With penetrating insight, Karen Van Fossan blends memoir, history, and cultural critique to take readers behind the scenes of the resistance efforts to two colonial pipelines.

Product Code: 5488
ISBN: 9781558969100
Format: Paperback / softback
Publisher: Skinner House Books
Size: 8.5 x 5.5
Published Date: 10/03/2023
Availability:In stock
Price: $20.00

The November 2023 Justice and Spirit: Unitarian Universalist Book Club selection.

This is a story of becoming and un-becoming. When the living waters that crisscrossed the Standing Rock reservation came under threat, minister of the nearby Unitarian Universalist congregation Karen Van Fossan asked herself what it means, as a descendent of colonialism, to resist her own colonial culture. When another pipeline, Line 3, came to threaten Anishinaabe ways of life, the question became even more resounding.

In A Fire at the Center, Van Fossan takes readers behind the scenes of the Dakota Access Pipeline conflict, to penitentiaries where prisoners of war have carried the movement onward, to the jail cell where she was held for protesting Line 3, to a reimagining of decolonized family constellations, and to moments of collective hope and strength.

With penetrating insight, she blends memoir, history, and cultural critique. Guided by the generous teachings of Oceti Sakowin Camp near Standing Rock, she investigates layers of colonialism—extractive industries, mass incarceration, broken treaties, disappearances of Indigenous people—and the boundaries of imperial whiteness.

For all those striving for liberation and meaningful allyship, Van Fossan’s learnings and practices of genuine, mutual solidarity and her thoughtful critique of whiteness will be transformational.

Prairie Public Radio interview with Karen Van Fossan: “Memoir Explores Solidarity”
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1. The Spark, the Flame
2. Welcome Home
3. Bridge to Somewhere
4. Carrying
5. Out There Somewhere
6. Trash Talk
7. Eviction and Another Way
8. Incarcerated Bodies and Mutual Liberation
9. Pipelines, Crimes, and Empire
10. Sacred Subversion

Suggested Reading
Selected Bibliography

Today, thanks to Oceti Sakowin Camp, as well as many Water Protector events and reunions that have followed, I have a visceral sense of how and what transformation can feel like. Still, as a white person, I have come to understand that this process is not only about experiencing the great blessings or even the basic human struggles of participation in Indigenous-led, intercultural resistance movements.

When my culture has located itself in direct opposition to Indigenous ways of life—and when I as a white person seek to oppose this very opposition—my life can seem to move in two directions at once.

In order to bring my own fullness, my own wholeness, to this work of liberation, I need a genuine understanding of the situation at hand, which calls for a genuine understanding of my own culture. Through this process of unfolding, this ever-deepening sense of who I am and who I come from, I believe I can participate with more energy and integrity in decolonizing movements that have nourished my body and my spirit, guiding the course of my life.

So what might (my) white identity mean? How might (my) whiteness relate to—and not relate to—the lifelong project of becoming a human being?

In the movement for collective liberation, how might (my) whiteness both complicate and mandate the role of allyship or even accompliceship, a mutual role that happens, according to Indigenous Action Media, “when we fight back or forward, together, becoming complicit in a struggle towards liberation”?

These are some of the questions that have shaped this memoir of heart, mind, body, and soul. It is a narrative of moments, a recollection of challenges and revelations, as I have gone from unquestioning allegiance to the colonial criminal justice system in 1987 to sitting in a jail cell on a Water Protector charge in 2021, and plenty of places both before and since.

In other words, this book is a memoir of practicing—of learning, moment by moment, to be more fully human, to live in more life-embracing ways. In this story, I hope you will find something you can relate to, whether it’s a lesson learned, a mistake made, or, here and there, a little bit of satire on colonial ways of life, which I have shared because, as the adage goes, sometimes satire is the only thing that makes any sense.

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