Zephyr & Julianne

1. Lessons from Standing Rock: Zephyr & Julianne P1

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Zephyr and Julianne met and fell in love at the Standing Rock Dakota access pipeline water protector encampment in 2016. In this episode they reflect on how Standing Rock prepared them for the COVID-19 pandemic. They explore uncertain and shifting nature of both of these experiences, the wisdom gleaned from mistakes made, and how they are adapting to the new normal under COVID-19 in an Indigenous community in rural Washington. This is first of a two-part episode.

Zephyr Elise is a mixed-Indigenous two-spirit filmmaker, liberation activist, Mason County Climate Justice co-founder, soil regenerator, gluten-free chef and baker, and guest on Skokomish territories.

Julianne Gale is a youth worker and a community organizer committed to complete liberation for all people and a just transition in the face of the climate crisis.

Episode Transcript

Becka Tilsen:
Hello everyone and welcome. You’re listening to Dispatches, conversations about getting through the COVID crisis with community care, mutual aid and personal and collective resilience. Today you’re going to hear the first of a two part episode with my conversation with Zephyr Elise and Julianne Gail. Zephyr Elise is a mixed indigenous two-spirit filmmaker, liberation activist, guest on Skokomish Territories, co founder of Mason County Climate Justice, soil regenerator and gluten-free chef and baker. Julianne Gail is a youth worker and a community organizer committed to the complete liberation for all people and adjust transition in the face of the climate crisis.

Becka Tilsen:
So I met Zephyr and Julianne during Standing Rock organizing efforts where they also met and they fell in love there. And here we are four years later. In this episode they’re going to talk about some lessons learned from Standing Rock that they can apply to the COVID crisis and they’re also going to talk about what it’s like for COVID to come to their rural community of Hoodsport, Washington.

Becka Tilsen:
The second episode is really great too. I hope that you’ll tune into that. And in that one, they talk a little bit about dreaming futures and they talk a lot about tending plants and gardening. And if you’re at all interested in that, you’ll love the next episode. I wanted to let you know that we did this recording on March 25th which is just about two weeks before we’re releasing it. And I’m telling you that because time just feels like it’s warped in a fun house mirror right now during this COVID situation. And that one day or one week in the COVID times can feel like a month or longer in the regular world, both in terms of the news and the spread of the toll that it’s taking on the world. But also the pace at which we were all acclimating to the change.

Becka Tilsen:
And who am I? I’m your host, Becka Tilsen. I’m an organizer and a movement baby and a somatics practitioner, a facilitator and a mother living in Duwamish territory, otherwise known as Seattle. We started this podcast in the tradition of our community organizing ancestors who taught us that we need each other and that we have each other. And that even in these unprecedented times, we collectively do have what it takes to meet this moment with creativity, love and grit. So without further ado, welcome Zephyr and welcome Julianne. I’m so happy to have you here. Please introduce yourself.

Zephyr Elise:
[foreign language 00:02:19] My name is Zephyr, I have been called by my grandfather and my community to being two spirit carrier by the ancestors in spirit [inaudible 00:02:38] I am from many nations far, far South [inaudible 00:02:43] in what is know as the Southern regions of Mexico. I also bring my ancestors from bass territory, from France and Sicily, from Northern Africa, Southern Africa. From Stockholm, Wales and Ireland and the names they gave before. It is an honor to be here with you all.

Julianne Gail:
[foreign language 00:03:09] Hello everyone. My Chinese name is Yo Lan, yo like friend, Lan like orchid, and my Hebrew name is Toma, and you can call me Julianne.

Becka Tilsen:
Thank you so much for being with me in this evening. I’m here in Duwamish territory in Seattle and you are not far away.

Zephyr Elise:
We are on the other side of the Salish sea near the traditional territories of the Tawana or Skokomish nation. We’re very lucky to be near the big trees, the big [inaudible 00:03:50] and the blue waters of what is now known as the Hood canal.

Becka Tilsen:
So since you were both at Standing Rock and it was such an impactful place and experience for both of you and for me as well, I’m curious if you have thoughts on what lessons you learned from there that you will use or that you are using already to meet this moment with COVID-19.

Zephyr Elise:
Standing rock was a time where we stepped away voluntarily out of whatever our daily lives look like, wherever we were coming from and did heart work and spirit work and saw needs and build them without hierarchies of power. Without hierarchies of management. Everybody just did as they were able to, what they were focused, excited, passionate, knowledgeable about, right? We saw the need, we fit ourselves to give that contribution. And I think in times of crisis, whether it’s Backwater Bridge or whether it’s COVID-19, there’s this moment of we’re in this together, we’re here, this is who we have. Look around, these are the resources and these are the ways that we’re going to make it through.

Zephyr Elise:
And there’s also obviously a very big sense of urgency, then and now. For those on Backwater Bridge, that was an attack and that felt like an assault for those who are watching the global pandemic takeover. It also feels like a very deep, deep assault on our very survival and in both cases I think we are stronger together. In both cases we can build amazing powerful fierce and resilient communities when we’re all pulling together for a common cause.

Julianne Gail:
I feel like there’s a number of lessons that I’m carrying with me from then till now. I’m speaking now as someone who’s not native and in solidarity with native sovereignty. Standing Rock was a shift in consciousness, I feel like for non-native people in the United States and the same way that Black Lives Matter had a huge impact on non-black folk in understanding oppression and liberation and the brilliance of a whole targeted group of people. To be able to show up as well as I could at Standing Rock, I felt like one, I had to draw upon every lesson I’d ever learned and every experience I ever had, including experiences or things I’ve done that I’m ashamed of or embarrassed by or wished that I hadn’t experienced. I felt like I understood why I had gone through that or why I had made that mistake or whatever it was so that I was better prepared to be on that land.

Julianne Gail:
And similarly with COVID-19 I feel like every experience I’ve had, including being at Standing Rock and having to draw upon all my knowledge and experiences and all my relationships, to be able to try to think about this new unique moment and what is needed both in the short term and in the long term. Then on like a more personal level for me as someone with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, Ashkenazi Jewish meaning that my ancestors spent a long time in Europe, coming from the people who survived genocide. The trauma of that is something that I have had to work on healing in order to show up and really be present at Standing Rock and not be distracted by my own people’s genocide, while facing another people’s genocide. And I feel like all of the healing work I did around the Holocaust back then is still useful and there’s more healing work to do now in this moment because annihilation is annihilation.

Julianne Gail:
Deaths of millions of people is deaths of millions of people. So I could get distracted by the suffering of my ancestors in a way that prevents me from thinking well about this particular moment or I can use this particular moment to heal the past. So I can think well about what new possibilities are present here that I’ve never been present before. And related to that possibility idea is the way that standing rock was a moment that shifted collective consciousness. So is COVID-19 and a hope that I have is that- I feel like we’re at a little bit at a crossroads and one possibility is going towards fascism even more so. And another possibility is going towards seeing the flaws in capitalism more broadly and readjusting ourselves, slowing down to be able to notice our relationships more. To be able to notice our own thoughts and not try to rush things. To notice where we actually are in this moment and where the world is.

Julianne Gail:
And crisis is a good time to set new policy because people are already really uncomfortable. And so there’s space to think about what if we lived in a world where no one had to worry about whether they could access health care or food or housing or care or love or any of these things that are withheld conditionally under capitalism. And you’re told it’s your fault if you can’t meet those basic needs rather than is a system that’s set up so that some people have those things and some people don’t.

Julianne Gail:
I don’t know if it was Standing Rock that taught me this, but it was very clear to me at Standing Rock is the way that all of our liberation is bound up together. It became so clear to me how much of my intelligence was lost when my ancestors left their homelands and didn’t finish grieving that. And like how much intelligence was kept by the native folks who have stayed connected to their traditions. With any oppression, it actually hurts everybody, including folks in the oppressor role. So even for rich folks under the system of capitalism, there’s a huge loss of spirit and humanity that comes with that wealth. And so it’s an opportunity to shift things for everybody.

Zephyr Elise:
I will like to say here too, from Standing Rock to now, it still feels like every day I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t understand the lay of the land because it keeps shifting, and the beautiful thing sometimes when you know walking in the Pacific Northwest forest, you think you’re standing on solid ground and it shifts and it gets softer or you crash through and you find actual ground, but there’s a dance and there’s a beauty to just walking and reaching for that highest step, that lightest self. You know, as you transfer slightly through the forest and just holding on to what our ancestors have. It’s scary. This is terrifying. As many times as we say, we have ancestry that has survived really terrible trying, changing times.

Zephyr Elise:
This is a new one for all of us, but what a great time to just try and experiment. What a great time to just come together as we can in this time of social distancing to really see what does unity, solidarity, resiliency look like under such constraints as social distancing, as you know, trying to flatten the curve as facing whatever it’s going to look like when the numbers really start rolling in.

Becka Tilsen:
I love that. Thank you. So tell us a little bit about what COVID-19 is looking like in your community, how it’s impacting your life so far. I know you’re both pretty sick recently and that you thought that maybe you had it. I’m especially asking this because one of the things I’m noticing is that time is really warped right now and it’s really easy to forget what happened to create this current moment.

Zephyr Elise:
So we have a very small rural community. We have one road, it’s a two lane highway in and out. It’s a retirement community, our full time residents, more a vacation region for Portland and Seattle and folks from all over the world to come out and kind of get their time in nature here. The rest who are here are generally older. I think the median age is somewhere in the upper sixties or seventies. We have a lot of elders here. There’s kind of that small town, everybody waves and knows each other. We have a clinic that’s tiny mostly for folks visiting the Lake that might need a little bit of care. A bee sting, that sort of thing. The nearest hospital is 30 minutes away and it only has like 20 some beds. We are not at all going to be able to handle an epidemic that is targeting our elders.

Zephyr Elise:
This is a community that there aren’t a lot of folks of working age. Seemingly, a lot of the neighbors I’ve met are like me. They’re alternately abled, what some would described as disabled. Things don’t happen fast here, but we are near the national parks and we do have a lot of people coming in from around the world generally for our tourist season, it’s like part of our economy. It’s part of what most of the local businesses need for that boost to carry them through the year. Everything shut down. A lot of elders don’t cook for themselves. The Mom and Pop, the cafe, the couple of places that are open that are restaurants, like it’s having a big impact not only for the owners and the folks relying on that income, but for the elders who are relying on that for both their social interaction and their actual physical feeding requirements.

Zephyr Elise:
We’re lucky we have an independent grocer that’s here at the bottom of the hill, but for big cities, if you need lots of supplies, if you’re on a limited income, that’s also a 30 minute drive. Once again on a two lane highway that even before COVID, if the water Rose, if we had a mudslide, if a tree came down like that would interrupt already how life goes here. I’ve sat in traffic for four hours after making a quick run to town for some ice cream, when there was an accident. We already knew that it’s a little kind of on the edge and with whatever this is going to look like. We have a volunteer fire brigade. Sometimes they don’t have people who can drive the ambulance.

Zephyr Elise:
This is going to be bad here, and we just got our first positive test for this county who is a community member up here in this town last week. Let’s see in two weeks what the numbers look like.

Becka Tilsen:
Yeah, that one must have been really scary to know that it’s here and to know that it must be more than that person.

Zephyr Elise:
It’s definitely here. I think it’s honestly been here. I think that just now we have a name for it because like a lot of folks were really sick in our community, December and January, like everybody including myself. I was hacking and coughing and just feeling just terrible, in a way I’ve never felt before. So you know, also who knows? But when you know that person has been to your post office and everybody goes to the post office in town and everybody goes to these places, there isn’t a lot of segregation that can happen. It’s a small community.

Julianne Gail:
It’s been interesting to see how the narrative has changed in the community. There was a lot of early reassurance that was like, “we still have zero cases”, but as someone who developed symptoms on March 9th and wasn’t able to get tested until the 12th, it wasn’t very reassuring to me to hear that there were zero cases. We have a County of about 63,000 people and as of a day or two ago we had 183 people tested only, and two positive cases and a lot of people who are like, “how do I get tested? I can’t figure it out.” Some of the impacts I’ve seen, I work for a tribe here and the geoduck divers lost their market to Asia. So that was a lot of people’s income after already having a really bad fishing season. There’s one clinic and the clinic doesn’t have any test kits and it was closed on Friday and Monday because there was no provider that could come in. Whether they were quarantining or what was going on, I’m not sure, but with a high prevalence of underlying conditions, it’s really scary.

Julianne Gail:
The day that I came down with symptoms was the afternoon and that morning I had shaken the hand of someone who’s a really important culture keeper and basket weaver, and I was terrified of what I might’ve passed on. And then furthermore, my position is a supervisory position so having the responsibility of trying to figure out what makes sense policy-wise, how to take care of the workers and how to take care of the whole community that’s so closely knit, and how to be respectful as a outsider, newcomer who just has had this job for a couple of months was really hard. On the other hand, some things that have been really beautiful is I’ve seen a lot more people out in their yards during the day. A lot more people are home and walking by and building things and gardening.

Julianne Gail:
I feel super, super lucky to be working for a tribe at this time because tribes know how to take care of their people and regardless of whether people could work or not, all of us are paid in full, at least through the end of the month and there’s been so much support and I never felt like I had to make decisions on my own. I felt like there was so many people who were like, “let me support you. Let me talk it through with you. Let’s decide this together.” And as someone who always worked for white majority organizations until now, it is such a joy to have a different kind of thing. But it’s also terrifying because the level of responsibility and how important elders are is just… There aren’t words for the importance.

Julianne Gail:
And I guess one little anecdote I’ll share is as staff making a decision to cancel a teen trip a few weeks before all of this stay-at-home stuff happened and before it had reached the broader community narrative and how hard it was to really disappoint so many young people that I care so much about and I’m just getting to know and to tell them we’re not going to this conference on another reservation at the beginning of April because of what’s going on, and that was really, really hard to do.

Julianne Gail:
Now I’m at the place where I wish that decisions about shutting things down had happened at a higher governmental level a lot, lot sooner. We already have a much higher per capita rate of COVID-19 than China does. And we’re catching up very fast and round numbers to Italy and I think the mainstream culture in the United States of individualism and of arrogance and imperialism and superiority is going to really, really cost us and we’re on that trajectory already.

Zephyr Elise:
There’s a loss of innocence, I feel, that we are coming to as a nation. There are things that we have been able to count on like hospitals being able to accept you. That’s not been true for people all over the world, but mostly there’s a lot of disparity here. There’s a huge amount of inequity and a lot of struggling and there are things that we have also counted on and we might not be able to count on them. And there’s this loss of, I don’t even know if it’s entitlement, because it’s what everybody should get, but not everybody has.

Julianne Gail:
There’s an interesting writing by movement generation that really captured my attention which was, do we have the right to health care or do we have the right to know how to care for ourselves? And it’s a different thing to fight for the right to have something provided to us or the right to know as a community how to provide for ourselves and it’s a much more powerful position to know as a community how to provide for yourself. I don’t mean that in individual stick sense. I mean that in the knowledge that we have and the connections and the wisdom and generations of experience. In that kind of way.

Becka Tilsen:
Yeah. I’m struck right now with this strangeness of the dual realities where many of us are home and we can walk by and talk to neighbors and a lot of people are gardening and then we are looking ahead at this foreboding monster that is just creeping closer and closer to us and that every day the numbers get worse. And every day we might hear about somebody else closer and closer to our circles who either has COVID or is in the hospital or is in the ICU or has died. And that this combo is just so strange. And I see many of us vacillating there between hope and despair, or between freeze and fear. And these beautiful possibilities that are opening up inside of everything else stopping. And I’m curious if either of you resonate with any of that, but that’s what is sitting with me as I’m listening to you describe the intensity of these circumstances.

Julianne Gail:
Absolutely.

Zephyr Elise:
I think we’re still in the calm before the storm.

Becka Tilsen:
That is really scary and I think you’re right.

Zephyr Elise:
I almost a month ago had an experience that I feel is my ancestors and spirits kind of waking me up to realize that something really big and huge is coming and so I did a lot of grieving and mourning almost a month ago and I’m realizing that now is a time to do what I can do while I’m healthy. We had to wait for four or five days for the test results. I already have lupus as a diagnosis. I already have dealt with a broken back at 29 and being completely immobilized in a wheelchair and told, “well maybe you’ll walk and maybe who knows?” So kind of seen that and heard a doctor at 18 say you’re not going to make it to 21. I’ve already had to really look at what life and death mean in ways that I think folks who don’t have chronic illness or things that doctors can understand have had to turn in.

Zephyr Elise:
So now it’s just like, “Oh, I’m actually feeling okay. I have spoons, I’m upright and above ground. What can I get done?” But also realizing that on a spiritual level, in an actual level, if I’m called by this community by spirits and ancestors to serve in other roles, whether it’s a death doula or a healer or whatever. Other options might be needed that I carry. I need to go ahead and take some time now to just enjoy life in this moment because who knows what the next moment’s going to be. But looking at where other countries, we kind of have a trajectory, right? We can see where this might go and I’m kind of blessed in an odd way. My father survived Vietnam and 30 years in the Navy. I am definitely not his daughter in that I didn’t go to enlist when I was 18 like he did.

Zephyr Elise:
We have some interesting conversations, but I appreciate his honest description of war zones and what that trauma did to his heart and to his spirit and not just his body. And he actually talked to me kind of like war buddy to war buddy after I got out of Standing Rock. He’s the only one that I really could talk a lot of stuff initially about and just really paint the picture. And he always said, you know when you can take a nap, you take a nap. And I’m thinking about that right now. Prepare yourself. You never know when rest is assured, so take it now in this moment, whether it’s a breathe or a pause, look at the sky, look at the stars. Hug your family, you know, say howdy to a loved one, because who knows where it’s going to be in a week, a month, a year from now.

Becka Tilsen:
That concludes part one of our conversation with Julianne and Zephyr. I hope you’ll go and listen to part two. It’s a really great conversation with lots about plant tending and dreaming futures. I found it really grounding to re-listen to it. Thank you for tuning into Dispatches. We want to dedicate today’s episode to John Prine. Rest in power john Prine, who died on April 7th of this year from complications related to COVID.

Becka Tilsen:
We can’t play licensed music here. We don’t have permission to play. But since so many of us are finding refuge in music these days, consider playing one of his songs today, like “Angel from Montgomery”, “Long Monday”, or “Paradise”. If you have an idea of a story that Dispatches should cover, go to our website and fill out the form. We’re always looking for ideas. Dispatches is a kitchen dance party production. Producers are myself, Becka Tilson, Basil Shadid, and Molly Tilson. Today’s episode was edited by Justin Minich. On the editing team we also have Jill Irene Freidberg, Basil Shadid, and myself. Many thanks to all our friends and supporters. Please rate and review us. Please tell your friends about us and until next time, remember that we need each other and we have each other.

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