Day 23: Our Ancestors See Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I hold their stories in my own.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Day 21: Thanksgiving Resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, I’ll leave you with this:

 

Day 12: Government Holidays & Indigenous Peoples

{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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{Friends, we’re nearly halfway through this series on Native American Heritage Month!

Thank you so much for joining me in this space. My prayer is that it fosters curiosity and a desire to listen, learn, and build bridges & connections between native and non-native communities.}

The government has always played a large role in the oppression, genocide and removal of indigenous peoples in North America. Today, continued discrimination, constant battles with corporations that are often backed by the government, and fights over treaty land have not made the relationship better with time.

In recent years, with the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in some states, there’s a chance for the government to begin to do right by indigenous peoples.

However, matters are often left to grassroots organizations, teachers, communities, and parents to re-educate their children about the history of our holidays, such as Columbus Day or Thanksgiving. Our own President, who has numerous times used the slang term of Pocahontas, does not help us create a better environment for change.

Because we live far away from their days of origins, these holidays sit as steady landmarks to our nation, foundations that are not easily removed. But it is a place of respect and a willingness to listen when indigenous peoples bring up the pain that is associated with these and other holidays, holidays that are filled with colonial thought and thus, with racial nuances that truly only indigenous peoples or people of color could articulate.

So what if, at our Thanksgiving tables, we had honest conversations about what justice  and peace looks like, about how America has gotten some things wrong and about how things can be made right? What if practices in listening, true listening, are adopted in our communities?

What if we actually question our nation’s heroes and listen to the ones oppressed by them? What would that do to our society’s ideas and stereotypes toward native people?

This, of course, stirs up insane amounts of fear for those who are comfortable. And that’s exactly why the conversation needs to happen, friends. It doesn’t have to be hostile, but it does have to be at least a little uncomfortable.

For instance, here’s a link about Columbus you might want to read. 

And here’s a piece about Thanksgiving by my friend Randy Woodley. 

As I’ve learned more about my tribe, about our culture, about what it means to be Potawatomi and Anishinaabek, I sit in real tension with almost every American holiday. Because the foundations aren’t what they used to be. Because colonialism really is ingrained in everything, and because it is, Potawatomi people and other tribes in the United States are never really seen as we are and have always been.

And so, on both sides of the table, we have conversations to start and serious listening to do, and it’s about more than removing a statue of Christopher Columbus.

It’s about coming to grips with how this nation was started and what that leads us to today.


 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is out NOW! My hope is that it is a book you can read when things are quiet and you’re settled down for the evening. My hope is that you get to read it during those holiday naps, that you get to read a story with someone you love and talk about the stories that you’ve created together.

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The Post-Thanksgiving Thanks

Thanksgiving Day has faded into a nearby memory, but all those things we spouted gratefulness for, they are still real tokens of thanks for us today and tomorrow.

And for some, family still lingers about the house, still reminding us of the meal shared around the table.

Maybe Grandpa bustles about in his fuzzy bathrobe, the turkey coma floating like a holy aura around his balding head.

Our day yesterday consisted of morning coffee, and a noontime meal followed by a family naptime. All in all, it was similar to other weekend days.

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So what was there to give thanks for?

All of it.

Every moment of bickering over how to tell the Thanksgiving story to a toddler;

the twenty minutes of infant meltdown because all he wanted was a nap;

the dry biscuits slathered in delectable gravy.

All of it.

Thanksgiving is something special, but it should teach us that every day contains something holy enough to give our attention to, whether it’s the rambunctiousness of our children or the blessedness of our friends.

In every aspect, it should give us home, home in a new city or home in the town where we grew up, around everything that is familiar.

We spent our night with friends, with two people who draw pictures for Eliot and play with Isaiah at the park, who enter into worship and spend time with refugees. They are friends who give incredible light, and we sat in their home and I remembered why gratefulness can last past the one holiday of the year marked for it. I remembered it in the sign Hannah made from sticks, because she needed home in a hard season not long ago.

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Because our very lives are marked for giving thanks.

So while the masses gather in shopping malls, I will nuzzle myself under the blanket with Eliot, where I play the Big Bad Wolf to his Little Pig. And Travis works on papers and data sets, and we remember the path we’re on.

And we give post-Thanksgiving thanks.

 

 

Gratitude Sunday: the call to communion (a holy vortex)

We helped serve communion at church Sunday. It’s the kind of church that hands you the bread-body, and you dip it in the juice-blood.

I said, “The body of Christ, broken for you…The body of Christ, broken for you.” Over and over again to each face.

How many times do we repeat it before the mysterious reality sinks itself into our shoddy bones and weakened hearts?

“The body of Christ. Totally broken. Just for you to stand here today, just for you to lay prostrate, but safe. Just for your everything to be consumed in love.”

We practiced gratitude Sunday, wrote words and phrases across white butcher paper with pink and purple markers, except for little Olivia, who brought her own crayons along instead.

I’ve never liked the phrase “practice makes perfect,” although I’m sure it’s true. Actually, I’ve just never liked cliches in general.

Because we forget what they mean, forget their significance, that the bread I am chewing, the piece I soaked until it turned purple, is more than just bread.

The words I say, “The body of Christ broken for you,” and the way Trav says in that passionate way of his, “The blood of Christ spilled for you,”— it’s all so much more than words.

It’s like some sort of holy vortex.

When we take the bread, dip it, pause, eat, we are brought into Jesus, into the depths of His heart, into the enduring radiance of His kindness. We are pulled to the center, carried in by body and blood and all that is holy, all that is forgiving and multiplying of grace upon grace.

We light the Thanksgiving candles, we smile as the flame dances over the white wax and brightens the glass around it.

We call ourselves thankful because we call ourselves whole, in every bit of our brokenness.

All grateful thanks to that little bit of bread, that little soak of purple, that transforms our very hearts and calls us into life for ever and ever.

Amen.