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 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 6: The Land is our Teacher

{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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Yesterday as part of this series on Native American Heritage Month, I encouraged you to find out who lived on your and before you, what indigenous peoples thrived where you are now. Today we’re going to consider how the land heals us, and it’s a relationship in which we care for one another because of it.

Last year, I went to one of our favorite wooded areas during a break from work.

I lay down on a wooden platform and looked up at the trees. I stared at the pines’ tops, far above me.

I saw the silhouette of birds, heard them telling some sort of story. I was feeling pretty lonely at that time. The work of constantly studying, learning from my tribe, processing what it means to be indigenous, left me feeling exhausted and hungry for rest. What often gave me the most rest wasn’t people, but land–birds and rocks, rivers and trees, bugs and dirt.

After laying there for a few minutes listening, I saw a single leaf begin to fall from the top of one of the trees. Life seemed to slow down.

Time seemed to stand still.

That leaf slowly kept falling,

falling,

falling,

until it landed right next to me,

and I heard a whisper echo from those same treetops,

“You are never alone.”

The land heals us.

God speaks through trees and leaves, rivers and rocks, hills and valleys, mountains and skylines.

And so, we are not alone, and the land tells us so. Indigenous peoples have known this for a long time, and for a long time, colonized America has believed that because we can take control of the land, we heal ourselves, everything done by the wit and wisdom of people.

But there has always been another way.

And if we get quiet enough to listen, if we lay down long enough to notice, there will be healing upon healing pointed in our direction.

The land doesn’t discriminate. She pours out kindness for us when we ask, when we listen, partnering with the Creator to usher us closer to a kind of Eden-world that was birthed in the very beginning.

And so, we walk carefully. And when we are tired of people, of politics and gossip, of drama, we run to the forests again, we swim in the rivers, or we lay down under a tree and let it remind us that we are truly never alone.


 

MY BOOK COMES OUT TOMORROW!

If you haven’t pre-ordered your copy of Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places  yet, you can do it today!

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DAY 5: To Those Who Belong[ed] to the Land

{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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Have you ever wondered who used to live where you live?

Recently I attended a training for a group of teachers at a Waldorf school in my city. I was asked to begin the meeting by acknowledging who used to live on the land we now inhabit, and it kept coming back to me, more and more sure every time: the land does not belong to us, but we belong to her.

We are visitors on her shores, we are people who will come and go from her presence. While we are here, we are to care for her.

On Indigenous Peoples Day I challenged everyone in my social media circles to find out the history of the land they currently inhabit. I asked them to look up the people groups, the indigenous peoples who once lived there, to honor their memory, their presence, those ancestors.

I live on Muskogee Creek land, and we often go hiking near the rivers here in our city. I lay tobacco down on the water or by a towering pine tree and I thank whoever came before me. I thank God that I get to walk in the rich history of such a place, and I feel the pulse of the dirt beneath me telling its story, reminding me that many came before me and walked those same paths, stared into that same body of water.

It changes everything. It reminds us of how small we are. It reminds us that we belong to a long line of people, and it reminds us of our dark history, as well, of the times when those people were removed from their homes and pushed out to unknown places.

I challenge you today to find out who lived where you currently live. These are resources I’ve been given, and I’m so grateful we have things like the internet today to trace back time. Google can usually get you there.

First, watch this video. 

Now read, discover, learn, then head outside to the nearest patch of wilderness and let the land speak to you. It heals and tells stories that we cannot even begin to imagine.

You can even purchase a Tribal Nations Map here. 

And next time you’re hosting an event in your city, acknowledge that others came before you. Thank them. Remind the people you’re with that the land doesn’t belong to you, but that you belong to the land, that you get to rest with her for a little while. This is how we honor those who went before us.


 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, comes out in TWO DAYS! You can pre-order a copy today on Amazon or Paraclete Press, and head to the first chapter. It’s called Creation, and it tells stories about transformation, about finding the glory of God in the work of living and being present to a created world. I hope you’ll read my stories and prayers and find your own stories in them.

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Artwork by Suzanne Stovall Vinson

 

 

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.}

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

We should have a little 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.

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. Let me tell you about it.

The 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, we believe that these gifts are inanimate objects until they are used in ceremony- then they 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.

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. 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.

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


 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places, comes out in a few days! You can pre-order the book here, but first take a look at my book trailer and consider sharing it with a friend.

Migwetch, friends!