25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading

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So here’s the thing.

It’s time.

I’m constantly asked for resources on how people can move forward learning about Indigenous culture, and I’m often repeating the same thing: read books.

Read books.

First and foremost, this supports Indigenous peoples who are writers and creators. It directly gives back to Indigenous communities and reminds the reader that Indigenous peoples are still here, creating new content for the world.

It’s also important to have this conversation for well-meaning allies. Indigenous peoples cannot do the work for you. You must dig in and learn yourself, and the best way to do that is lean into our cultures. Learn about us. Do your research, and then we can have a conversation that isn’t a one-sided history or cultural lesson.

So I’ve compiled a list of 25 books, some that I’m reading now, some that I’ve already read, some that I can’t wait to get my hands on.

These are books by people of many different tribes. When asked by Christians who they should read by Indigenous theologians, this is my answer: read everything. Read books by people who are and aren’t Christians, because if you really want to know about and engage Indigenous cultures, you have to read from a variety of voices.

If you want to break cycles of colonization and assimilation, you must take the time to learn from Indigenous experiences, through our own words.
To truly learn who we are means you engage with us on our terms.

Some of these books are fiction, some are non-fiction. A few are children’s books, and I encourage you to buy them whether you have children or not.

Spirituality is a thread throughout many of them, because Indigenous culture is felt through our spirits, our ancestors, and the land. Some are books of poetry and prayers, some are strictly unpacking history.

I hope you find exactly what you need here, and please know that this is only a few of the many amazing books out in the world written by Indigenous peoples.

More lists to come!

Some of these books will take you directly to Amazon, but many of them can be bought through independent bookstores or university publishers, so I encourage you to put money into these spaces to support booksellers and authors outside the huge retail giant that is Amazon.

 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi Citizen Band)

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings―asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass―offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

God is Red: A Native View of Religion by Vine Deloria, Jr. (Standing Rock Sioux)

God Is Red remains the seminal work on Native religious views, asking new questions about our species and our ultimate fate. Celebrating three decades in publication with a special 30th-anniversary edition.

Why Indigenous Literatures Matter by Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee Nation)

Part survey of the field of Indigenous literary studies, part cultural history, and part literary polemic, WhyIndigenous Literatures Matter asserts the vital significance of literary expression to the political, creative, and intellectual efforts of Indigenous peoples today. In considering the connections between literature and lived experience, this book contemplates four key questions at the heart of Indigenous kinship traditions: How do we learn to be human? How do we become good relatives? How do we become good ancestors? How do we learn to live together?

Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless by Tanaya Winder (Duckwater Shoshone, Pyramid Lake Paiute & So)

In “Why Storms are named after People but Bullets remain nameless,” we find Tanaya Winder in the thick of a beautiful burn, where “pain demands to be felt,” where joy or maybe something more decolonial than it bubbles up from the black hole of the past.

Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley (Keetoowah)

In Shalom and the Community of Creation Randy Woodley offers an answer: learn more about the Native American ‘Harmony Way,’ a concept that closely parallels biblical shalom. Doing so can bring reconciliation between Euro-Westerners and indigenous peoples, a new connectedness with the Creator and creation, an end to imperial warfare, the ability to live in the moment, justice, restoration — and a more biblically authentic spirituality. Rooted in redemptive correction, this book calls for true partnership through the co-creation of new theological systems that foster wholeness and peace.

Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (Oglala Lakota)

WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot (Seabird Island Band)

Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma.

One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss (Sicangu Lakota Oyate)

In this captivating chronicle of the Native American story, Richard Twiss of the Rosebud Lakota/Sioux sifts through myth and legend to reveal God’s strategy for the nation’s host people.

The Round House: A Novel by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa)

The Round House is a page-turning masterpiece of literary fiction—at once a powerful coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a tender, moving novel of family, history, and culture.

Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year by Linda LeGarde Grover (Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe)

In fifty short essays, Grover reflects on the spiritual beliefs and everyday practices that carry the Ojibwe through the year and connect them to this northern land of rugged splendor. As the four seasons unfold—from Ziigwan (Spring) through Niibin and Dagwaagin to the silent, snowy promise of Biboon—the award-winning author writes eloquently of the landscape and the weather, work and play, ceremony and tradition and family ways, from the homey moments shared over meals to the celebrations that mark life’s great events.

The Manitous: The Spiritual World of the Ojibway by Basil Johnston (Ojibway)

Manitous lived in human form among the Ojibway in the early days, after Kitchi-Manitou (the Great Mystery) created all things and Muzzu-Kummik-Quae (Mother Earth) revealed the natural order of the world. With depth and humor, Johnston tells how lasting tradition was brought to the Ojibway by four half-human brothers, including Nana’b’oozoo, the beloved archetypal being who means well but often blunders. He also relates how people are helped and hindered by other entities, such as the manitous of the forests and meadows, personal manitous and totems, mermen and merwomen, Pauguk (the cursed Flying Skeleton), and the Weendigoes, famed and terrifying giant cannibals.

There, There: A Novel by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne, Arapaho)

Here is a voice we have never heard—a voice full of poetry and rage, exploding onto the page with urgency and force. Tommy Orange has written a stunning novel that grapples with a complex and painful history, with an inheritance of beauty and profound spirituality, and with a plague of addiction, abuse, and suicide. This is the book that everyone is talking about right now, and it’s destined to be a classic.

Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places by Kaitlin Curtice (Potawatomi Citizen Band)

Glory Happening is a book of stories and prayers that remind you to take a closer look at your everyday circumstances, to find the magical beauty in everyday experiences. It is an invitation to live deeply into every moment with the expectation that something good will find you at the end of the day. And once you experience glory, you have words to speak, a prayer to pray, and a story to tell. And so glory grows from person to person, and community is created around the reality that God is truly in our midst.

Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science by Kim Tallbear (Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate)

In Native American DNA, Kim TallBear shows how DNA testing is a powerful—and problematic—scientific process that is useful in determining close biological relatives. But tribal membership is a legal category that has developed in dependence on certain social understandings and historical contexts, a set of concepts that entangles genetic information in a web of family relations, reservation histories, tribal rules, and government regulations. At a larger level, TallBear asserts, the “markers” that are identified and applied to specific groups such as Native American tribes bear the imprints of the cultural, racial, ethnic, national, and even tribal misinterpretations of the humans who study them.

American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty by George Tinker (Osage)

Why Christian understandings of Jesus and God clash with American Indian worldviews. “Tink” Tinker of the Osage Nation describes the oppression suffered by American Indians since the arrival of European colonists, who brought a different worldview across the ocean and attempted to convert the native population to the religion they also imported.

Colonial Entanglement: Constituting a Twenty-First-Century Osage Nation by Jean Dennison (Osage)

By situating the 2004-6 Osage Nation reform process within its historical and current contexts, Dennison illustrates how the Osage have creatively responded to continuing assaults on their nationhood. A fascinating account of a nation in the midst of its own remaking, Colonial Entanglement presents a sharp analysis of how legacies of European invasion and settlement in North America continue to affect indigenous people’s views of selfhood and nationhood.

Two Old Women by Velma Wallis (Gwich’in Athabaskan)

Based on an Athabascan Indian legend passed along for many generations from mothers to daughters of the upper Yukon River Valley in Alaska, this is the suspenseful, shocking, ultimately inspirational tale of two old women abandoned by their tribe during a brutal winter famine.

Though these women have been known to complain more than contribute, they now must either survive on their own or die trying. In simple but vivid detail, Velma Wallis depicts a landscape and way of life that are at once merciless and starkly beautiful. In her old women, she has created two heroines of steely determination whose story of betrayal, friendship, community, and forgiveness “speaks straight to the heart with clarity, sweetness, and wisdom” (Ursula K. Le Guin).

Drowning in Fire (Sun Tracks) by Craig Womack (Muscogee Creek-Cherokee)

Interweaving past and present, history and story, explicit realism and dreamlike visions, Craig Womack’s Drowning in Fire explores a young man’s journey to understand his cultural and sexual identity within a framework drawn from the community of his origins. A groundbreaking and provocative coming-of-age story, Drowning in Fire is a vividly realized novel by an impressive literary talent.

I Am Woman: A Native Perspective on Sociology and Feminism by Lee Maracle (Stó:lo Nation of British Columbia)

I Am Woman represents my personal struggle with womanhood, culture, traditional spiritual beliefs and political sovereignty, written during a time when that struggle was not over. My original intention was to empower Native women to take to heart their own personal struggle for Native feminist being. The changes made in this second edition of the text do not alter my original intention. It remains my attempt to present a Native woman’s sociological perspective on the impacts of colonialism on us, as women, and on my self personally.

Power: A Novel by Linda Hogan (Chickasaw)

When sixteen-year-old Omishto, a member of the Taiga Tribe, witnesses her Aunt Ama kill a panther-an animal considered to be a sacred ancestor of the Taiga people-she is suddenly torn between her loyalties to her Westernized mother, who wants her to reject the ways of the tribe, and to Ama and her traditional people, for whom the killing of the panther takes on grave importance.

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World) by Rebecca Roanhorse (Ohkay Owingeh)

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last best hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Long Powwow Nights by David Bouchard, Pam Aleekuk  (Métis)

The Powwow is a time-honored Native American custom. It is a celebration of life and spirituality, a remembrance of traditions, uniting a people through dance and ritual.

Long Powwow Nights takes you on a wonderful journey, honoring these mystical dancers who keep their traditions alive through dance and song. In its poetic verses, David Bouchard skillfully narrates the story of a mother’s dedication to her roots and her efforts to impress upon her child the importance of culture and identity.

Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese (Ojibwe) 

In this carefully curated selection of everyday reflections, Richard Wagamese finds lessons in both the mundane and sublime as he muses on the universe, drawing inspiration from working in the bush—sawing and cutting and stacking wood for winter as well as the smudge ceremony to bring him closer to the Creator. Embers is perhaps Richard Wagamese’s most personal volume to date. Honest, evocative and articulate, he explores the various manifestations of grief, joy, recovery, beauty, gratitude, physicality and spirituality—concepts many find hard to express.

Bowwow Powwow by Brenda J Child (Red Lake Ojibwe)

When Uncle and Windy Girl and Itchy Boy attend a powwow, Windy watches the dancers and listens to the singers. She eats tasty food and joins family and friends around the campfire. Later, Windy falls asleep under the stars. Now Uncle’s stories inspire other visions in her head: a bowwow powwow, where all the dancers are dogs. In these magical scenes, Windy sees veterans in a Grand Entry, and a visiting drum group, and traditional dancers, grass dancers, and jingle-dress dancers–all with telltale ears and paws and tails. All celebrating in song and dance. All attesting to the wonder of the powwow.

The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway by Edward Benton-Banai (Wisconsin Ojibway)

Written for readers from all cultures-but especially for Ojibway and Native youth-The Mishomis Bookprovides an introduction to Ojibway culture and an understanding of the sacred Midewiwin teachings, aiming to protect this knowledge by instilling its importance in a new generation. Encouraging the preservation of a way of life that is centered on respect for all living things, these vibrant stories about life, self, community, and relationship to nature are just as relevant to the modern reader as they were hundreds of years ago.

 

 

“If we are serious about establishing better relations than those we’ve had in the past– and if we’re serious as a country and as a broader, multination, multicultural, and multivocal community– then we must return our attention to Indigenous voices, perspectives, and experiences. There’s simply no other way of moving forward. To do otherwise is to replicate the injustices and exclusions of the past, and that hasn’t ever served any of us very well.”

— Daniel Heath Justice

 

 

 

Love Letter to the Lonely

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Friend,

I’ve been thinking about you today. I’m thinking about all the ways we get things wrong on this earth, in this country.

I’m thinking about all the different forms oppression can take.

I’m thinking about the reality that we’ve created a social environment in the United States (and in other countries) that doesn’t lend grace and compassion well.

We criticize each other’s weakness. We berate one another’s stories and experiences.

I’m thinking about mental health and self-care. I’m thinking about the work of listening to the needs of the soul.


What does it mean to be lonely?

I’ve heard so many times the phrase “we are lonely, but not alone.”

But it’s okay to feel alone, right?

We’ve created a world that says loneliness is our fault, mental illness is either a myth or a problem that we must suffer with or fix quietly, so we don’t disrupt the way of things.

But loneliness is not wrong.

Depression, anxiety or any host of feelings are not sources of shame, though we shame one another for experiencing them.

We shame one another for going to therapy, for taking medications, for admitting that we are tired. We forget our humanity for a moment. We forget what it looks like to hold one another. We forget that self-care is not laziness.

And we forget that the voice of Love is everything.

And our work right now is to break the chains of shame for ourselves and for one another.


Friend, I want you to know that loneliness is not a sin or human flaw.

It also isn’t just a lie that we believe, because loneliness is real. We see it in ourselves and in others everyday, in every work environment, in every community, on every street corner.

So what if we thought of every space as an opportunity to commune?

What if our digital and physical spaces were considered sacred, just as everyone who inhabits them is sacred?

What if we live in such a way that even our online interactions create space without reducing one anther to labels of weakness or unworthiness?

What if we learn to tell ourselves that we are worthy of love?


Recently in a therapy session, I tried to explain the constant tension I walk as a woman who is Potawatomi and white, Christian but not colonized, American but also indigenous.

I feel like I am never fully one thing or another.

And while it’s lonely, the more I share my story, the more people I find who feel the same way, who are fractured, who are trying to find their footing in a world that doesn’t accept some part of who they are.

Then I remember something.

I remember the stories of Jesus, a man who seemed to be lonely a lot.

He went to quiet places. He had some close friends, but he still struggled.

“Will they ever understand?” he quietly prayed.

“Can this cup be taken away? I’m tired.”


Many of the world’s greatest leaders admit to loneliness. And in those spaces, a lot of soul care is required to remember what it means to be a leader, what it means to carry compassion and empathy as a model for others.

But what about us? What about our daily lives? What about those moments when we are too weary to do the work?

Friend, I want you to know that I’m not expecting anything from you, but to learn to love yourself and then work on the empathy and compassion that fuels you to love the world.

This is not strictly linear work, but cyclical, seasonal, an ebb and flow that doesn’t always make sense.


If you grew up in a religious or social environment that wanted rule following over love of self, you know that even as an adult it’s hard to unlearn those thought and heart patterns. I’m still working, and I bet you are, too.

But it’s possible. And it’s not selfish.

So we re-wire the way we think about ourselves. And over time, we re-wire the way we think of others.

But it doesn’t mean that loneliness isn’t a constant companion. It means that while loneliness is there with us, we are still called.

We still have important things to contribute to our communities, to our families, to the world. We still have good work to do, and that work is connected to resting in the faithfulness of this earth that we get to inhabit.

Maybe the trees can remind us that we are loved and valued.

Maybe the bird on the windowsill or the constant rising and falling tide can tell us that the world wants to continue her work because we are a part of it.

Maybe then, we’re not quite as lonely as we think.

Maybe creation meets us in our loneliness and whispers I'm still here, after all these years. And maybe the fact that we all feel loneliness in a spectrum of ways means that loneliness is universal.

Until then, I guess what I’m trying to say is, you’re not so alone, after all, and neither am I.

All my love,

Kait 


Remember, your pain isn’t wrong or a weakness. If you’re lonely and need to talk to someone, there are people available to you.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline:
Call 1-800-273-8255
For LGBTQ:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/lgbtq/
For Youth:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/youth/
For Loss Survivors:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/loss-survivors/
For the Native American community:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/native-americans/
For Veterans:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/veterans/
For Deaf/Hard of Hearing:
https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/for-deaf-hard-of-hearing/

 

When We Return to the Gift of the Earth

Photo by Amy Paulson

“But every once in a while, with a basket in hand, or a peach or a pencil, there is that moment when the mind and spirit open to all the connections, to all the lives and our responsibility to use them well.”  — Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer

I’m sitting in our newly organized office, a room at the front of our house facing the yard. My husband has a desk, converted from an old oak table with our computer placed on top, and I sit at a tiny desk gifted to us by my sister-in-law Melissa right after we were married 10 years ago.

To be honest, for the past few weeks, the Earth has been closely haunting me with her songs, her stories, her wishes.

Maybe it’s just that I wasn’t listening before. Usually it’s the case that I just don’t know how to. There is too much noise. There is too much Netflix. There is too much I’m just too busy.

It’s the lie of the century, really, placing blame on things like busyness. We are called to be honest people, and so, in a time like ours when the Earth is continually stripped by human greed one tree, river, and piece of land at a time, we need to remember our place.

If you’ve not read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book, Braiding Sweetgrass,I highly encourage you to. As a poet, a scientist, and an indigenous woman, she weaves together stories through her encounters with the world, a book written by a true mystic if ever there was one.

She describes, in the latest chapter I’ve devoured, the work of creating black ash baskets from the trees. It’s a process that requires the artist and creator to understand that the pieces used to make the basket are a gift, to honor the work and to carry that acknowledgement constantly with her.

We have always lived in a world that gives to us.

And if we’re Christians, our entire paradigm of religion or spiritual practice is based on the idea that grace is a true gift, passed to us in the most unexpected ways from God.

And so, we are constantly on the receiving end of goodness.

And so, we are constantly in need of becoming better givers.

I grew up reenacting the scene from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast,you know, this one:

I spent hours in my yard, wherever I could find little sprigs of weeds that I could watch blow into the wind. I wanted a magical life, where I could sing and dance and be free with the creatures around me who ask to be free.

But along the way, I found television shows and indoor games, and the call of the wilderness became a far off dream. I became further disconnected from my Potawatomi identity, and in losing that, I lost stories that could have reminded me of myself, of God.

I still spent time outside, but I didn’t listen the way I once did. I lost sight of the magicthat once called me, unable to find the wardrobe that led me to my Narnia where Aslan sang songs of creation and benevolent beings stretched out their arms to care for me.

As beautiful and good as this world was created to be, the older we get, we inherit the human trait of deeming it a wasteland, taking whatever we want at the risk of ruining what was once full of life.

We strip trees for paper products.

We build skyscrapers without asking what creatures we’re stealing from.

We desecrate sacred sites for the sake of oil sales.

But growing up in the church, I never heard a word from the pulpit about our responsibility to care.

Sure, we were called to save souls and do our daily quiet time, to love God with our hearts, souls, minds.

But not once did I hear the word, “…and treat this world the way you’d want to be treated. Treat this land as the sacred thing that it is. We are connected to all of it, and so if it perishes, so do we.”

And I certainly never learned the truth of our history as a nation, that we stole land from native peoples and called their ceremonies pagan, savage, vile. We instead decided that our own religion should lift up economy and profit for the sake of the Gospel.

And so, as an adult, I’m returning. For 10 years I’ve watched my husband long to be outside, to find rest among rivers and rocks, to stretch the arms of his own heart out for the world to answer Welcome home, welcome home. 

I recently returned to a home that I had never been to, a home that has been calling me back–the Great Lakes region of the United States where my tribe, the Potawatomi people, once lived.

We lived as the Three Fires Anishinaabe alliance alongside the Ojibwe (Chippewa) and Ottawa (Odawa) people.

While there for a conference, I took a morning to tether myself to the land, to the water. I walked to the edge of Lake Michigan and watched the waves roll in, listening for a story, for a word.

I could hear laughter in her wake. I could hear the faint sounds of time, cries of lament, words of encouragement, of keep going echoing along the shoreline.

In essence, the water was telling me, again, the story of life, my own story, calling to memory the journey I’ve taken to get here today.

She was telling me of my own people being removed from the land, forced to walk the Trail of Death toward dusty Kansas and into Oklahoma. She was telling the story of a Creator who sees and bears the pain of it all, speckling grace over us the entire way.

She was telling me that I am not alone, that I never will be.

 

Photo by Amy Paulson

 

The world, she asks us to return. She asks us to look back, to laugh, to lament, to tell the whole storyand leave nothing out.

I’m returning to things that have been calling me for a long time.

I’m returning to the work of wonder.

I’m returning to the gifts given.

I’m returning to a time before the busyness to say that these things are worth the hard work of paying attention.

And so, it is truly not enough to put aside one day out of the year to call this Earth good.

It is not enough to blame others for not caring when we ourselves have not learned to care.

It is not enough that some of our institutions care for this world and most don't.

If we are alive today, it is because this world that we inhabit has sheltered us, has given to us, an extension of God’s own love.

 

May we return, in 2018, to the garden, to the greens, to the sights and sounds of peacemaking, because the Gospel, which has always been with the people, asks us to.

 

“We spill over into the world and the world spills over into us.” —Braiding Sweetgrass 

Let’s Talk About Healing

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Friends, I believe we are spiraling.

Despite our best efforts at becoming less individualistic in our society and in our churches, we still run in circles and cycles of loneliness and exhaustion. We still long for community and connection.

We are spiraling downward in cycles of religious bigotry, Christian empire, and toxic masculinity.

And when we want to heal, we think it must come quickly, from Point A to Point B. We don’t think of healing as a process of taking steps forward and steps backward, of having grace for the long haul.

And because of that individualism by which we operate, we are repeating those toxic cycles again and again, and they are leading us into toxic conversations in person and on social media.

So, friends, I’d like to talk about healing.

A few weeks ago I shared that for Lent I am giving up my ignorance of institutional sins like racism, sexism, ableism, religious bigotry, colonialism, and others. I decided that I have to look for those Old Habits that Die Hard. I have to be paying attention.

But you see, this requires some painful thought processes and conversations.

It requires us to dive headfirst into the pain of our own lives, into parts of ourselves that perhaps haven’t been healed yet.

And yet, the Spirit bids us come.

I attend a Be the Bridge group in Atlanta, and in our latest meeting we talked about the difficulty of holding truly healing conversations on race through social media. Often, it requires face to face conversations in which both parties are willing to say, “I’m listening,” for true healing to occur.

In my mind, there are three aspects to this that we need to truly heal, at least bit by bit:

 

First, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in our midst. 

I like to call this tethering. To be stable in the work we do on a daily basis, in the conversations we have with others, we have to be willing to notice God in our everyday circumstances. That’s exactly why I wrote my first book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places.  I wanted to explore the idea that all of us are capable of being mystics, of living lives of contemplation, of seeing and experiencing holiness in our everyday messes and mishaps, in our joys and celebrations.

Recently I attended a women’s book club to talk about the process of writing Glory Happening. It was an honor to sit with a group of women who spend so much time together, to hear them admitting openly that they want to notice the presence of the Divine more, that they want to dig their hands into garden soil or go on longer walks, just to notice.

I was led into the kitchen by the young daughter of the family hosting the book club, and she pointed me in the direction of a chalkboard hanging on the wall. A prayer from my book was written in little-girl-handwriting, and it took my breath away.

 

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This family is choosing, together, to find God in the unexpected places of everyday living, and like I pointed out to them that day, while we were gathering in a circle drinking coffee and talking about seeing God in our midst, it is work.

It is work to make ourselves stop long enough in a crazy society of distractions and illusions and addictions to notice what is sacred and waiting for us.

But it is worth the work.

 

Second, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in ourselves.

In Potawatomi culture, we ask, “How is your fire burning?” As the People of the Place of Fire, we were literally the people who tended to the fires traditionally, but still, we have an awareness that there is a sacred fire in all of us, and we are called to tend to it, to notice it, to respond to it when it is beginning to go out. It requires self care and self examination. But it also requires us to look without shame and judgment, something I only learned a few years ago.

Growing  up in the Southern Baptist Church, legalism mixed with my own ability to self-judge meant that I had journal pages full of confessions and hopes that I wouldn’t be abandoned by a God with a gavel and Naughty-or-Nice list. Self-examination along with self-love were difficult to come by, and it’s taken years of unlearning to get to a point (sort of, almost) where I can at least attempt to see myself the way God sees me.

Can we all work toward that?

Can we admit that to heal means we have to see our own stories and our own pains alongside God’s love for us and not separate from it? Can we acknowledge that God sees us as divine and good, even when we are tired?

I spent a few days at an airBNB in the mountains of North Carolina recently, and found that it’s extremely difficult to sit with long bouts of silence. We can do a few minutes, we can meditate and hold our prayer beads, but when it comes to hours and days of silence, of the raw reality that it’s us and the Divine Mystery, it is intimidating at first. It’s terrifying to be naked like that.

But then, if we dare to go, we find that we are really just there to heal from something, from all of the things that hold us bound to our own cycles of self-destruction.

If we dare to go, we can look at our lives with God, and find that healing is not only possible, but a beautifully close reality that we are invited into if we are only willing to say this is the hard stuff, and I’m going to go there and then find a way out. 

 

Third, we have to see God and Sacred Mystery in one another. 

It seems, if we follow the call to love our neighbors as ourselves, that we’ve got these last two steps backward, but I believe that many of us struggle just as much (if not more) to actually love ourselves, and then it damages our ability to love one another.

This is where storytelling comes in. This is where community comes in. This is where truly breaking away from an individualist life comes in.

When we learn to see ourselves and our stories with clearer eyes, we take them to our community, to others who are struggling to learn their own stories, to fight against their own fears, to pick up their own hopes. We do this together, and we have our moments of “Me, too” or “I am listening” or “I had no idea it was like this for you.”

Compassion building and community building go hand in hand, and when we cut ourselves off from communion with others, we lose aspects of ourselves, aspects of Divine Mystery.

 

So, let’s keep talking about healing.

Let’s keep acknowledging that what is hard about life doesn’t have to be a lonely struggle, but a journey we walk together, hand in hand, arm in arm, steady, slow gait to steady, slow gait.

Let’s remember that we cannot heal the institutional brokenness of the world unless we learn to see that the world is sacred, that we are sacred, and that our call to love one another is a sacred call.

Maybe then, healing will come.

Maybe then, we can answer the question and say, “Yes, yes, our fire is burning and it will not go out.”

 

We hold hope and despair, one in each arm, and we cradle them close to our chest, because they both have something important to say at every moment.

Glory Happening

 

Deconstructing American Christian Worship

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I’ve been tired during church lately.

If you’re someone attempting to deconstruct or decolonize your faith like I am, you might feel it, too.

As a Potawatomi woman, I am suddenly going over every word of every song, every word of every sermon, asking if those words are inclusive of my own culture within the views of the American church.

And so we show up at church, asking all the questions, making all the critiques we can, because these things matter.

And we end up leaving exhausted because the church has not yet understood that Jesus really was a poor, brown carpenter and still has something to say to us today. I’m exhausted that I don’t yet understand that in my own skin.

And we end up leaving exhausted because we have to hold our own culture’s truths and tensions with the gospel, and also hold all these cultural, racial, belief-based tensions with one another.

As a worship leader, I pay attention to the room during worship.

I listen to the voices in unison.

I wonder where people are coming from when they sing words like, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.”

And as I am analyzing these things and trying to worship through my own experiences, I come back to this idea of nakedness.

Theresa ofAvila says it like this:

You find God in yourself and yourself in God.

 

To know the true mirror image of God is to know ourselves fully, as we are fully known.

And that means that while we stay tethered to and learn from and engage with our cultural lenses, we also zoom into our souls, into that naked place, to that deepest part of who we are to embrace Mystery, without analyzing any of it.

We embrace Mystery without analyzing any of it. 

This means that we even have to allow ourselves to step out of the mindset that worship should look, feel and seem a certain way.

To embrace Mystery is to recognize that worship is something fully beyond us that we step into and participate in, and not just in a church building full of people.

One of the most worshipful experiences I had recently was while I was staying at an AirBNB in the Blue Ridge mountains. I took an early evening walk, mittens on and a cup of coffee in my hand. As I turned the corner, I watched  a family of deer run across the street and up into the woods on the other side. Before they disappeared, one of them stopped, turned around, and stared at me for a few seconds.

Sometimes worship happens as a rootedness that we do not expect or even think we deserve.

The mirror image of myself in that deer was nothing but worship, a moment to recognize my own sense of belonging in this world. In the space, beyond my culture, beyond the fact that I am a Potawatomi woman, that I am a mother and wife and worship leader and writer and friend, I was simply one soul looking at the soul of another creature.

We were simply acknowledging one another, and in that, acknowledging Mystery, without analyzing any of it. 

So we erase the lines that make rules to tell us when and how to worship. We expand our thinking outside the walls of the church and realize that “occasionally it is not the open air or the church that we desire, but both” (John Philip Newell).

And this is difficult when you’re on church staff, when you’re trying to figure out how to run a church with various cultures, to honor diversity, to honor the life of Jesus. I get that. But leading others in worship means we lead them out of themselves, and we also lead them out of the mindset that worship must look the way the American church thinks it should look.

And soon we find that deconstructing our worship patterns is actually a return back to that nakedness, to that mirror image between us and God, between us and the world, between my own culture and yours.

And then we find that worship has done its work, because the glory of God happens when this created world is fully alive to beauty, to love, to all of those things that we have such a hard time finding because we are so constantly trying to analyze the questions and critiques as they come to us every week in church.

Because of and despite our questions and critiques, the Mystery is still there, still engaging, still asking us to look and respond, to be present with every aspect of ourselves, to the honor and glory of God.

Amen.

 

Christmas Eve: don’t miss the beauty of the Before

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In America, and many parts of the entertainment world, people really like dramatic Before-and-After experiences.

We watch a home go from a hoarder’s filled mess to a dream home;

We watch the un-groomed man or woman become fashionable;

We watch a special nanny whip disrespectful kids into shape;

We praise the salvation experience– before we were heathens, now we are saved.

We love the drama.

We’re addicted to the adrenaline of the outcome.

Today is Christmas Eve, and if you’re a Christian like I am, we celebrate that today is a Before-and-After experience, too.

Before Jesus and After Jesus.

Before salvation and After salvation.

As much as the world ached for the Savior, we can’t forget that it was still a world in which God was present. Too often, we demonize what was Before, and we say that the After picture means true victory.

Sometimes, this is absolutely accurate.

But let’s not forget the life blood still pumping in the Before.

Let’s not forget the heart and soul of people struggling to be truly kind and good in the Before.

I’m reminded of America’s history here.

To the European colonizers who came to make something great out of this land, the After picture was the true pride and victory of what we now call the United States.

But remember, friends– what was here in the Before?

Groups of indigenous people, thriving on our land, tending to the earth.

We were still hurting people who sometimes fell into war and malice.

But we, as people of the Before, were still humans searching for and listing to the voice of the Creator.

Let’s remember that our opinions of the Before are not always accurate, and let’s trust that sometimes the After actually takes away our humanity, too.

So on Christmas, while God dwells in the After of Jesus, God always dwells in the Before, too.

As an Evangelical, I grew up, with my community, painting salvation stories really clearly– I was lost, now I’m found.

It’s the ultimate Before-and-After.

But lately, I’ve had to break myself free from that paradigm.

Because too often we begin, as people of the After, to demonize those of the Before. We belittle their existence and experiences, and in doing so, the grace of God to truly be with us–our Emmanuel.

So as you watch Before-and-After experiences unfold, remember that both may not always be what they seem.

After all, Jesus taught, as an adult, that his very presence exists in people you’d least expect– children, the poor, widows and orphans, the alien. They are people that the world pushes impatiently into transformation.

If he teaches that, maybe the Before experiences are worth paying attention to.

At my in-laws’ house on Christmas Eve, I’m watching snow fall and cover everything in its wake.

As I watch this tiny spot of the world transform into the After, I can’t help but look out and say a word of gratitude to the Before, to yesterday, to the snowless moments that prepared me for this very instant of awe.

Merry Christmas, friends.

May you find glory in the Before as well as the After, and in every space of transformation along the way.

 

Day 8: When We Suffer, Jesus Suffers

{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 is certainly true that in all of us, in our individual suffering, Christ is present and near. I’ve learned that throughout my life and in my Christian faith. I’ve known it to be true in my own circumstances. For instance, when my father left when I was nine, I felt the closeness of God near me constantly. Where people seemed to disappear and fail me, the presence of someone who saw me didn’t.

But as people, we begin to do something dangerous with this idea of the suffering of Christ. We begin to say that Jesus suffers with our particular group alone, that he is only for us, that God only sees us. Today in America, there’s a group of people who yell in the streets, “White lives matter!” because they see themselves as a people suffering, a people that the suffering of Jesus identifies with while overlooking the suffering of people of color around them.

There is no doubt that every person who shouts something like this from the streets is indeed soul-suffering, but when we begin to nationalize our suffering and claim God’s love over our particular group, especially a group that holds the power, we miss something.

The suffering of Jesus came upon him because he stood up against the powers of the day. And so those who have also, throughout time, been oppressed under the hand of power, know what it means to suffer in the way of Christ’s suffering.

The Israelites knew.

Those enslaved knew.

Indigenous peoples knew.

Because Jesus invites us into his suffering, and because we invite him into our own, that means we should regularly invite each other into our own suffering– and we do it in community.

Which means that we fight against the lie of individualism. We fight against the hand of power. And we make sure that those who live under constant reigns of oppression know that they are seen and heard, and that there are some in the world who value every bit of their lives because the suffering of Jesus calls all of us to it.

And when it comes to indigenous peoples, the church has actually been so complicit over time in that suffering– boarding schools, forced assimilation, forced “salvation,” and loss of culture has been done in the name of Jesus.

In those moments, I believe the suffering of the actual Christ, who is not enslaved by the institutions that represent something so wrong, came closer and closer to those suffering with his own suffering.

And at some point in the suffering process, through it and after it comes the healing. And there, Christ is present, too. Everyday that I teach my children our Potawatomi language, everyday that I remind someone that we’re still here, that our culture is still alive, I am healing. We are healing.

And when we heal, the church heals, and the world heals.

So because we suffer with Christ, we also heal with Christ.

Hallelujah for that.

 

 

DAY 4: Smudging & Cultural Appropriation

{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.}

Did you know that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples gives intellectual property rights to indigenous people for smudging/ceremony?

We should have a conversation about cultural appropriation when it comes to this.

If you buy a smudge kit at a health food store or on an Etsy site that includes a feather and a fan for blowing around the smoke, you’re participating in cultural appropriation. Recently, Sephora advertised a bohemian “witch kit” with white sage included. Native women on Twitter battled with the company, explaining why using sage in a prepackaged kit is both a violation of the medicine itself and the rights of Indigenous peoples to that medicine.

Over time, it’s become a popular way to cleanse your home, an aspect of New Age gatherings.

If you think smudging is a New Age, hippie activity, it’s not. It’s appropriation if you do.

In my tribe’s story, Creator gave the people four gifts for prayer and ceremony: tobacco, sage, sweetgrass and cedar. These gifts, grown from the earth, are used for different life seasons, in different ceremonies, to honor the land, always for the act of prayer and cleansing.

Not just any tobacco or sage, though. What we use is for ceremony, so it must be blessed and cleansed for a certain purpose. It must be handled with care and not packaged with a fake feather and a few incense sticks. Sounds a little bit like the way communion is blessed in the church, the way eucharist is prepared. There is substance, and it becomes something holy.

In Potawatomi culture, these gifts come alive. They teach us, heal us, cleanse us. They bring the beautiful, natural power of the land to us, a direct gift from Mamogosnan, the Creator, our Father.

And so, on a difficult day, before a meeting, I sometimes stop and pray. I stop and light my sage, my sweetgrass, my tobacco, and I rest.

I say, Migwetch Mamogosnan. Thank you, Creator/Great Father.

And my breathing slows, my mind clears.

In the way of smudging, we do it to honor our ancestors who also prayed in their great joy and in their deep grief. This cannot be appropriated.

So, may we always pray because we are led to it by generations before us, by the gifts given to us.

If you want to smudge, I encourage you to order directly from a tribal store or gift shop, and smudge honoring the people that the ceremony of smudging belongs to. And I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers to this. The more I learn about other cultures, the more I appreciate about them, I have to also hold steady my respect for their culture. I have to, in my own way, fight against appropriation and white supremacy. Indigenous peoples deserve that respect, too, and even though it’s almost impossible to spot it sometimes, it’s an everyday occurrence, from Halloween costumes to shamanic sweat lodge ceremonies that dishonor our cultures.

For more thoughts on cultural appropriation, I encourage you to visit Dr. Adrienne Keene’s website, Native Appropriations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Gray Hair: a lesson in aging with wisdom

 

I found a gray hair on my head one morning recently.

I smiled at myself in the mirror and nearly ran into the other room to show my husband.

It’s not that I’m longing to get older quicker; but I am longing for more wisdom, for more journey.

 

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That morning I attended a day-long speaking event by Barbara Brown Taylor in my city, and was sure that I’d be stepping into sacred space as I drove my tiny white Kia across Atlanta, listening to a Powwow Song Pandora station along the way.

I was a bit surprised that I was one of the youngest people attending the conference. I found a table and sat down with a group of strangers, women older than I, kind and willing to listen.

I was unaware that they’d be speaking over me, calling me into my own gifts, my own way, leading me the way an ancestor does, the way an elder should.

We’re to listen to our elders, we’re taught in indigenous culture.

We’re to take their stories and wisdom and let them lead us in life. But so much of modern American culture fights against that, says that the older you get the less difference you can make in the world. But I sat in that room, at that table, with those women, and they simply held space for me. It was like I was watching their legacies trailing behind them, a beautiful train attached to their bodies that told their stories as they journey from one day to the next, that keeps record of the ways in which they have learned and re-learned what it means to be human.

I told them I had a book coming out soon and that I’d brought a copy to give to Barbara. They passed it around the table, writing down my name so they could buy it when it comes out. One woman looked through some of the pages, back up at me, right in my eyes, and said, “I think this is going to be more popular than you think it is. Do you feel that?”

I can’t explain to you what happens inside of me in those moments. It’s cocoon-like, a sense that I need to listen and perceive and remember those instances clearly for what they are. And in that moment, I was sitting beside my elder and she was reminding me of who I was, ushering me deeper into my own calling as she told me about her years as a converted Jew and her personal spiritual journeys.

There are a lot of divides that come with generations, but our underlying humanity–our joys and laughters, our gifts and callings, our need for community–they hold the whole world together, no matter what separates.

I left that day-long conference grateful for the spaces in which I was asked to share my story, to speak about how my indigenous identity and my Christian identity are one in the same, and that I’m trying to reconcile the rest of the church to that reality. I tried to sit still and listen for their stories and experiences, and while I received, they were few and far between. It seems this particular experience was to remind me that my ancestors, and the elders I surround myself with, are my leaders today and tomorrow. They walk with me on this path, even if it’s for one afternoon in an episcopal church.

And when I see gray hair, I think of my grandma, who had silver hair that she kept pulled up in a tight bun. Every now and then you could catch it down, trailing her shoulders, her back, long strands of what I imagined years of wisdom that made her the woman she was to me and my family. In our human experience, even in its pain, even in its misery, even in its divine transformation, we find hope along the way, as we age, as we grow, as we choose whether or not we want humility and grace to guide us.

I have hopes for my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, that comes out on November 7th, this book that I’m literally birthing into the world, pieces of me sent to other peoples’ living rooms, my words on their bookshelves and my heart reaching out from the ink and page to ask another heart to respond. It is a rush of so many feelings, and I am simply overcome with gratitude.

And yet, I have so much hope beyond that.

I hope, too, that when my one gray hair turns to one hundred on my head,

I look in the mirror, glad.

I hope that when my skin begins to wrinkle,

I see memory after memory make themselves known on my hands, my face.

I hope that my ever-brittling bones tell me

that transformation is both painful and beautiful.

I hope that my eyes, what they have seen and known,

will never grow weary of looking another in their eyes.

And I hope that one day, when I am the elder in the room,

I have something to give that is humble and gentle,

full of the glory of a God that stretches across generations and millennia,

who knew my own ancestors then and knows me now,

who will know my grandchildren one day.

I hope that all my hoping is bound up in this one voice

that stretches and molds and transforms over time,

a voice that began in creation, in mystery, a voice

that calls out to the deep for more of that benevolent love

that was always there and will always be here,

teaching us as we age that our stories matter,

and that they are never wasted or forgotten.

 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace… Romans 15:13

Indeed, the very hairs on your head are numbered. Luke 12:7

 

Staying Rooted in an Uprooted World

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Have you ever noticed that the tops of the trees sway wildly when it’s windy?

I took the boys to one of our new favorite spots in Atlanta, a walking trail with a lake and two picnic tables where we sit and read, where we thread fallen leaves onto pine needles  and make habitats with sticks and dirt.

Last week, my oldest found an arrowhead there, and so it is, in many ways, sacred space to us. It is our getaway right outside the city.

We’ve been watching the new Magic Schoolbus series, and there is an episode about architecture and the Big Bad Wolf–they are trying to design the perfect house for the Three Little Pigs that won’t get blown down. When the kids and their teacher realize that the trees are the answer to their problems–that their rooted trunks do not easily break in the wind–they apply the circular tree design to their house for the Three Little Pigs play and it is a success.

You see, they discovered that the way the trees were grounded during the storm was the answer. Most of the trees were steady and safe, despite harsh winds.

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These days are full of acute, concentrated heaviness. We mourn and long, we hope and despair, constantly and all at once. That is, of course, the human condition, but it is exhausting, and it often leaves us feeling listless and unsettled.

And so, we have to find rootedness. We have to be grounded in something.

And if you’re a Christian like I am, the American church doesn’t feel like the safest place right now.

As a Native American woman, the church isn’t always the best place for me to find God. Because I’ve realized that the church is also out there. It is in the wilderness where I am grounded. 

A few days ago when I took my boys back to our favorite spot and watched the trees quietly sway, I listened. I listened as acorns fell from the heights above us. I lay on the bench of the picnic table, once again in awe of a created world that I get to belong to, tend to, learn from. I felt rooted again.

It was in a similar place that I was brought back to my identity as a Potawatomi woman a few years ago, on a walking trail. In that moment, when God reminded me of who I am, opened up my world, and lifted a veil that had been covering my eyes, I saw everything clearly, and I found that even though my journey is difficult, its beauty outweighs its heaviness, and it brings me to a rootedness that I’ve never had before in my life.

The answers have always been outside, whether we notice or not. They are in the trees and the dirt beneath my feet. Somehow, the wilderness allows us to ask questions of life, of God, of ourselves, of each other, and whether we find the answers we’re looking for, what grounds us to this earth and to this journey is that we belong. We are held steady in the chaos, rooted even though things are broken.

And the wilderness does not discriminate. The trees do not look at me differently than they look at you. The lake lets you see your reflection on her face, and the ducks still float by gracefully. The acorns still fall from the trees, the squirrels still bury their winter food in the dirt, and the bees still search for honey and sting anyone who gets in their way.

But when we become a part of that, when we get to sit in the company of a created world, we see ourselves.

We remember that we are small, created things, made to belong, to be interconnected, and that is the grandest mystery, isn’t it?

That in itself is all I need, and it’s all you need, if only for a moment of re-charging and remembering.

So when the brokenness of the world makes you tired, run to the forest.
Remember how small you are.
Watch the leaves change.
Listen to acorns fall from the heights.
Let the wind and the water talk to you about what it means to heal.
Let The Creator show you the benevolent, secret places.

And root yourselves again. Dig your heels into the dirt and remember that it is okay to long for wholeness, and it is better to seek it out where it can be found.

So let the wildernesses– the rolling hills, the forests and the lakes, the rivers and the rocks, be your guide. Let them bring you back to yourself, to that still, small voice that has always called us rooted in an often uprooted world.


 

 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is out for PRE-ORDER! You can order your copy here.

Can’t wait for you to read it and find your own stories in mine.