My story begins on the banks of the Mississippi River, when I would walk a narrow web of dirt paths with kokum.
We would let the sound of water guide us, as we admired ancient oak trees towering above. During each visit to nibi, we would make an offering of asema before we sat down to share stories. Sitting in silence, listening to the water flow, I felt in deep relation to the land.
Turtle Island is how we refer to this land. It is living, it is breathing — it holds memory. That is what I’ve been taught, what I know to be true. This relationship with aki has guided me throughout my life to take action. In 2016, I traveled to Standing Rock, South Dakota at the Oseti Sakawan encampment to fight for our sovereignty as indigenous people. Tribal nations from across Turtle Island gathered in solidarity to protect the Missouri River from the black snake.
We slept in flimsy tents that doubled as kites when the prairie winds swept them off the ground into the air. Each night we shared stories over an open fire; the fire keeper kept the fire alive during the occupation. Every person had a role to play in the encampment; the sense of community brought a deep sense of belonging.
I am an enrolled member of Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe/Chippewa located in Belcourt, North Dakota. My tribal nation holds title to a six by twelve mile land base twenty miles from the Canadian border, where the northern winds burn your face as a form of greeting. When visiting Turtle Mountain I can feel the presence of my ancestors near tribal graves, who’ve been buried on the same land we’ve inhabited for millennia.
The Red River Valley is where Pembina Bands traveled by birchbark canoe before westward expansion, pre-colonization. This area is near modern day Winnipeg nestled by the borders of Minnesota and North Dakota. My ancestor’s residence on this land is evident, and we are often reminded when new roads are built on former forgotten trails, remembered in distant memory.
All my relations to all living beings, my existence is interconnected with all life on Turtle Island from the four legged, to the creepy crawlers. These teachings have been passed along to me, the same way they’ve been passed along to those before me, and those before them. We are all members of ecosystems from the roles we play at home as brothers and sisters, to the role we’ve always known as caretaker to aki.
This gizheb I burned sage as I offered my daily prayer before giizis rose in the distant sky. I’ve begun a conscious practice of speaking Ojibwe, a language that when I first spoke gave me a profound sense of being. Within this vast universe we play an instrumental role in building a better tomorrow, a better today. Before I depart I will leave you with this: “one does not sell the earth upon which the people walk”, Aho.
Ramiro Vazquez Jr. is an enrolled member of the Ojibwe Turtle Mountain Nation located in North Dakota. He previously collaborated with Minneapolis youth to create actions around issues that affect students in the City of Minneapolis. His love for water led him to lead the Rethink Your Drink Campaign in partnership with the City of Minneapolis Health Department to engage community members on water safety and preservation. Ramiro enjoys spending his down time on-bike or in his running shoes appreciating the natural wonders that nature provides.