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Monday Photo Meditation: Late Summer Labor, Late Summer Light


The dominant culture calls this Labor Day, and so it is for us, too, although in literal terms, not as an honorific and day of putative rest. For us, every day is a day of labor, irrespective of the calendar, state-sanctioned downtime, or personal desire.

We struggle with this day each yea . We support unions, but are uncomfortable with the hagiographic rewriting of history, resistant to demands that we elevate all of those who were part of the early labor movement automatically to hero status. No one knows better than our peoples how much of the labor movement shut out peoples of color, especially our own; indeed, to far too great a degree, peoples of color, particularly those indigenous to these lands loosely called “America,” are even now least and worst served by it.

And no one is more aware than I that many of the same people canonized as part of the early movement, those who fought on the front lines of the nascent mining and auto industries, were the same people willing to mount up on horseback in hoods and sheets to terrorize my father’s family, and others like them.

For Native peoples, no aspect of “America,” nor even of “history,” is ever simple or straightforward.

And so we observe this day in our own way, which is to say that we engage in our usual labor, just as we do the other 364 (or -5) days of the year. It’s labor in the old sense, too: not punching a time clock or toiling for The Man, but our own hard work. It keeps us going, keeps this place going, helps to keep others afloat, too. But our peoples have always known the value of hard work, self-employment, and a healthy balance with regard to time for other endeavors. We will never be wealthy, but perhaps we will be healthy in spite of it, or even because of it.

This day has been a fairly typical one here, with intense heat and brilliant sun giving way, in the latter hours of the afternoon, to wind and clouds and the occasional scattered raindrop and the ethereal light that is the hallmark of the seasonal space that straddles summer and autumn in this place. It’s daytime starshine, liquid light pouring through honeycombed clouds, turning blue sky, brown peaks, and green earth all an improbably shade of translucent gold.

It’s a reminder that the light is not here for long, not at this length — as its angle grows lower and longer, the days grow shorter commensurately. But it’s also the gift of knowing that or a few more days, weeks, even, we will have the light and the warmth and the green beneath the blue in which to go about our work: time to finish the chores that accompany warmer winds, time to get the hay in, time to get the harvest in, time to make ready for winter.

For now, we go about our days as is our custom, and the days themselves are their customary selves: late summer labor, late summer light.

~ Aji







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