“We Know This History Better Than Anyone”: A Conversation with Sharon Day

Call & Response spoke with Sharon M. Day- musician, artist, writer, activist, and so much more- to talk about art and spirituality during this time of crisis.

Sharon M. Day - Playwright - (Ojibwe*) is the Executive Director and one of the founder’s of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force (IPTF), formerly known as the Minnesota American Indian AIDS Task Force.
*She is an artist, musician, and writer.
*An environmental activist, she has led 19 Water Walks from 2011, to draw attention to the devastation of natural water resources and to offer prayers for these rivers. These extended ceremonies have happened along The Mississippi, the Ohio River, the St. Louis River, the James River in Virginia, the Missouri River, Cuyahoga River in Ohio, Seneca Lake in New York and Pokegama Lake in Minnesota.
Sharon's many awards include the Resourceful Woman Award, the Gisela Knopka Award, BIHA’s Women of Color Award, The National Native American AIDS Prevention Resource Center’s Red Ribbon Award, and most recently, the Alston Bannerman Sabbatical Award, and most recently, the Spirit Aligned Leadership Fellowship. The Governor of the State of Minnesota, and the mayors of both St. Paul and Minneapolis named November 10, 1998 after her: Sharon M. Day, Day. She is one of the Spirit Aligned Leadership Fellows. She is an editor of the anthology, Sing! Whisper! Shout! Pray! Feminist Visions for a Just World: Edgework Books, 2000. She is also one of two contributors to Drink of the Winds, Let the Waters Flow Free, Johnson Institute, 1978.

C&R: What are some of the immediate concerns in Indian country and indigenous communities around the country as this crisis unfolds?

SD: The immediate concerns are lack of testing, lack of PPE and hospital beds and icu beds to care for the sick. In the Navajo Nation which is larger than many states in land area has a rate higher than the rates per 100 thousand in New York City. Native Americans or Indigenous Peoples suffer from health disparities such as food deserts, jobs, and environmental toxins in the land, air and water, resulting in high rates of diabetes, heart disease and asthma. This will not bode well for outcomes when the Corona Virus hits tribal communities both on and off the reservations.

C&R: Many Americans are scared about the future as the virus affects folks across the board in one way or another, often in profound and destabilizing ways. Thinking about five centuries of indigenous resistance and survival in the face of settler colonialism, one of the most destructive threads in this history has of course been the diseases brought by the invaders, which – paired with war, displacement and starvation – saw the near extermination of indigenous peoples across the Americas. Does that long history and the formative role of pestilence influence how you think about the current moment? 

SD: Of course, we know this history better than anyone. This resulted in Native women sewing masks and distributing them to hospitals, community members and providing information to community about our own herbal medicines; most of the time, we can find these medicines within 30 feet of our homes and we harvest these medicines all year throughout the growing season. Grandmothers are preparing herbal packets for distribution. Information is shared via the internet and by phone calls freely.

C&R: There is no shortage of apocalyptic thinking these days. But what if we could fill that thinking about the future with visions of light instead? There is a Sikh prayer that asks, “what if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?” Seeing this darkness as the prelude to a rebirth of sorts, what would the world look like in 50 years if you could imagine and bring that future into being?

SD: In our prophesies given over 500 hundred years ago, we were told of this time. A time when all people living on Turtle Island would have to make a decision, to continue on this path of destruction or move to harmony with all things, the plants, the animals, humans and the waterways, indeed with Mother Earth. Which way will we go? indeed this is the question.

C&R: Is there a prayer or poem or a saying that you feel speaks to the current situation and brings comfort or strength or perspective? Could you share it with us?

SD: In these days 
Chi Migwetch for my morning rituals
First gratitude to the water
That flows from the overhead shower head 
like gentle rain to cleanse my physical being
Then Migwetch to the water used to brew my
Mukademashkikiwaboo
Migwetch to the elderberries and honey used to make the syrup
And apple cider vinegar these are my morning concoction.
Migwetch to the cedar trees in my front yard
The small leaves simmer slowly on my stove
For tea to cleanse my lungs the steam to cleanse the air
As the day wears on
I contemplate the songs
Our sacred items
I shut the tv off
No sounds other than my own voice
As I sing
Sing for these medicines
And The helpers
The sacred items 
Obsidian bowl
Sumac tree
Asemaa. 
Sage. 
Cedar.
Together they are everything.
The vibrations we need for healing
Everything.
SDay. 3-26-20

Mural on the Plaza Centenario from Pangea’s Lake Street Arts! Program. Mural created by Goodspace Murals. Photo by Meena Natarajan.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s