If you look up “civic engagement,” you find a lot of academic definitions. The term has something to do with individual participation, or collective action, or community, or advocacy. But at its core, engagement is pretty simple. Civic engagement means being a good relative. It means being involved in bettering your community, in making a difference. It means being part of the way forward.
You make sure families in your community all have enough food? That’s civic engagement.
You make art about your community? That’s civic engagement.
You share posts on social media about Ave Kwa Ame? That’s civic engagement.
You vote in every election? That’s civic engagement.
If you’re in relationship with your community, and contribute to the wider good for the People and the Land, you’re engaged in the civic life around you. Civic engagement isn’t just a one-off one-and-done kind of deal. Civic engagement is an ongoing process, an indefinite project. There’s no sunrise or sunset on the term “engagement” and the sun doesn’t set on civic life, either. As long as there are people, there is the capacity to be civically engaged for the people.
Civic engagement isn’t just a privilege; it’s a fundamental responsibility. The civic life of our communities is the sacred forum where all decisions are made and disputes resolved. And civic engagement, in Indian Country, means resistance. To participate in civic life as a Native is to participate in that which so many relatives were denied. After centuries of reservation and extermination and abduction and disconnection, civic engagement is the radical act of committing to the future when our oppressors have for so long conspired to prevent our communities from having a future. Civic engagement breathes life into our history and destiny.
When we say voting is sacred, that’s what we mean. We mean civic engagement is sacred. We mean participating in the civic life of the People is sacred. We mean contributing to the future is sacred.