Castle Island in Boston
On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I did not:
❌ Delve into my personal, family and community trauma to educate non-Indigenous folks
❌ Give into that weird feeling that I should post on social media or write a piece for my blog
❌ Argue with people about colonialism
✅ Took care of myself
✅ Spent time with people I love
✅ Made art
✅ Ate veggies
✅ Drank water
As I’ve written about here before, I’m from the Narragansett and Pequot nations. I live in New England, and to be exact, I live an hour from Plymouth Rock, where the English began their invasion and occupation in 1620.
As you can imagine, autumn—especially November—is difficult for me.
One of the most life-affirming decisions I made was to not always be available to educate people. As a former museum educator, this is a tremendous act of self-respect. I learned that this time of year, especially in New England, much of the seeking to learn the “true history” is rarely just about ignorance: it’s about affirming innocence. It’s a ritual in which I am supposed to play the benevolent Indian, always generous, always ready to offer forgiveness.
In 2017, I walked away from this work equally convicted and traumatized. I felt like I was pimping out community trauma for non-Indigenous people’s edification—though one has to wonder, what are the odds an Indigenous person defines “genocide” for you every single November, but you still don’t get it? Could it be possible there is something else going on here?
It didn’t sit right in my Spirit when the effects of ongoing colonial occupation continue to ravage my community. You could say this is what propelled me headfirst into social work and mental health. You could say this is why I have come to practice radical refusal every November. I will not honor ignorance, especially when there are so many educational resources. I will not be play the Indian in the Thanksgiving pageant this year, or any year, or ever again.
Instead of “educating,” I invite non-Indigenous, non-Black people to investigate their investment in settler colonialism, slavery, and racism. I invite white people specifically to consider their relationship to violence. What does that tell them about themselves? I don’t know, and it is not my responsibility to help sort it out. James Baldwin, I think, said it best: “I give you your problem back.”