“We just need to be better; or we need to be kinder to each other.” When the world is in turmoil, how do you stay grounded? We talked with Matt Remle (Hunkpapa Lakota from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation) about how his Lakota teachings, guidance from his elders, and even his name guides his actions and how he shows up in the world. Hear Matt and dear friends singing in this episode, as well as a special recording of ancestor Vi Hilbert of the Upper Skagit sharing a story about the importance of every single one of us doing our part.
Host and Producer: Jessica Ramirez. Story Editor: Jenny Asarnow.
Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.
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Seedcast Season 2 Episode 10 Matt Remle
HE WHO CHARGES WITH THUNDER: A conversation with Matt Ramle
September 28 2022
[theme music softly plays in the background]
[00:00:04] Matt Remle: You know, the bees, the pollinators, you know, you can literally go through all of creation and see how what they do in their everyday action contributes to life. And we call that roles and responsibilities, and we understand through our teachings that all of us—every single one of us on this planet—are connected to all of creation.
[00:00:35] Jessica Ramirez: Hi, this is Jessica Ramirez. Welcome to Seedcast. Today, we're hearing wisdom from Matt Remle.
Theme song by Mia Kami: We are standing, hear our calling, we are rooted to the ground we’re here to stay. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can't tear us down, we’re here to stay…
[00:00:35] Jessica: Matt Remle is a member of the Hunkpapa Lakota from Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in what is presently known as North Dakota. And Matt lives in Seattle, Washington, like me, on Coast Salish territory. I spoke with Matt about his worldviews rooted in Lakota teachings.
[00:01:29] Matt: We just need to be better; or we need to be kinder to each other.
[00:01:36] Jessica: And as someone who calls Coast Salish territory home, how he integrates the teachings of the Coast Salish peoples in his life, reminding us how important it is to dig into the places that we are to know the people whose land that we are on.
[00:01:53] Matt: [Introduces himself in Lakota] Oh, hello. My Lakota name is Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ. My English name's Matt Remle. I’m Hunkpapa Lakota from Standing Rock, but I live in Seattle. And my parents are Charles Remle and Donna Harrison.
[00:02:31] Jessica: Matt has long, light brown hair with rosy cheeks and a shy smile. He is soft spoken and friendly. He is a community leader and a dad. We talked about what has kept him grounded over the last couple of years, living through a public health emergency, climate crisis, and political upheaval.
[00:02:54] Matt: What's kept me grounded is, I’m very blessed to come from a family that's grounded in our traditions, and our ceremonies. And one of our teachings with our ceremonies is that it teaches us hardship. And you know, when you're fasting for—going without food or water for four days, four nights out in the hot sun, dancing; it teaches you hardship. And one of the reasons we do that is to not only appreciate, say, water, when you're going four days without water or going four days without food; but to prepare you for your hardship.
[00:03:41] Jessica: In the midst of going through hardship, you're not doing it alone. You're doing it together, and people are looking out for each other.
[00:03:51] Matt: I feel so blessed with our Native community. I really love our—whether it's with the tribes or even in the city/urban Native community—like we really look out and take care of each other. I can't tell you how many times we'll just go out on, you know, open the door and there's some kind of gift laying there of medicine—some sage, sweet grass, cedar, or, you know, we're really fortunate that we look out for each other that way. So that's definitely kept me grounded.
[00:04:26] Jessica: When in community, we also find that we are responsible for more than just ourselves. Matt and I talked about what it means for Indigenous peoples to move in the world in a way that honors our traditional ways, who we are as Indigenous people, is how we show up to do the work to keep our communities and cultures intact.
[00:04:49] Matt: I have always said that I don't consider myself an activist at all, or an organizer; that we have in our Lakota ways, Lakota teachings, which I have come to understand is pretty similar to not only other Tribes or First Nations, but Indigenous peoples globally. I hear a very similar type of thinking, which is that we have roles and responsibilities, very specific instruction of things we have been told to do since time immemorial. And these teachings, these responsibilities, you know, they're ingrained into our language and into our ceremonies.
So for example, as Lakota, you know, we're told that one of our instructions is that we have seven ceremonies we’re to conduct in between the spring equinox and summer solstice; certain ceremonies—renewal ceremonies—that we do during this time. And those ceremonies are our contribution or contributing to life, you know, so we know that through our origin stories that everything, all the creation, has a role and responsibility. You know, the trees right now, and the plants, are filtering that carbon and releasing oxygen, which not only helps them, but it helps all of us to live. You know, right now the worms are going through the soil and they bring life to that soil for things to grow on it, you know, we'd say that is one of its responsibilities. You know, the bees, the pollinators, you can literally go through all of creation and see how what they do in their everyday action contributes to life.
And we understand through our teachings that all of us, every single one of us on this planet, are connected to all of creation. You know, we're a part of that, we're no different than the trees and birds and other animals. We're all of the same thing. So if they have a role and responsibility, we do too, you know. It’s just as the youngest of all the creation, humans, we're the only ones who have strayed from our roles and responsibilities. Which then, if we look at the chaos around us, it's not too hard to kind of draw that line between the two. Most peoples have stopped engaging because of colonialism, genocide, slavery, assimilation, indoctrination, you know, have strayed from them responsibilities. So now you have a very, very, very few small groups of peoples globally who continue to fulfill these responsibilities.
[00:08:00] Jessica: Look, I get it. With so much going on in the world today, it would be hard for me to choose what my roles and responsibilities are. I know that I'm a child to my parents, a sibling to my sisters, and auntie. It goes on. But outside of those roles, I am also a deeply passionate person when it comes to fighting for a more just world. I advocate, lead, and support for change, where I can; and sometimes I just don't know where to begin.
[ambient music plays in the background]
Matt is from Standing Rock. It's the same place where there were massive protests in 2016 and throughout early 2017. The protests aimed to stop an oil pipeline from being built through sacred lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. It was highly political, and the phrase Mní wičhóni—“Water is life”—was a phrase used to describe why people were protesting against the oil pipeline. Thousands of people showed up to the reservation to support the Lakota people. Matt was there. I was there too. And even though I didn't have words for it then, I felt as if it was my responsibility to support their community, to protect their ancestral lands from destruction.
[00:09:36] Matt: When we're out there protecting, say, against some of this fossil fuel infrastructure, some of these pipelines; there tends to be a direct link to those people's particular roles and responsibilities that they were were placed there to be protectors of, you know, for us—the Black Hills and other areas—you know, we have to protect that. We know water is the very first medicine that was given to all of creation. So we have a responsibility to take care of it. So when I see, living out here amongst the Coast Salish peoples and how they go about protecting the salmon and learning from them, their teachings and stories and connections to salmon; they're not out there protesting, you know, just to protest, you know. They have a responsibility to the Salmon Peoples. So it's in understanding our…You know, when I give you my name at the very beginning, my Lakota name Wakíƞyaƞ Waánataƞ, that's a family name that was passed down a number of years ago. When we do our namings—by the way that translates to “He charges with thunder”; he was a great, great grandfather from the 1700s—that isn't just a name tag, like “Matt”; this is a name that comes with some specific responsibilities. And every day I try to live up to those responsibilities. You know, we have our responsibilities as a greater Lakota Oyate or Oceti Sakowin; you know, responsibilities. But then we also have responsibilities within our own families, our own extended families, and so on. And these are the type of things we need to fulfill. They might look like, to some people, activism or organizing; but it's really not, you know. It's maintaining that.
[00:11:36] Jessica: It's a way of being!
[00:11:37] Matt: Yes. Period.
[00:11:39] Jessica: [Repeats softly]It's a way of being.
[00:11:40] Matt: Absolutely.
[ambient music plays in the background]
[00:11:47] Jessica: This responsibility of being connected to his way, to his people; it has powerful consequences. It includes how to protect. And it's a North Star for how Matt lives his life.
[00:12:02] Matt: In Lakota culture, you know, it's matriarchal, and it's mostly the grandmothers, are the ultimate decision makers. It's the grandmothers who are telling the men to do certain actions. That in itself is tied back to roles and responsibilities. [Jessica makes a sound of agreement] As protectors and providers, we have to do what our grandmothers tell us to do. You know, my auntie LaDonna called me when all that was happening. She just said, “Nephew, I know you're in Seattle, but we're hearing rumors of this pipeline. You're gonna help out.”
[00:12:38] Jessica: Standing Rock is the most recent example of how he stepped into his role and responsibility as a part of his survival. Matt's aunt, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, was a person who called supporters to Standing Rock. She invited people to her front yard to protest, and she was one of many who started this historic campaign to stop the pipeline.
LaDonna was instructing Matt to do some writing, and he's really good at it too. So when stories about the protests and the pipeline were not getting the coverage they deserved, Matt made it his responsibility to make it world news. This effort would be another part of the protest strategy. He took to the website www.lastrealindians.com, where you can learn more about what's happening in Indian Country. And it's where I was able to follow what was going on at Standing Rock as it was happening.
[Ambient music plays in the background]
For people who know Matt, they know him as someone who has a profound respect for language, and he knows his ancestral language, Lakota. He even sings in Lakota.
[People drumming and singing in Lakota plays in the background]
[00:14:52] Matt: Language to me is the one most beautiful things to really engage in; and that our ancestors held a certain worldview and perspective that was deeply connected and tied to kind of a greater cosmos, and how we're supposed to be living. And I just love learning the kind of deeper root meanings of just some words, you know. Some small words are, have very deep—you know, Mní wičhóni, which became a, you know, globally recognized Lakota saying. But it doesn't mean—it actually doesn't mean “water”, mní doesn't mean “water”. M, N, I, which is the word we use to reference the substance of water. But if we break that word down, the N-Í, what that means is, “life giving”. And when you put the M in front of it, that's a reference for, like, yourself—like when you're referring to yourself. So mní , when you put that together is, “This is giving me life”, is what it literally translates to. And wičhóni is a word that we use to reference all living. all of creation. So we put them two together to give acknowledgement that all life needs this substance to live.
[People drumming and singing in Lakota continues]
[00:16:59] Matt: You know, we don't have words that translate to like, “man”, “woman”, stuff like that. There are words that reference—we have stages of life. You know, kind of four stages of life from our infancy to elder. And these are things that don't come with age. It is coming to a place where there's totally a fulfillment and understanding of our Lakota values, our Lakota culture, of that knowledge, and then bring that wisdom to—and those teachings—to the rest of the community, the rest of the people, you know. So to me, that's all kind of what I'm trying to get at with these responsibilities and how we try to live our day to day life.
[00:17:48] Jessica: Matt lives out his Lakota values every day. And here on Coast Salish territory, he integrates his learnings from the Coast Salish peoples.
[00:17:58] Matt: You know, one of the teachings I've learned from the Coast Salish Tribes, they always talk about lifting each other up, you know, when they're doing their—I'm sure you've seen this at a many coastal gatherings, you know, I raise my hands to you, but I'm holding you up. And I like that teaching, you know, it's a good teaching. You gotta do more holding each other up and supporting one another.
[00:18:18] Jessica: This story about holding each other up and supporting each other, reminded me of the Coast Salish story, Lifting the Sky, where you learn the lesson about how it takes all of us to do the work, to take on our responsibilities.
[A recording plays of Vi Hilbert, Taqʷšəblu, telling the story in Lushootseed]
[00:18:41] Jessica: As it goes a long time ago:
[00:18:43] Vi Hilbert: [Recording of her speaking] “The creator has left the sky too low. We are going to have to do something about it, and we don't understand one another. How can we do that?
[00:18:55] Jessica: Tall people hit their head on the low sky, and the Coast Salish tribal communities wanted to do something about it, but they all spoke different languages.
Here is ancestor Vi Hilbert of the Upper Skagit, sharing the story.
[00:19:11] Vi: [Recording of her speaking] We can do it. We can do it. We can all learn one word. That's all we need is one word. That word is, “yəhaw̓”, “yəhaw̓”[Children’s voices chime in], “yəhaw̓”. Try it: “yəhaw̓”. Try it: “yəhaw̓”; “yəhaw̓”. Everybody try it: “yəhaw̓”. That means to proceed, to go forward. Do it.
One word, that's all you need. Everybody knew that one word. “Now,” the wise leaders said, “In order to do this job, we will need to lift the sky and we'll need to lift it together. How can we do that? We're not tall enough to push it up.”
[00:20:14] Jessica: So they went out to the forest, and cut down the tallest trees, and made poles. These poles would help them push up the sky. So with their poles together, they said…
[00:20:27] Vi: [Recording of her speaking] “Yəhaw̓!” [said very slowly by Vi and by children together] Oh, all right. It went up just a little tiny way. Just a little bit. All right. We need to try harder. Everybody needs to push. Everybody needs to push! Poles against the sky! “Yəhaw̓!!”[said very slowly and a little louder by Vi and by children together] Well, didn't do the job. Somebody out there was not really working—Verne, weren't you pushing very hard? [Audience laughs] [Inaudible name] aren't you working? [Audience chuckles again]
Everybody has to work. How many times have we pushed? Twice? The magic number is how many? [Children and audience members call out the answer with Vi] Four! The magic number is four. We have to do this four times? It would be amazing if we could do it three times! But we're gonna try for the third time—poles against the sky with all of your might! “Yəhaw̓!!!”[shouted slowly and very loudly by Vi and by children together] Well, that was a little better. That was a little better, but that's a lot of sky up there and it's going to take a lot of effort, not only muscle power. It's going to take the strength that's here in your heart, the strength that's here in your mind to do a big job. And that's what it's going to take, because everybody has it within themselves to do all of those things that require strength from all of your body. So poles please against the sky and… “Yəhaw̓!!!!”[shouted slowly and even more loudly by Vi and by children together] You did it! You did it! You did it!
[Recording of Vi fades out]
[00:22:22] Matt: I like that teaching, you know, it's a good teaching. You gotta do more of holding each other up and supporting one another, so…You know, just, I like to just message people sometimes out of the blue, just give 'em a compliment. Try to, I don't know, lift their spirits or something.
[00:22:39] Jessica: Mm-hmm … thanks
[00:22:41] Matt: Yeah, I'll close with that.
[00:22:44] Jessica: Yəhaw̓—we all need to do it. Yəhaw̓—we need everyone to be doing their part. Yəhaw̓—we all must move forward together with our roles and responsibilities.
[Theme music begins to play in the background]
[00:23:06] Jessica: This interview was recorded in January, 2021. Thanks to Matt Remle and to George Farrell, Red Rock Perkins, Dakota Case, Bradley Smith, for recording the traditional Lakota song you heard in this episode. And many thanks to Vi Hilbert of the Upper Skagit, who retold the story of Lifting the Sky in 1993. And thanks to Chief William Shelton, the last Hereditary Chief of the Snohomish located on the Tulalip Reservation, who published this story in 1923. And thank you to Jill LaPointe, Vi’s granddaughter and director of Lushootseed Research for extending permission for us to use the audio excerpts of Lifting the Sky, which you heard today.
Nia Tero is a Seattle-based foundation. We're both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with a mission to secure Indigenous guardianship for all vital ecosystems. That means we provide support to Indigenous peoples globally who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. Their practices are one of our best guides for making earth livable for generations to come. Here at Seedcast, our guests represent themselves, they don't necessarily reflect the views of Nia Tero. We honor their honest perspectives and lived experiences. You can learn more about Seedcast and about our work at Nia Tero on our website, niatero.org.
This episode was produced by me, Jessica Ramirez, with story editing support from Jenny Asarnow, and mixed by Felipe Contreras. Our executive producer is Tracy Rector. Our senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Our producer is Felipe Contreras. Our consulting producer is Julie Keck. Our fact checker is Romin Lee Johnson. Our social media is by Nancy Kelsey. Our transcripts are by Sharon Arnold. Our theme song is by Mia Kami. I'm your host, Jessica Ramirez, and we look forward to sharing more stories with you all very soon.
Theme song “Rooted” by Mia Kami: Like the wind we still move, like the waves we rise high, like the sun we never die. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can’t tear us down. We’re here to stay…