Walking in Remembrance

Walking in Remembrance

Smoky Mountains by Simone Lipscomb

About a month ago, I hiked nine miles. A week later, I hiked 10.5 miles. It sort of seemed like a deal because I usually walk 5 miles every other day, but was wanting to increase the length of my walks. There was some residual fatigue the next day and soreness, but overall I was okay.

Days later I woke up thinking of the people of this land, that were forced to march from here to Oklahoma after having watched their homes destroyed, families killed—more horrors than I can imagine. The Removal. Seems my hiking isn’t a deal at all. There’s simply no way to compare hiking for pleasure and being forced to march over 1000 miles as captives…with little food or clothing that protects from the cold weather.

The US Federal Government had a mission to displace Native Americans as the white population expanded. The goal focused on removing them from Indian Country, west beyond the Mississippi River. The Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed by President Andrew Jackson, sealed the fate of many tribes but perhaps the most well-known displacement was that of the Kituwah people (whites called them Cherokee). Their forced march west of 16,000 people resulted in the death of over 4000 tribal members—The Trail of Tears. 

As a child, this historical fact profoundly affected me, horrified me, and planted within me a deep love and respect for People of Kituwah. Every time my family was here on vacation, I was at peace, but leaving upset me horribly. I never wanted to leave the mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, and diverse plant life. This felt like home to me. I grieved for those that were forcibly removed.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park….Kitawah Lands photograph by Simone Lipscomb

I ended up living in the Piedmont of North Carolina for many years and eventually moved to Asheville for several years. Finally, I found my way to the area I loved so deeply as a child and now live within a few miles of the Kituwah Mother Town. This move started opening inner doors to ancestral healing that continues to expand. My family, like all caucasians, were immigrants, also displaced but for other reasons.

Carlisle Indian Industrial School circa 1900 Pennsylvania

Early this autumn, I was at the Rooted in the Mountains Symposium at Western Carolina University. I listened to two sisters—Roseanna Belt and Sarah Sneed—tell the story of their mother’s experience in boarding school. Native American children were taken from families in an attempt to further destroy tribal sovereignty and expand colonization. The boarding school efforts by the government was also a forced removal, a destruction of families. 

Connemara, Ireland by Simone Lipscomb

At this same time, a friend from the UK was releasing her new book on her great, great, great grandmother’s life and her forced removal from Ireland to the industrial slums of London. Nicola and her husband Jason produced a short film on Nicola’s journey to learn about her ancestor’s life and beautifully presented a very sobering history of farmers being forced from their homes in the UK and in Ireland as the wealthy claimed the land. So many histories of ancestral trauma…all over the world.

The Great Famine in Ireland, also called The Great Hunger, was a period where one million people died and another two million emigrated. It forever changed the country. A potato blight was a root cause, but the UK government did little to alleviate their Irish citizen’s precarious situation. Britain’s government placed artificially high taxes on bread and took a laissez-faire approach to the suffering of the Irish. Hundreds of thousands of Irish tenant farmers and workers were evicted. Those able to work were sent to workhouses. “The impoverished Irish peasantry, lacking the money to purchase the foods their farms produced, continued throughout the famine to export grain, meat, and other high-quality foods to Britain….the attitude among many British was that the crisis was a predictable and not-unwelcome corrective to high birth rates in the preceding decades.” (Britannica) 

Bonaire, N.A. photograph by Simone Lipscomb

Several years ago I was driving a small truck in a remote area of Slagbaii National Park in Bonaire, photographing the beautiful scenery. The dirt road winds through desert along the Caribbean Sea for many miles. As I was driving, I saw an old man walking. He flagged me down and asked if he could ride to his friend’s house in town. I was by myself, but it felt okay so I said, “Sure.” Before he got in he looked me in the eyes and said, “Are you Dutch?” I answered, “No.” “Are you American?” he asked. “Yes.” This sort of scared me as Americans aren’t always liked in other countries. “You’re not Dutch?” he asked again. “No, sir. I’m not Dutch.” “Okay, then. I’ll ride with you,” he replied.

He got in the truck and began to tell me his story. As a child, a native child of the Caribbean island, the Dutch forced him from his family, put him in boarding school, punished him for speaking his native language. Same story Roseanna and Sarah told, just a different geographic location. As an elder, he resided in a shack in the desert to avoid the Dutch, so deeply was he traumatized by colonization.

Admittedly, I cannot understand this kind of cruel, heartless treatment of humans. And sadly, the trauma doesn’t end with the generation that experienced it, as evidenced by the study of genetics, specifically epigenetics. 

Epigenetics studies how trauma can affect the way genes work. This can be passed down for generations. Unlike changes in genetics, epigenetic changes are reversible because they don’t change the DNA sequence, but can change how the body reads a DNA sequence (CDC).

Each of us has the capacity to carry ancestral trauma. It can be triggered by current events and we can react without understanding our physical or emotional reaction. 

Photo of Simone by David Knapp

A few months ago, I set the intention to heal ancestral trauma that keeps me from realizing my hopes and dreams. I had a surge of unsettled, chaotic energy and emotions arise for the next few days. I tried to sort out a method of healing and started looking outside myself, but finally listened to inner guidance that suggested I connect deeper with the land consciously. As I begin practicing this while walking, I began to understand that the way ‘they’ have colonized us is to remove us from the land. Either forcibly, as with the People of Kituwah, starvation as with Irish people, or even with marketing schemes that begin to uproot us from the land and connect us to ‘stuff’ they are selling to make profits…as ‘they’ destroy the environment to create junk we don’t even need.

Our task is to find ways to reconnect to the land, to our ancestors.

In a global sense, aren’t we all orphans, ripped from the land? Once we lose our roots, we are lost, at least until we begin to heal. Once the deep connection to the land is lost, we become open to conforming to whatever ‘they’ want for us. Lost, malleable. Colonized. While there are varying depths of trauma, the common experience we share is a loss of connection with the land.

Self-portrait…connecting to the land and sea.

When we touch the land with tenderness and feel our hearts open to it, we become aware of the Oneness of everything. We regain connection to ourselves and each other…all life. Once our hands find the rich soil, we begin to shed old traumas and reclaim our wholeness for not only ourselves, but for our ancestors and descendants as well. When we come home to the land, the sea, the rivers….we begin to heal. And when we do this consciously and with intention, the healing goes deep.

Clingman’s Dome area, photograph by Simone Lipscomb

When I walk the trails of this land, where the Kituwah People lived for thousands of years before white explorers arrived, I think of them and remember. I think of the people of Ireland and England. I think of the elder from Bonaire. I think of my ancestors that emigrated from Hungary. May we connect with the land and heal…and remember.

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