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Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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Prioritizing Native Peoples Everyday

Laura Marti – October 13, 2021

📸 Feature Image: www.fws.gov.  A participant in the Miccosukee Indian Festival. Photo by Matthew Hoelscher, CC BY-SA 2.0.

This week, I’ve been challenged to think in a new way about the Native experience of colonialism. I’ve been reading Dr. Willie Jennings, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Africana Studies at Yale Divinity School, for a Whiteness class I’m taking, and in his essay Can “White” People Be Saved?, he says:

Coming to the New World as an immigrant, especially to the place that would come to be called the United States, meant you were willing to tame the wilderness. Taming the wilderness meant much more than clearing the land. It meant that you were willing to place your bodies in the unfolding drama of destroying the native inhabitants. Participating in the destruction of indigenous peoples was one of the primary ways immigrants signaled to the world and to themselves that they were part of the American landscape, the formation of a white nation in contrast to the “Indians.”

Nationalism formed between the twin energies of immigrant angst and the privatization of property where old logics of boundaries and borders transformed inside the new logic of the commodification of space. That is, boundaries and borders matured. Nationalism was a new way to reassemble life with land. Nationalism was never life inside the land, never life lived in serious reciprocity with plant and animal, sky and season, dirt and water, listening, learning, and finding a way to know oneself as deep partner in the world through a particular place. Nationalism was ownership, property ownership made plural and made the universal right of a people to their space. 

This was owning the land, not being owned by the land. This was speaking for the land as one who controls it, not having land and animal speak through you, as though you extended their lives through your life. Nationalism places people inside borders and borders inside people; place-centered identity removes the borders between people and the actual world and points to the artificiality of all borders.

Dr. Jenning’s essay showed me that Native people see the land in a different way than the settlers did—than we do—and it’s a paradigm shift in how we think about the “land.” His writing helped me to see how we’ve tried to own and control the land, rather than being part of the land and connecting with it. I have a lot more to learn, but I realized I’m operating in a western perspective that I need to reevaluate.

So as a way to begin, I want to THINK about Native people, instead of NOT thinking about them at all. I don’t want them to be INVISIBLE to me anymore, which I have to admit they have been—except for occasionally when this time of year rolls around. I want to appreciate and never forget how they have stewarded the land on which I now live, and I want to learn from them.

Let me encourage you to consider Native and Indigenous peoples beyond this one recognized day or during Thanksgiving. Today can be your starting point to begin a learning journey about Native Americans like I’m doing!

Here are some resources that I was excited to find and share with you! Happy learning!

HISTORY

Scene On Radio: Season 2 Episode 5: Little War on the Prairie. This is a MUST-HEAR podcast!! It falls under the category of “history I was never taught in school.”

“Growing up in Mankato, Minnesota, John Biewen heard next to nothing about the town’s most important historical event. In 1862, Mankato was the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history – the hanging of 38 Dakota warriors – following one of the major wars between Plains Indians and settlers. In this documentary, originally produced for This American Life, John goes back to Minnesota to explore what happened, and why Minnesotans didn’t talk about it afterwards.”

Image: The Minnesota State Seal

Native American | Immigration and Relocation in US History | Classroom Materials at the Library of Congress (Library of Congress – Native Americans)

“The centuries that followed the arrival of Europeans were years of tremendous upheaval, as the expansion of settler territory and the founding and growth of the United States resulted in Native American communities being moved, renamed, combined, dispersed, and, in some cases, destroyed. Many of the rights secured by Native Americans were won through the efforts of activist groups in the 20th century, such as the American Indian Movement. Today, new generations of activists and tribal leaders continue to fight to improve the life and culture of Native American communities.”

Native American Cultures – Facts, Regions & Tribes – HISTORY (History.com)

“By the time European adventurers arrived in the 15th century A.D., scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas. Of these, some 10 million lived in the area that would become the United States. As time passed, these migrants and their descendants pushed south and east, adapting as they went.”

“In order to keep track of these diverse groups, anthropologists and geographers have divided them into “culture areas,” or rough groupings of contiguous peoples who shared similar habitats and characteristics. Most scholars break North America—excluding present-day Mexico—into 10 separate culture areas: the Arctic, the Subarctic, the Northeast, the Southeast, the Plains, the Southwest, the Great Basin, California, the Northwest Coast and the Plateau.”

INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY – October 11, 2021 (National Today, October 2021). History, FAQs, timeline, ways to celebrate and more!

‘For the Native Americans, Columbus Day was always hurtful as it glorified the violent past constituting 500 years of colonial torture and oppression by European explorers like Columbus and those who settled in America. Indigenous Peoples’ Day draws attention to the pain, trauma, and broken promises that were erased by the celebration of Columbus Day. Before his arrival, the indigenous folk were successful self-sufficient communities that sustained life for thousands of years.”

Teachinghistory.org – The Challenge of Thanksgiving (2010)

“Thanksgiving is a complicated holiday. As seen in most elementary schools, one would never guess that, however. Small children parade up and down the hallways in feather headdresses and construction paper hats with buckles. They trace their hands to make turkeys and color pictures of the Mayflower. The story we teach them is straightforward as well. Unfortunately, it’s inaccurate. Very little of what we do in elementary schools regarding Thanksgiving is accurate.”

CONSERVATION

Indigenous people protect more of Earth’s biodiversity than countries do (Vox.com 2021)

“Indigenous people are the world’s biggest conservationists, but they rarely get credit for it! More than 30 percent of the Earth is already conserved. Thank Indigenous people and local communities. Indigenous peoples and local communities conserve far more of the Earth than, say, national parks and forests, according to a new report by the ICCA Consortium, a group that advocates for Indigenous and community-led conservation.”

Working with Native American Tribes | US Fish & Wildlife Service 

“Conserving this nation’s fish and other aquatic resources cannot be successful without the partnership of tribes that may manage or influence some of the most important aquatic habitats both on and off reservations. The Service is committed to working with tribes to continue this legacy of conservation and renewed this commitment in 2016 with the release of the revised Native American Policy.”

How Returning Lands to Native Tribes Is Helping Protect Nature (Yale Environment 360, June 2021)

“There is a burgeoning movement these days to repatriate some culturally and ecologically important lands back to their former owners, the Indigenous people and local communities who once lived there, and to otherwise accommodate their perspective and participation in the management of the land and its wildlife and plants.”

“Throughout the United States, land has been or is being transferred to tribes or is being co-managed with their help. In California, a land trust recently transferred 1,199 acres of redwood forest and prairie to the Esselen tribe, and in Maine, the Five Tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy recently reacquired a 150-acre island with the help of land trusts. Other recent land transfers to tribes with the goal of conservation have taken place in Oregon, New York and other states.”

Land acknowledgments meant to honor Indigenous people too often do the opposite – erasing American Indians and sanitizing history instead (Yahoo News, October 2021)

“​​Land acknowledgments have been used to start conversations regarding how non-Indigenous people can support Indigenous sovereignty and advocate for land repatriation. Yet the historical and anthropological facts demonstrate that many contemporary land acknowledgments unintentionally communicate false ideas about the history of dispossession and the current realities of American Indians and Alaska Natives. And those ideas can have detrimental consequences for Indigenous peoples and nations.”

HOW TO CELEBRATE 

NATIVE BUSINESSES

15 Native-owned brands to support for Indigenous Peoples’ Day (USA Today, October 2021)

“To celebrate the holiday, we’ve rounded up 15 Native retailers you can support, from moccasin makers to beauty brands. These creators and curators both celebrate and preserve Indigenous peoples’ long history of creativity and culture—and you can shop them all right now.”

SUPPORT THEM!!

MEDIA & NEWS

Add some Native media outlets to your news sources!

More Than News: Indigenous Media Empowers Native Voices and Communities | NMAI Magazine (Summer 2020)

“The Native American Journalists Association (NAJA) estimates about 400 Indigenous news outlets—including print, digital and broadcast— operate throughout the United States and Canada. Their followers range from a few hundred readers or listeners to millions of online and television viewers. For Native media professionals, deeply ingrained cultural values are often foundational to journalism.’

“Indigenous media has always served as a platform to empower Indigenous voices. ‘Tribal media is the glue that is so vital to the freedoms that we enjoy. Loris Taylor, citizen of the Hopi Nation and president & CEO of Native Public Media, says that modern technology enables media to amplify the time-honored Native tradition of bringing people together. ‘The plaza is a very distinct space within the Hopi community, where ceremonies take place, where the community gathers for anything that is significant.’ She says that tribal radio ‘is a drum within that space that transmits to the current generation and to future generations the value of our history, of our language, of our oral traditions.’”

10 News Sites to Stay Informed About Native American Communities | Beyond Bylines (PR Newswire, March 2021)

“These are Native American news sites that produce out-of-this-world coverage in a crowded arena.”

Indian Country Today 

BOOKS

Good resources for teachers and educators!

Native American Book List (First Nations Development Institute)

The staff members of First Nations Development Institute have compiled a list of what they consider to be essential reading for anyone interested in the Native American experience.

“Many of us here – as Native Americans, avid readers, activists for improving Native American economies and communities, and as direct participants in the Native American experience – believe that we are uniquely positioned to suggest this reading list,” said First Nations President & CEO Michael Roberts. “We attempted to include many facets of the Native American experience, as well as books and research reports that would be of interest to a broad variety of readers.”

Native American Children’s Literature Recommended Reading List (First Nations Development Institute) 

14 Contemporary Books By Native American Writers To Get Excited About (Buzzfeed News, 2020)

75+ Native American Children’s Books (Colours of Us) 


Laura Martí is Content Creator and Resource Curator for Brownicity. Trained as a microbiologist and currently a wife and mother of four, she has been on an antiracism journey since the death of Trayvon Martin. She shares from her own learning with the goal of educating others and lifting up the dignity of every person.