by Emanuel Preciado, June 2019. On a trip last November to the Menominee Nation’s reservation, I had the honor to stay on the reservation as a guest who traveled with others from southern California for an encuentro. We arrived with open minds and open eyes and were greeted with open arms. As I walked into the community house we would be staying in for the next few days, someone said: “welcome home.” Those two words set an expectation and foreshadowed that this wasn’t going to be the typical trip or gathering of like-minded people. We were brought into some of the Menominee community’s most intimate spaces as they brought us into their world and told us stories about their people and the land that nurtures them. The Menominee are people of the woodlands where trees are central to their way of life. The trees are material, intellectual, and spiritual resources that have the ability to build homes, create fire, and carry communal knowledge. On a drive through the woodlands, our host told us how their creation story can be told through the tree rings. They told us how the trees teach them to live together amongst neighbors, as the woodlands are comprised of Birch, Beech, Oak, Maple, Cedar, Ash – they teach us how to live in unity within a diverse community. The lessons derived from the earth around us was a powerful reminder that knowledge lies in the natural environment that we as humans have become increasingly detached from. At one gathering, a man told everyone to “go to the earth to mourn, there’s nothing the earth hasn’t already seen – and to go to the water for healing.” I thought about how during my most difficult times in life my first instinct is to get away from civilization and get lost in nature somewhere. And also, how I have always gone to the ocean for peace and clarity. For me, I struggle to find work/life balance and as a result, I live a very organized and structured life to be able to get to everything I need to do. What I like most about being out in the ocean, beyond the wave break, is the feeling that I have to submit to the ocean and that I am no longer in control, I have to let go and submit to something greater than me – it’s humbling.
I am a scholar of critical urban planning and I focus on social movements and grassroots community projects. I struggled for some time to determine what I should call myself because urban planners are typically practitioners who work with private firms or cities, which is not me. I thought about calling myself a community planner, but community planners are often complicit in urban revitalization or renewal projects that displace the existing community residents to promote new development projects. It’s a coordinating and consulting role where the community planner mediates between groups of professionals like developers, architects, city officials, public health professionals, neighborhood groups, and others. The community organization from the Menominee Nation that hosted us refer to themselves as community rebuilders. Not seeking to renew, to wipe out the old and bring in the new, but to rebuild what once was. To rebuild by drawing on community knowledge and resources – a process that’s led by the community for the community. As an artist, an urban farmer, and a scholar I realized that I too am a community healer, a community rebuilder.