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.}



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.