in fact they have a job. Let’s face it, if they did get a job in an institution they would be unable to do the intellectual and human rights work they are doing.
We need to move back to a place that values these community intellectuals and human rights advocates because they deserve to be provided for. If community people and organizations are unable to see this rationale, it should be even clearer that community intellectuals and human rights advocates need to be provided for. They need fire too; they need water too, they need clothing too, they need eggs too, they need bread too … .
“Who is doing social justice work?”, she asked?
“I am”, I responded.