Day 28: Indigenous Artivism

I heard the word artivism for the first time on CBC Radio’s Podcast Unreserved. 

I loved the idea right away.

It’s something that indigenous people have done for a long time–using art as a means of resistance.

Today I want to celebrate that again, with the release of my friend Tall Paul’s new music video, Someone Great Who Looked Like Me. 

 

Tall Paul is an Ojibwe artivist from Minnesota–he uses his hiphop music to bring indigenous issues into America’s view. I asked him a few questions about his video and his passion for music.

The video shows some pretty meaningful places. Can you tell us about some of them?

The Haskell Football Field is, or approximately is, where Jim Thorpe had his first exposure to the game of football. It’s also where he got his first ever football from a mentor of his by the name of Chauncey Archiquette. They both attended Haskell boarding school in the 1890’s. An interesting thing I learned about Chauncey is that he’s credited with inventing the zone defense in basketball. The inventor of basketball himself, James Naismith, credited him with that. A statue of Jim Thorpe stands not far from the entrance of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio. Jim was a member of the inaugural NFL hall of fame class in the early 1960’s. This is the scene in the video where I’m wearing a replica of Jim Thorpe’s Canton Bulldogs jersey. When I’m wearing the suit I’m at Jim Thorpe’s mausoleum and memorial in Jim Thorpe, PA. In short, his remains are there because his last wife agreed to lay him there in exchange for the town being named after him, the town having been looking for a tourist attraction. He had no previous connection to that town and most likely had never even been there before.

 

Why did you decide to write this song?

I wrote this song because Jim Thorpe and his legacy inspired me as a native youth athlete. Growing up I had been curious if there were any famous native athletes at any point in time and when I found out about Jim I was amazed. For him to be native (Sac and Fox) and frequently mentioned amongst the greatest athletes of all time by sports historians and fans who really know about athletics impressed me. I felt a connection to him and his story.

 

What do you think music can do to show non-natives in America today who we are?

Music is a powerful form of communication and even education. So many people are drawn to various genres of music, especially hip hop, and lyrics carry a lot of weight with them. When native musicians make music we’re able to convey ourselves from our own perspectives. Any time a non-native listener hears our music I think they’re bound to learn more about us just through that art form. Of course that requires the artist to have a message in their music that is educational in some way. But when that happens, it’s pretty much automatic that someone who doesn’t know about us is going to learn about us at least a little bit.

 

If you want to know more about Jim Thorpe’s legacy, watch this video:

 

Honor the indigenous artivists in your midst today, friends. We’re still here, and our work is to educate others and to thrive in our own indigenous cultures.

You can order Tall Paul’s music here. 

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Day 27: Pocahontas Isn’t Your Joke Anymore

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When I was little, I had a Pocahontas Barbie Doll. I thought she was beautiful. She had olive skin, dark, straight hair, and a beautiful buckskin dress with a teal necklace around her neck.

I watched the movie, sang the songs. It was a cherished part of my childhood. But the reality is, much like most of what I was taught in history books, it was a lie. The true story of Pocahontas, or Matoaka, is not what the movie portrays, and is far more gruesome–far more true to the reality many indigenous women have faced throughout history. 

So as an adult, I learn. I know better. And other indigenous people are working to do the same, to educate. And so it’s time.

It’s time we stop using the name Pocahontas in jokes, costumes, and everyday fairytales.

It’s time we hold leaders accountable when they make jokes using her name, when they show the world that their ignorance is justified.

It’s time we tell the truth and we begin with our children, while they are young, while we can change the future.

Today, President Trump stood in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, honoring Navajo code talkers. He called them “special,” he patted them on the shoulder, smiled and nodded, joked.

“You were here long before any of us were here,” he said.

“We have a representative here in Congress…they call her Pocahontas,” he said, referring to Elizabeth Warren, like it’s a fun family nickname to throw around during holiday get-togethers.

This isn’t about her, though. It’s not about what she claims, what percentage Indian blood she has. It’s about his countenance, and the countenance of so many who don’t give a second thought to disrespecting indigenous culture and story.

I’ve been called Pocahontas. I’ve had my hair in braids, and someone thought it appropriate to drop a joke because of it.

The difference is, they weren’t the President.

And the problem with that is, if we can’t fix this in our everyday circumstances, in our schools, in our history books, in our movies and costumes, we can’t fix it in our leadership.

It’s time.

It’s time to lament, to wail and mourn over the ignorance and hateful rhetoric.

It’s time for the church to stand up against powers of oppression and claim that it will be willing to set itself under the teaching of the oppressed.

It’s time for Americans from every party, every religion, every corner to face our history’s honest past and make a way forward with that knowledge.

It’s time we do it to honor the life and true story of Matoaka.

It’s time.

 

 

 

 

Day 25: Living on Indian Time

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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I really love the holiday season. I always have. I love gift-giving and snow and Christmas songs and hot cocoa by a lit tree.

But I don’t love the stores so much at this time of year. And I feel horrible for those UPS workers, for the people delivering packages up until Christmas day and even after.

I think we lose something in the hustle and bustle, in the Black Friday fights.

This holiday season, we’re slowing down. It’s something that’s characterized in indigenous culture. That’s why there are jokes about Indian Time, about people who move on a different time frame than what most of America requires.

A few years ago when we decided that we wanted our family to move at a slower daily pace, it was a decision that I knew would run against the grain of so much of American society. Still, it’s what we choose. For a long time, my husband, whose family is of German descent, also chose it. He taught me, in a way, to learn more about my own desire to live a slower life, and over time made space for me to learn about my own Potawatomi culture’s ideas about daily life and time. Since then, we choose it every day of our lives, choose to live a slow kind of life, to take our time, to be present to one another.

It’s a characteristic of indigenous culture, but it should be a personal characteristic of all of us. And especially at this time of year, when things are hectic and crazy and our kids are focused on that day when Santa comes with gifts galore, we get to choose to stay sensitive to ourselves, to one another, and to the world around us.

It takes work to be present. It takes work to live a slow and steady life.

It takes work to make space, and much of that work fights against a culture that is always going, always wanting, always saying there isn’t enough when we know that there is.

So this holiday season, put yourself on Indian Time. Give yourself to the slowness. 

You won’t be sorry.

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is on sale at Amazon today! It is a collection of stories and prayers from my life, and I hope that if you buy a copy, they help settle you into a slower kind of living, a practice of being present to your own story and to the stories of others.

 

 

Day 24: Native American Heritage Day

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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HERITAGE: N. SOMETHING THAT IS HANDED DOWN FROM THE PAST, AS A TRADITION.

I’ve been thinking about what this word means today. In 2009, Obama created Native American Heritage Day, to be the day after Thanksgiving, also known to most as Black Friday. While we are celebrating who we are today, many are completely unaware that today stands for something, that today is a day to honor and celebrate indigenous peoples in the United States.

But that’s also what this whole month has been about. It’s odd, though, that we need to have a month as a nation to decide to pay attention to a group of people who are often ignored. It’s odd that when November is over, the world goes back to what it was, and Americans who may have put effort into learning something about indigenous peoples go back to a time before.

But for some who are paying attention, what is seen cannot be unseen. For some, everything changes.

That’s the thing about heritage. 

We hold what has been passed down to us–and that’s everyone, no matter what culture or people you’re from. You carry what your ancestors carried and pass down to you. And so today, I’m thinking about what it means to be Potawatomi.

And what I think is that my heritage is my own.

It does not belong to old western movies that portray us as savages.

It does not belong to new age culture that takes our sage and burns it or creates a hippy culture from our dreamcatchers.

It is not what it has been described as in history books and at the first Thanksgiving meal.

It does not belong to a culture that sees us as poor, abusive people who can’t get a grip.

And it does not belong to those who think we are the wise sages of our time.

Our heritage simply belongs to us.

Every tribe, every culture, and every individual within those cultures. We each hold the things that are passed to us, the stories and the values, the truths, the language. And we take those things and let them become a part of us.

When I wake up in the mornings and say mno waben to my boys, it means something. It sinks into our bones and reminds us of who we are–our heritage.

When I burn sage in my dining room and remember what it means to be still, I’m letting my ancestors remind me of who I am, letting God remind me of the gifts I’ve been given.

And so, my heritage is mine alone, and though I publicly celebrate it today on social media, I celebrate it every day, and every day its significance in my life and in the lives of my children grows, so that when they are adults, they too will pass it down, and our heritage will never end.

It was assimilated and beaten out of us, but it returns with each new generation, and flows into the unique DNA of every person who belongs to a tribe of people who are indigenous to Turtle Island.

And so, even in our pain, even in the constant misconceptions, even amidst discrimination and appropriation, we are still here, and we continue to move forward in the beauty of who we are and who we are called to be.

 

 

Day 23: Our Ancestors See Us

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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The other day at the international market in our city, we swerved in and out of people in crowded aisles to get groceries for the week.

I really love that most Americans are procrastinators, waiting until the last second to buy what we need for a large meal or holiday.

The market stocked extra batches of collards, because we live in the south. There was a heaping mountain of it, bags filling people’s carts.

We bought some, too, just because it seemed right.

After I got a bag of sugar snap peas, I headed to the next bin for snap beans. I stood next to two other women going through the little green poles, sifting the bad ones from the good ones.

Suddenly, memories came rushing back to me– snapping the ends off those beans with my grandmother; washing blackberries in my grandma’s sink, fresh from the bushes outside; collecting pecans from my grandmother’s back yard tree; smelling bacon and biscuits in my grandma’s house.

These matriarchs of both sides of my family were the sort of women who brought you into their everyday spaces, who taught you simply how to be.

I think there are more saints in the world that we give titles to, and so we honor them as our ancestors as well.

We saw Coco in the theatre yesterday, and it brought up those same emotions I’d experienced at the market. We act like there is no connection between the land of the living and the land of the dead–in fact, growing up in the Baptist church such thoughts would be considered demonic.

But the beauty of so many cultures in the world is that we remember who came before us, who carried our cultures on their backs and our languages on their lips. We remember that we belong to people who fought for our good, for our endurance.

And so today, I honor Grandma Downing and Grandmother Goldsmith-Gandy.

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I hold their stories in my own.

And on days like Thanksgiving, holidays that are difficult for indigenous people to wrap our hearts and minds around, we are able to rest in the reality that we are not the first ones to feel this tension. We are not the first ones to hold our tribes and our cultures up and remind the world that we are still here, that we still matter. 

So I honor the ancestors of this land that I live on, the Muskogee-Creek people that used to keep their presence here before they were forced out.

And I honor the women who came before me, my great-great-grandmothers who lived and worked and pursued their own well-being and the well-being of others.

They are the ones I look to today, the ones who teach me how to be Potawatomi.

 

 

 

Day 21: Thanksgiving Resources

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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Today for #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth I’m sharing resources for Thanksgiving, which is just a few days away.

Many people, especially parents, are overwhelmed with the idea of telling the truth about Thanksgiving without traumatizing their kids. I believe it’s important to tell the truth, to put up our saintly ideas of Pilgrims and recognize that entire populations, culture, language-speakers lived here before they ever came to America.

So here are some resources that I find helpful this Thanksgiving season, and I hope they’ll help you spark honest conversations around the table:

  1. This article from Huffington Post is about the Thanksgiving Story, details told that maybe you’ve never heard before.
  2. Anything from Indian Country Media Network is helpful to read when you want to hear the indigenous side of a story. This article is about the Wampanoag side of the Thanksgiving story. 
  3. This is a list of children’s books about Thanksgiving. I told someone recently that adults learn just as much as children do, if not more, from kids’ books. These books are a great place to start. 
  4. My favorite part of this article from PBS is this: “Thanksgiving is full of embarrassing facts. The Pilgrims did not introduce the Native Americans to the tradition; Eastern Indians had observed autumnal harvest celebrations for centuries,” Loewen writes in “Lies My Teacher Told Me”
  5. This video by Teen Vogue is an important watch from the perspective of young indigenous women.
  6. If you truly want to be an ally this Thanksgiving, here’s an article explaining 7 ways you can make that happen. 

Friends, it is worth the undoing of years of education in which we’ve been taught –natives included– that there was a giant, inclusive meal in which everyone was equal. It is worth stretching ourselves to learn the truth and to keep learning it every year around this time, and to include our family in that journey. I encourage you to specifically learn about a new tribe or two every year, to engage the old world of Native peoples right here in America. You’ll be richer for it, I promise.

And if you want to REALLY be challenged this year, I encourage you to buy a new game for your family to play over the holidays. It’s called Cards Against Colonialism, and you can order it here. 

Finally, I’ll leave you with this:

 

Day 20: Backwater Bridge & Police Brutality

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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It was on this day last year that water protectors and protestors at Standing Rock were doused with water in freezing temperatures and shot at with rubber bullets.

I recently tweeted that indigenous people cannot trust institutions, because they are such a key part of our generational trauma, and the events at Standing Rock were a reminder of this for modern times.

My father worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Native American police officers hired by the government to police other Native Americans. When I was young, I didn’t understand what that meant, and I’m still trying to understand it today as an adult. At Standing Rock and throughout the history of the United States, the BIA have played a crucial role between tribes and the government, often in negative ways. It’s important to have conversations about police and systematic brutality toward Native Americans in the United States today, and what happened at Standing Rock one year ago is a clear example of human rights violations on a broad scale.

According to this article, Native Americans suffer brutality at the hands of police at very high rates–higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.. Recently, a fourteen year old boy, Jason Pero, was shot by police. His story is just one of many, many that go unheard, justice never reached. Even in the CDC article mentioned above, we suspect that the numbers are higher than reported, because so many don’t even get reported. So many voices are not heard.

And if we aren’t outraged by this, something is wrong–something has been wrong for a while now. In our education systems we have to begin teaching our children the true history of our nation, and we have to teach them how to celebrate the individual tribes and cultures that make up this country.

In our churches we have to have conversations about our history, about boarding schools and the idea of salvation that first began generations of genocide and abuse and removal.

And we have to protest when indigenous men and women are shot, when indigenous women go missing, when human rights abuses take place. We have to make it a point that we do not forget Standing Rock and everything it stood for and continues to teach us.

I sat on my couch for days watching live feeds, and every moment was both teaching me who I was and completely wrecking every part of me. I saw the reality of America, of what it used to be and what it has become, all in front of me, in real time. Backwater Bridge and other episodes of police brutality toward indigenous peoples in America today should be a serious wake up call– a wake up call to the church, to our school systems, to the way we talk about our history.

If we do anything today, let’s make sure we’re having conversations.

Let’s make sure we’re asking questions of institutions that put profit over people.

Let’s make sure we’re paying attention to the cries of a forgotten and silenced earth who should never be silenced.

Let’s make sure we’re listening to those who have been oppressed in so many ways.

Let’s make sure this never happens again.

 

 

 

Day 18: “You Don’t Look Indian”

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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Two years ago when I began to learn more about the Potawatomi tribe, the tribe I’m an enrolled member of, I struggled.

I struggled with being an urban Indian–a Native American living in an urban area.

Mostly I struggled with how to be myself, in my body, with all the stereotypes of what an Indian should be roaming around America.

I felt like I needed to braid my hair every day. I wanted to wear clothing that reflected my culture.

I wanted to decolonize everything–something I’m still doing.

It took me a while to realize that all those years I had short hair and that odd clothing style when I was young, I was still native.  I was still Potawatomi, no matter how I looked.

And that’s part of our problem. Indigenous peoples are trapped in history books, so when you imagine us, we’re wearing buckskin and have long, jet black braids. We wear moccasins and only speak in wise idioms. We have high cheekbones and we wear turquoise jewelry.

In other words, our cultures have all been meshed together and assumed by dominant society as something that many of us aren’t.

I have light skin. And while you can look at my nose and know it’s an Anishinaabe nose, no one has walked up to me and asked what tribe I am from. But when I mention that I am native, I can watch people’s reactions and see what they think and how it changes their perception of me. Some people are curious, some are uncomfortable.

And as a public announcement, let me recommend that non-natives stop asking indigenous people how much native blood we have. I can pull out the card that proves I’m an enrolled member of the Potawatomi tribe, but I shouldn’t have to. That shouldn’t be the thing that shows someone else what kind of blood runs in my veins or how indigenous I am.

And because I live in the middle of Atlanta, far from my own tribe, my native body doesn’t fit the stereotypes, nor do many other indigenous peoples’ bodies. Because the stereotypes about us are stuck in history books, in pictures, and we aren’t allowed to evolve from that.

In cities all across America there are natives, and we do not all look the same. We don’t all speak the same or act the same. Our personalities, our styles, our gifts are unique to our individual tribes and to our individual souls.

No one should ever have to say, “You don’t look Indian,” and no one should ever have to hear it said to them.

I’d like to share one of my favorite music videos with you by one of my favorite groups, A Tribe Called Red. It’s the story of an indigenous person who works in the city and then heads out to the powwow to dance in full regalia.

It is the divide that we have to walk, the divide that has been created over time, that has been forced on us by assimilation. Still, we are here. We are working and creating, we are living and raising families and getting degrees. We make up so much of America, and yet our bodies belong to stereotypes that do not fit who we truly are.

And it needs to change.

May we all be the ones to change it.

 

Day 17: Indigenous Language

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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The first time I listened to an audio recording of the Potawatomi language, I was in theliving room of our two bedroom apartment in Atlanta.

I cried while I listened. The words brought me into myself, back to a time I do no know but wish to understand.

That’s what language does.

I learned Spanish in high school.

I studied Russian in college.

Something about language seems to be this thread that holds the cultures of the world together.

For many tribes, our languages are nearly extinct. There are a few elders left who know the language, who can teach it, and when it is forgotten person by person, after generations it disappears.

Thanks to boarding schools and assimilation in other forms, once you strip a culture of their language, you’ve stripped almost everything.

I didn’t grow up speaking Potawatomi. Hearing it for the first time confirmed that it was something I needed.

Still, it’s a struggle to learn a language if you’re not connected physically to the people who speak it.

I take an online course to learn, and even the very few things I’ve taken in over time are changing me.

Because language is culture.

And so when I learn the words, when I see what they mean and how they work, I understand another piece of the puzzle. I fit something into place and it makes sense. It creates the pictures of my life, my culture, my future and the future of my children.

Every culture’s language does that, and so we celebrate that indigenous cultures have languages to speak that bring beauty to this world, that give us something to learn, something to listen to, something to believe in.

Some public and private schools in certain parts of the country are beginning to teach some indigenous languages, and that’s an encouragement. That’s a step forward.

But we still have a long way to go. We cannot take back the horrors of assimilation that boarding schools in the United States caused, and all the trauma that comes with it even generations later.

But the United States can make a point to honor the language of indigenous peoples, and in doing so, honor cultures as well.

 

Day 16: Indigenous People to Celebrate

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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Here are five indigenous women I’m paying attention to these days, and I hope you’ll pay attention, too.

  1. Tanaya Winder: Tanaya Winder is a writer, educator, motivational speaker, and performance poet from the Southern Ute, Duckwater Shoshone, and Pyramid Lake Paiute Nations. She grew up on the Southern Ute Indian reservation and attended college at Stanford University where she earned a BA in English and the University of New Mexico where she received an MFA in creative writing. Since then she has co-founded As/Us: A Space for Women of the World and founded Dream Warriors, an Indigenous artist management company. She guest lectures, teaches creative writing workshops, and speaks at high schools, universities, and communities internationally. You can order her newest book here. 
  2. Winona LaDuke: Winona LaDuke is an internationally renowned activist working on issues of sustainable development renewable energy and food systems. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, and is a two time vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party. As Program Director of the Honor the Earth, she works nationally and internationally on the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities. And in her own community, she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, one of the largest reservation based non profit organizations in the country, and a leader in the issues of culturally based sustainable development strategies, renewable energy and food systems. In this work, she also continues national and international work to protect Indigenous plants and heritage foods from patenting and genetic engineering.
  3. Kandi Mossett: Kandi Mossett of the Indigenous Environmental Network works to bring light to the impact of climate change and environmental injustice are having on Indigenous communities across North America.
  4. Louise Erdrich: Louise Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Band of Chippewa Indians. She’s an author of various books as well as a bookstore owner of Birchbark Books in Minnesota. She’s won various awards for her novels.
  5. Edith Woodley: Edith Woodley runs Eloheh Seeds with her husband, Randy. They grow plants that are GMO-free, open-pollinated, organic. I’ve personally ordered seeds from their farm and I was so happy to be supporting their work. You can check out their amazing work here, and order something for your own garden.

 

These are just five of the MANY women that I’ve been following and supporting from different aspects of indigenous culture, different tribes, different talents.

I encourage you to search out people you can follow on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and support the ways in which indigenous peoples are working to support their families and cultures everyday.