Yesterday my sister and I arrived in Palm Beach, Florida. We took a direct flight from Hartford where it was barely 15 degrees. Even the water pipes on the plane froze so the flight attendants could not offer coffee or tea.
My sister and I dragged our pale skinned bodies deficient in Vitamin D off the plane. We were greeted by 80 degrees of balmy Florida air. The great thaw was about to begin.
I planted my bare feet into the warm sand. Sun kissed my exposed skin for the first time in months. Waves crashed on the shore like music to my ears. Ahhhh, finally, some respite from the North’s bitter cold.
The aches and pains in my neck, back, and shoulders began to melt away. Gratitude filled my heart as I stared out to sea. Endless hues of blue remind me of how vast the Earth and oceans are and how we are connected to all of it in more ways than we’ll ever know.
On the plane, I read an article in YES! Magazine by Robin Wall Kimmerer called, “Alternative Grammar: A new Language of Kinship.” Wall Kimmerer is learning her native Anishinaabe language and discusses how disrespectful the English language can be by referring to the Earth as “it” for a pronoun. This grammatical error reinforces the belief that the Earth and all “its” creatures are separate from humans.
We don’t watch our Grandmother’s making soup and say, “Look, it is making soup.” Referring to a person as “‘it’ robs a person of selfhood, kinship, reducing a person to a thing,” says Wall Kimmerer. She believes our language objectifies the natural world and reinforces the notion that our species is somehow more deserving of the gifts of the world than the other 8.7 million species with whom we share the planet.
I agree with Wall Kimmerer that we need a new language that reflects the life-affirming world we want, a language with its roots in an ancient way of thinking. She spoke to her elders about this issue and they pointed out that “while their language carries no responsibility to heal the society that systematically sought to exterminate it,” they believe “the reason we have held onto our traditional teaching is because one day, the whole world will need them.
The proper Anishinaabe word for beings of the earth is Bemaadiziiaaki. Wall Kimmerer suggests for practical purposes we use a new pronoun from the end of the word: “Ki.” Is there any synchronicity here with the word from the Chinese, “Qi,” and the Japanese and Korean, “Ki,” which both mean life force energy?
Wall Kimmerer declares “kin” as the plural pronoun for earth beings so we can refer to the birds and trees as our kin. I admire her wisdom in this cultural transformation, which has the power to shape our thoughts and actions when relating to the living world.
While my sister and I look out to the sea and watch the seagulls, pelicans, vultures, and cranes soar above us, I will refer to them all as my kin.