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.

 

7 GRATITUDES: deep gratefulness

{Every now and then I join with my friend Leanna to name 7 things I’m grateful for. Join us?}

It is difficult to be settled into everyday gratefulness when, out in the world, there are people dying from gunshot wounds, refugee children and families drowning in the ocean, villages in which there are not enough diapers for babies, and people fighting over who they think Jesus might be in today’s context.

While I am so thankful for my morning cup of coffee and my warm bed and my healthy children, I need my gratitude to be rooted in something deeper than that today.

I need gratitude that is tethered to the ever-close presence of Jesus in the worst of the world.

I need gratitude that is tethered to the Spirit of God, a Spirit that never abandons.

So in the spirit of our #sevengratitudes, I name these things that I am grateful for:

  1. A God who sees us beyond and despite our cultural boundaries;
  2. Jesus, who calls us friends, siblings, part of the family that he so graciously created for us to belong to;
  3. That this same family is inclusive and dynamic, that it’s diverse and progressive, always transforming into another piece of the Mystery of God;
  4. Creation teaches us lessons about God, and creation calls us into a deeper understanding of this world–from the birds to the dragonflies, from the rocks to the oceans, we have magnificence at our fingertips everyday;
  5. Art in every form that is beautiful and beneficial, that teaches us how to express our humanity;
  6. A world in which I can learn from my native and non-native friends, and a world in which I can learn from my Christian and non-Christian friends;
  7. This quote by Frederick Buechner, one of my all-time favorites, that sums up everything right now:

    “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”

 

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What gratitudes are you counting today?

 

7 GRATITUDES: always a sacred thread

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My upcoming book is about finding glory in every season of life. One of those seasons for me was a particularly difficult one, when I was abandoned by a family member. You can read about it when my book comes out this fall, and if you read that story you’ll hear that thin place, where I was lonely and afraid, but I was held by the grace of God and the people who loved me.

As we search for glory in our every day lives, we search for gratefulness, too. It is hidden sometimes, and we have to dig to get there. It is difficult to place it, to name it, and yet we try, because we need it to survive.

This week, I’m grateful for seven things, seven things that keep me tethered to the good, to the holy, to the sacred, even in the midst of a mad world.

But before we get to my gratefulness, watch this video of my favorite lullaby to help you get in the mood:

  1. I’m grateful to be indigenous. Today is the Natives March on Washington, and I am with my brothers and sisters in spirit. I pray that their peaceful voices rise, high across the tallest buildings of Washington. Peace cannot be ignored, and I’m so grateful for that.
  2. I’m grateful for the endorsements I’ve received for my book this week and a more official release date in October. Endorsements include this one from Brian McLaren:”Kaitlin writes with a gentle voice that leads us on a journey. In this book, she walks with us into the heart of glory, asking what it means to find sacred spaces in everything. Her young, indigenous voice brings a fresh perspective of lyrical prayer and storytelling to the world. If you love the wisdom and poetry of Kathleen Norris, Barbara Brown Taylor, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, and Richard Rohr, you’ll love Kaitlin Curtice.”
  3. I’m grateful for that moment, lying on the couch with my five year old, when I told him stories about my childhood, stories even I’d forgotten. Now I’m trying to trace my memories back, to recall more moments that I can relay to him about the beautiful childhood I had with my siblings, so we can laugh and remember together. Those moments are sacred, indeed.
  4. I’m grateful for a husband that gardens and knows his days are meant for holy things. He bought pansies for our yard and fashioned them in a pattern around our bird feeder because our five year old thinks in patterns. It is a difficult and hard-working season to pass through to get a PhD, but he persists. He works and he plays and he asks questions of himself along the way. He loves us and shows it and I’m grateful I get to be his partner, to watch him grow, even when it feels long and slow.
  5. I’m grateful for the whispered prayer of “Thy will be done.” It may be subconscious that I tilt my voice a little heavenward when I do something that I am unsure about, when I’m looking for an answer to a question or starting a new leg of the journey. Thy will be done invites me into adventure, but tethers me to the sacred love of God inside that journey, and I’m eternally grateful for it.
  6. I’m grateful to be a woman this week. As we celebrated International Women’s Day, I also celebrated my Grandmother’s birthday, a woman who doesn’t journey with her body on this earth anymore but speaks to me every day with her spirit. I carry her with me, as does my mother every day that she learns about her own roots. Women– we are never alone, and our bonds are not easily broken.
  7. I’m grateful for #letterstotrump Tuesday at a local coffee shop where I sit with my boys to write a weekly letter to President Trump, and I’m grateful that whether or not he ever answers or reads those letters, they work something out in me, a slow and steady crawl toward dealing graciously with someone I don’t agree with. I’m grateful that shalom covers us and restores what is broken, and that the work of our hands is sacred when we use it for good. You can read more about my letters and the work of my hands as resistance at Sojourners. Grateful they are willing to publish the things I write every now and then.

And of course, I’m grateful for the group of women who pour out their seven gratitudes weekly, including my dear friend Leanna, who began this link-up in the first place. If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, I encourage you to! 

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DEAR PRESIDENT TRUMP: The Reason I Write

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Dear President Trump,

Every Tuesday now, I gather with my boys (so far) at a local coffee shop to write you these letters. I write to you because I want you to know my story.

I write you these letters in hopes that one day my boys will feel empowered to write letters to whoever the president is when they are adults.

I write to you as an indigenous woman because my people’s voices matter.

I write to you as a Christian because I believe God cares for the immigrant, the native, the muslim, the homeless teenager, the LGBT person, the African American spending years in a for-profit prison.

I write to you every week to remind you of your humanity, to remind you that every voice matters, not just yours or the others like it.

I write because I care for this country.

So do not forget that we are here.

Do not forget our voices, even if they differ from yours.

That difference is what makes America Great.

 

With Watching Eyes & Steady Hand,

Kaitlin Curtice 

DEAR PRESIDENT TRUMP: a promise for your coming inauguration & presidency

 

Dear President Trump,

As a new era begins in your life, so it begins in mine. About a year and a half ago, I began culturally engaging my Potawatomi Citizen Band/Chickasaw/Cherokee heritage along with my husband and two sons.

It has transformed my life in every way, coming back to something inside of me that has asked to be paid attention to. In a way, I’ve promised myself that I’ll never be the same again, never go back to “before.”

And so it is with you. Today you begin a new life as our president, and you cannot go back even one day. You take the past that has made you and move forward with it, with a steady promise to our nation and world that you’ll justly care for it.

But I’ve got another promise to make to you.

As a child, I wrote President Clinton a letter. I’ve written to President Obama numerous times as an adult, and my five-year-old son has written to him as well. We’re told to write to our leaders, to let them know that we see them, hear them, hold them up to the light.

So I’ll be writing to you, President Trump.

Weekly, you’ll receive a letter from me.

I’ll update you on the education of my two boys; I’ll describe our life to you so you can understand what it’s like to live in our space.

I’ll tell you that I pray for you, and I’ll ask you to make better decisions if I see something wrong.

Justice is a beautiful thing, because it holds us– not the other way around. So I’ll write to you my own thoughts on justice, this nation, my perspective as a lower-class native american work-from-home mother and writer.

I promise to write to you as a Christ-follower, to check my own heart against political views, and I promise to write to you on the premise of grace.

As our President, you’ll know me. You’ll know my handwriting and my voice, my distant presence at your office door every week when the time comes.

If you’d like to think of it this way, I will haunt you, a less-knowing reminder than the good spirits who visited Ebenezer Scrooge throughout the night to remind him of who he was meant to be.

I promise to be your reminder, President Trump, to send my voice to your door, to show you our world so that every day of your presidency you cannot truthfully say that you didn’t know.

This is my promise to you.

Welcome to the Presidency.

With watching eyes & steady hand,

 

Kaitlin Curtice

DON’T FORGET 2016: when mourning leads to action

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I’ve read a lot of posts giving us permission to put 2016 behind us and move forward with hope.

Maybe we’re grieving the death of a part of us, or someone that we left in that year.

And when 2017 rolled around, we said good-bye to everything and everyone to begin again.

But the problem with leaving “the past in the past” is that we miss who we are because of it. I’ve watched people I love mourn those that they lost. They didn’t wish to forget them after the mourning period was over; they hoped to live into the legacy of that person, to walk in the light they left, to learn something from them, even after death.

So what did we leave behind in 2016? What died and what took its place?

The grief of those memories carry themselves in us, quiet and steady, often painful.

But the mourning process is out loud, our speaking and writing and making public that we are hurting and are asked to get better, to heal a little, to find comfort, to do something.

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Today I woke up mourning.

I do not mourn that Obama is leaving and Trump’s time begins.

I do not mourn for a political party or the threat of another authoritarian era.

I don’t mourn that we are a bullying nation, but that we began as one.

I mourn what I wake up to: a world slivered by hate and oppression, a world of people that ask what they can do to further their own causes before anyone else’s.

I mourn every day that my boys have to learn protest because hate exists, and that they have to find a fire inside their bones too awakened to be ignored.

I mourn the lies that we build nations and systems upon for the sake of the powerful.

I mourn a world in which refugees are the outcast, everything utterly backward and unjust.

We mourn things because they affect us. They do not let go of us— the memories, the spirit, the life that we lost.

And so we mourn what we left in 2016, but we do not forget it.

And we let our mourning and our grief lead us into action, into what is healthy, into what makes us whole.

In Native culture, we do not neglect the past, but use it to usher us forward.

Whether 2016 was the worst or best year of your life, carry its memory with you, use it to make 2017 what it should be, to inspire you toward hope and a fuller version of yourself.

Do anything but forget, and engage anything but inaction.

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to Donald Trump: the day after the election

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Dear President-Elect:

This morning, I lay in bed beside my three year old as my husband explained to my five year old in the next room that you will be our next president.

Our oldest son has watched you closely these past months. He has called you a bully, a man with a hateful attitude.

But here we are, and congratulations to you.

Please know that a fire has been lit.

It has been lit by children who refuse to be bullied and parents who want to see a healthy world for their little ones, a world where minorities and females and the poor can also rise to the leadership positions and change things.

I am a worship leader at an LGBT-affirming church; I am a Native American; I am an author, a homeschooling mother, a wife of a PhD student.

And a fire has been lit in me.

This morning I lay with my oldest son in my bed. We cuddled before we started the day and I reminded him of the power of a phone call.

We’ve called Obama a few times these last few weeks to ask him to stop the pipeline in North Dakota, and my boy’s voice was recorded and his words sent on to a listening president.

Now I’m asking you to be that listening ear in the coming years, because Mr. Trump, if things go awry, he will be calling you.

And if things are all as they should be, he will still be calling, because he is a citizen of a country that is held steady by its future– the children.

Mr. Trump, listen to the children.

Start now.

And know that we will be praying for you.

We will be praying that every morning when you rise from your bed and every night when you go to sleep and all the moments in between, you’ll be seeking shalom in your leadership.

I don’t want to see you at my church, or at a pulpit with a bible in your hand. I don’t want to hear you proclaiming God’s good will in sending you to our great nation as a prophet-leader.

I want to see you doing the things that Jesus did.

Eating with the outcast.

Caring for the poor, widowed, orphaned.

Embracing all the other.

Creating equal rights.

Becoming a peacemaker.

Mr. Trump, that fire was lit under Jesus, too.

It’s a fire of justice, grace, and Kingdom, and I’m praying you find it in your early days of leadership and carry it as a humble torch through the next four years.

And please remember who’s watching.

And keep your phone line open.

 

Sincerely,

A citizen who stands for many of things you’ve spoken against.

At the Feet of our Elder-Women: shared experiences that will heal our world

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Last Friday I attended a cabaret show at our church- a fabulous dinner around bottle-lit tables and Cole Porter tunes.

I suppose I was the youngest one there besides my four year old dinner date, which gave me a wonderful perspective for the evening.

As the jazz songs that I’ve always loved played on, I watched as smiles and memories flashed across the faces in the room around me.

I remembered that this was a moment to be treasured. To be a part of a multi-generational body or community is no small thing. I believe it holds tremendous necessity for our well-being;

how will I know how or when to go if I am not shown by another life well lived?

These interactions with my elders are usually short snippets on a Sunday morning, but I’m learning to hold them inside me, sacred spaces that I can call to when I need to remember my way.

In many Native American and African tribes, the family line is matriarchal, which means everything flows through the women of the family, and the highest honors are given to the elderly grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who hold the wisdom of their people for generations to come.

I do not have those elders in my life right now. I am without a Cherokee, Chickasaw or Potawatomi ancestor to turn to with the questions for my journey.

So I set myself at the feet of the women I know I can be close to, those who are already here— the ones who know this land and its people, who take stock in my community, church, and personal well-being.

And as it tends to happen in the human condition, we won’t always agree; but our hearts, if they are brave and willing enough, will move far beyond our desire to remain solitary.

It is no secret that the church is confused and divided. But I believe we can heal wounds and undo the wrongs that have been done, because it is necessary that we come together around the most important spaces in our history and culture. We meet each other at the table, across the room, in the middle of the week to learn what we do not know from each other.

We must share our stories and open up dialogue and become one again, and with every mesh of our spirits, a foundation is built that will hold strong for decades to come.

We must cultivate respect, and out of that respect, lead the community around us into a beautiful reality:

that despite age gaps, race, denomination, or money in the bank, it is the stories that give us life.

And as it happens, the women I learn to love will learn to love me,

and in loving and seeing one another, we begin to heal our untended wounds.

And we know that when one wound heals, it breathes room for another, and another, and another, healing heaped upon healing to restore something good to all of us.

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My Grandma Downing died when I was a teenager, and at her funeral I learned things about her I’d never known.

What I knew was what I’d seen as a child:

that she loved her living room recliner and crossword puzzles and watching Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune on the kitchen television; that she made biscuits like no one else I’ve ever known; that her pearls and hair pins were a treat to play with at her bedroom vanity.

But I did not know her stories or her history, the history that indeed is saving me today.

I did not sit at her feet and see the sacred lineage of Jesus in her eyes.

I did not know, so I did not weigh its importance in myself, that those moments would stay with me for the rest of my life and lead me long after she had passed from my presence.

So we know what we can hold to in this moment, in this era, in this season of political angst and horrifying racial tensions.

We hold onto history, and we let it teach us, and the best way history can teach us what we need to know and lessons we need to learn is by the people who’ve lived it, the oldest of the oldest who know that the path stretched far before them and will keep stretching far beyond.

They are our teachers, and our best lessons are found in the dust that they leave as we follow behind them and bask in the mystery of their presence in our lives, mystery that will hover over us in all the days to come.

 

 

God is Not Culture

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Last week  at church, I sat in the midst of a discussion about the will of God.

We took turns telling our stories, sharing our points of view, discussing whether or not we can hold the will of God for another person, and what the will of God means for each of us.

Inside, I told myself over and over again that God is not culture. Because what we know in our churches is that God is good and Jesus is just, but it takes a lot to swallow that neither are American. Neither are any other culture, for that matter; they do not belong to a nation or a people, but hover over and in all of us, with the vastness of shalom as their greatest attribute.

I walk this ever- dissonant  line between learning my Native American heritage & spirituality and my place in today’s western Christian world, and as those lines become thinner and the black and whites become grayer, I discover that the journey toward God is the journey out of every culture I’ve ever known and into something sincerely other.

So all the characteristics that used to define my days are being re-arranged and re-structured, and I find that while it is difficult to strip myself of western culture in order to find God, it is possible.

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As a young girl and on into my teenage years, I followed every rule according to my Baptist upbringing. I never kissed and hardly dated, I worried myself silly over missed assignments or classes, I feared for my salvation because I felt excessively guilty over sins like forgetting to do my quiet time or my judgmental attitude. Some was personality, some was baggage, but a lot of it was culture.

In college I took a world literature class, and when an old testament bible story was called crazy by many of the students sitting around me, my childhood world was shaken and shattered and I faced a big, wide open world that I hadn’t realized existed– and I had to ask myself, what relationships had I missed living in that bubble?

While I let a western Christian culture define me, what good things were actually waiting on the outside of that culture?

While fear and guilt felt overwhelming, what brought me true peace all those years?

I cannot say that I regret my childhood, of course. It created and molded me, sent me into the world as who I am. But I certainly see that as the woman I am today, the shift has been a liberation.

There are a lot of problems we face today– problems as citizens, as creators, as investors, as families or parents or friends, as leaders or followers, as human beings. Perhaps the best way to break apart the cultured answers to those problems is to forget culture all together, to unpack it from where we stand now, and to ask ourselves, those closest to us, the waiting air, the God who’s always known a way– Who am I and where am I going?

Last week at church, I asked that question again.

And God answers with snippets of dreams and voice and relationships that speak truth.

God answers in the life of my great-great-grandmothers and their mothers before them who knew that journey was a sacred, good thing.

God answers in my modern day, Cooperative Baptist Church, where I lead people in singing out, in proclaiming that we are all hungry and wanting and waiting for liberation.

So I plant my feet in my moccasins in the morning, I greet the autumn air, I wish for my boys to know the world through song and dance and story and miracle, and I wish it for myself, too.

And next week, you and I will gather in our churches or shake hands in our communities or bring friends into our homes, and a few weeks after that we will stand in line at polling stations and make decisions and ask what is next for ourselves, for those we love, even for those we disagree with on every level but that still belong to us.

May we hold those spaces with reverence, accepting that what we know to be true today shapes us tomorrow, and what journey awaits us in the days and nights from here on out could be something completely other, a reality foreign to us, but forever necessary.

While reading poetry with my boys, I came across a poem called “Evolution” by Sara Holbrook and I think that’s exactly us, exactly what the journey is meant to be, a deep want and need to move and exist and change:

TV came

out of radio,

free verse

came out of rhyme.

I am

coming out of middle school,

changing all the time.

It’s time to lose the water wings,

crawl out of this lagoon.

I want to stand upright.

Get on my feet.

I want it soon.