An Ancestral Approach to Ending Violence

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Lately my everyday routine has become riddled with reminders of past community traumas. On June 15th, I woke up prepared to dedicate my day to running errands. After getting dressed I walked down Jay St and headed towards Minnesota Ave.

Along the walk I noticed a few curbside memorials. Many honored loved ones who died due to gun violence by placing flowers and teddy bears at the site of the incident.

As I continued to walk, my body tightened, my hands got clammy, and the discomfort in my body reminded me that not everyone who died violently in my community was acknowledged with an immortelle or special momento.

Once, I reached my destination on Minnesota Ave. my body slowly began to relax. I opened my phone and brainlessly strolled social media. Quickly, my feed was full of images, news clippings, and stories covering the murder of a pregnant woman that was shot in the head and killed. Immediately my body was jarred back into fear and uneasiness. The shooting was a few feet away from the building I was in. I was unknowingly sitting in the middle of a crime scene.

My community is talking about the deeply concerning level of crime in the District. Although nationally there has been an uptick in crime, my neighbors feel the numbers East of the River are unique and deserve special attention. When discussing the topic with my neighbors they offered a variety of solutions. Some suggested harsher punishments, peace center calls to action such as walks or block parties. Others believed addressing root issues such as poverty would end crime.

Beverly Barrow is a descendant of the Iroquois Confederacy Kanien’keha:ka and Piscataway nation. She has traced her Indigenious ancestry back three generations and is proud to call Richardson Dwelling in Deanwood her home. Her posture toward reducing crime is rooted in her rich Indigenous heritage.

“Deanwood is a community with several historical landmarks. However, before Nannie Helen Burroughs school, or Strand Theater, the land was the first landmark.” Her words were simple, yet highly profound.

“Like my ancestors I feel a deep connection to the land. The trees hold stories that were left behind… for me this land is sacred.” As Beverly and I talked, her knowledge of the land and its history before the civil rights era was impressive.  As we stood talking in Marvin Gaye Park, she pointed to the ground.

“This land, all the way to Bowen Air Force Base to Bladensburg Roads to Benning Road is Nacotchtank land. A large portion of DC is built and developed in stolen land, until Indigenious people conduct a cleansing ceremony. the District will continue to experience violence.”

In November 2017, Beverly participated in an initiative offered by the Mayor’s office of Economic Development and Planning. She was awarded a $200 grant through DMPED & Neighbor Up to host the 1st Annual American Indian Heritage Celebration (for East of the River Ward 7). The ceremony was in honor of the Nacotchtank Tribe.

This program allowed Beverly to have a cleansing ceremony in Marvin Gaye Park. The ceremony consisted of the Inter-Tribal drummers. The drummers represented several indigenous nations such, Seminole, Piscataway,  Cherokee, and others.

“This part of the ceremony represents the heartbeat of the cleansing.” Beverly explained. The ceremony opened with a traditional prayer in the Algonquin language. Then there was a smudging with a giant feather. A smudging is done to purify the energy of a physical space, object, or person. This is done with a feather, sage, cider, sweet grass, and/or other medicines. Another interesting feature about the cleansing ceremony is that it is done in the indigenous language to ensure the ancestors can understand.

In the future Beverly plans to continue connecting folks East of the River to their Indigenous ancestry. She hopes to continue to build the tribal community and to work with government agencies to center Indigenous voices in environmental challenges, political endeavors, and economic development. She wants to reduce violence in the District by exercising her ancestral practices, traditions, and customs throughout the District.

Leniqua’dominique Jenkins works on the DC Council but the views expressed here are her own. She can be reached at jenkinseastoftheriver@gmail.com.