Núnnowa Offering

Núnnowa blessings from the Simonds clan 🌊🐚💫 our ancestors were among the few survivors of the first AmeriKKKan Thanksgivings in New England.

This is a hard time of year for me, not only because of the origins of this holiday, but because my paternal grandparents both passed in November. It was very important to them that we were in community with our Native people here. And so while I miss them sorely today, I’m also grateful for their teachings. I’m grateful for my Pequot relations, my maternal grandmother’s people who have welcomed me back. She passed when my mother was a year old, and it all but severed our connection.

It’s been really, really hard.

But I’m thankful for the land and the fact that we are still on it. I’m thankful I was able to go to Mashantucket to be with my Pequot family, enrolled and unenrolled, Eastern and Western. I’m thankful that while I could not go to the exact site of the Mystic Massacre in Connecticut, I went to the river. I’m thankful that the water remembers. At the base of a tree on the riverbed, I put down an offering for the ancestors. With both hands on the frigid earth, I wept for our dead.

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Reconnection is not easy. Particularly when your grandparents left this earth too soon. Particularly when you are a “mixed“ city NDN. (I use quotations because Euro-American ideas about blood purity and race as biology are false). There will always be naysayers; there will always be anti-Blackness.

But the world still turns. The land does not forget. And the good thing about Thanksgiving is that it eventually ends.

5 Questions to Re-Frame How You Engage with Native American Heritage Month

Yes, it is still Native American Heritage Month.

As an Eastern Woodland person living in (so-called) New England, November is my least favorite month. Truly. I feel like I have to say this every year, but I am tired of non-Native people reciting the origins of the first Thanksgiving ad nauseam: we get it. You’re woke. Great. Now what?

All of that said, here are some reflection questions to help our non-Native friends navigate this month.

1) Do you only think about Native people in November? If so, why? Every time you interact with a Native person, do you expect to be educated, spiritually enlightened, exonerated? Consider that it’s (re)traumatizing and exhausting to recount histories of genocide. Be mindful of how much space you take up.

2) What do you do with your knowledge of the origins of Thanksgiving? Do you relate to the genocide of Native people merely as a fact to throw out at dinner with your problematic family? As a Pequot person, I know the history of Thanksgiving; in fact, I live with it in my blood. As a trained historian, I am interested in the process by which Thanksgiving was constructed. It also matters that we investigate what that process says about what it means to American — and at whose expense.

3) Do you uplift the voices of Eastern Woodland people, particularly Wampanoag and Pequot folks, in revisionist histories of Thanksgiving? If you are asking Native people from the Plains and Southwest to speak for Eastern people, as if we are not here to speak for ourselves, you are replicating violence and erasure.

4) Do you know about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Womxn and Girls? Indigenous womxn and girls are kidnapped and murdered at horrific rates all over Turtle Island, on reservations and in cities, and very infrequently with any consequences or media coverage. Consider how this violence is a continuation of genocide.

5) Does your Native AMerican Heritage Month engage what is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border? Are you aware that many people from Central America are fleeing U.S.-sponsored violence? That they are overwhelmingly Indigenous or of Indigenous descent? There is a relationship between what we are seeing and the violence of Thanksgiving. As Mark Twain (allegedly) once said, History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.

Cool It, Forget It

What a strange, dark summer it has been.

On-and-off thunderstorms. Scorching sun. Miscommunication. I didn’t sleep one full night last week; I only started eating again this weekend. On Saturday I got a neon, Sasha Yazzie-inspired full set of acrylic nails because I’m more underwhelmed than heartbroken. The Hot Girl Summer, I’ve come to believe, is little more than a function of our collective anxiety—at least in Providence, where we mask our deep insecurities with lots of flowery theory and half-baked ideas that just sound radical. Somehow I don’t think that’s original, but we act like it is. I act like it is. And since self-introspection doesn’t make for interesting Snapchat stories, we just don’t get too attached to anything.

Or we buckle under our own fear of being seen, of being found out. I’ve been told three times in my life that I’m a heartbreaker. I just think these well-intentioned, woke, “radical” types don’t yet understand Narragansett womxn are not to be crossed. It’s all land acknowledgements and hashtags until we start calling them on their machismo.

Not to get too meta. The whole thing was dumb, honestly: he didn’t like when I danced at parties when other guys were around. He liked the fit of my dress and my curls and my cheekbones, but not that I ask pointed questions.

What can I do? Summer comes and summer goes. On Saturday I got my nails done, put on a dress with a deadly fit, and went dancing with my friends. I’ve been here before, and I’ve survived enough heatwaves in enough cities to know when I’m being fetishized. Or overly sensitive.

Somebody tell Sivan I say thank you for helping me to feel seen.

Cancer Szn Finale/#Heatwave2019 Lessons

It’s almost 100 degrees in Rhode Island, so of course we in Providence are out here the f*ck cuttin up. How are yall beating the heat?

You surviving, or you thriving?

Have you been doing your shadow work this season?

What has scared you? Did you run from it, or into it?

How are you going to stunt in this next season? How are you going to find your courage? How will you surprise yourself?

And most importantly: do you feel the heat breaking?

Begin Again

After three years, I’ve decided to start dancing ballet again.

This is huge for me, because ballet is something I have associated heavily with New York. On weekends, and sometimes after my unfulfilling 9-5 in Midtown, I used to walk to Alvin Ailey for the beginner class. Ballet slippers and leotard tucked neatly into the bottom of my purse, I didn’t mind the long avenues and wide streets to get where I was going.

I loved dancing. I hated life in New York. Other than the vibrant Native community, it was suffocating and deeply isolating. I stayed, in all honesty, because I thought I should. I didn’t know what it meant to be myself in Providence; to have finished school and not yet settled into whatever was next. If I had to struggle with existential questions and quarter-life crises—which seemed inevitable—the struggle might as well, at the very least, have a veneer of importance.

I left three years ago now, but I fear sometimes that misadventure stripped me of my nerve, my boldness, my audacity. Loud noises startle me. Men make me nervous when they stand too close. The smell of bourbon turns my stomach. I hate when people tell me how busy they are. It’s like I’ve shrunken into the shadow of the courageous young woman I used to be.

But if you’ve been following this blog, none of this is new. Blah blah blah. Even I want a new storyline. My own discomfort has dulled into white noise, and my anxiety notwithstanding, I have to ask myself: what’s next? I am learning that sometimes things get better…and some things don’t. Maybe there is no existential solid ground; maybe the best I can do, for now, is to feel my way along the unease.

Last night, I fished my ballet slippers out of a box I still have not unpacked from New York. I placed them next to my bed on the rug I bought in Morocco (which features, if you are wondering, an Indigenous Amazigh pattern from Anfa, or so-called Casablanca). When I woke up this morning and looked down at them, I felt a twinge of indignation grip me by the spine.

Get up.

Take your life back.

I shook the old slippers loose. I tried them on—point, flex—and let my heart break. Again. I’m angry that I left. I’m angry that I came back. I’m angry that in all this time, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I don’t know if it’s the anxiety, the wack antidepressant that hasn’t done anything for my pessimism, the weather, the back-to-back-eclipses. Some days I don’t feel brave; others I wonder sometimes if I’m wack. All I can do is put on my ballet slippers, show up, and try again. And again. And again. And again. And again. As many times as it takes until I feel my feet on the ground, until I break open.

(Things That Give Me Anxiety)

  • Sunday afternoons
  • The deadline to apply for our enrollment
  • Facebook ads
  • I can’t find the copy of my grandmother’s death certificate
  • How do I find my grandmother’s grave?
  • The humidity
  • I’m not fluent in my language
  • My tribal community is fractured
  • I don’t know how to tell the people around me my baseline is a state of panic
  • I don’t know how to stop panicking
  • Desiccated treetops in June
  • Empty bottles of vodka
  • Crowds of white people
  • When the neighbors park on the street overnight
  • I dropped out of grad school twice
  • Sudden noises
  • When people ask me how to pronounce my Indian name
  • When you tell me you drank too much last night
  • I don’t know how to stop panicking

 


 

I’m worried I’m forgetting how to write. I’m worried I’m developing a tendency to forfeit my honesty here for a more tailored presentation—one that belies a deep yearning to be authentic. In other words, my risk aversion and caution are maladaptive, not intrinsic because I’m an earth sign, a grad school drop out, a child of South Providence. My rebellion was turning down the fellowship and moving away: jumping out of the pond into the ocean. Maybe I peaked at 23, but if you had asked me what the hell I was doing turning down an opportunity to prove myself the exceptional NDN, I would have told you I am a coastal Indigenous person first. I am an iteration of water, a more complex but less flushed-out form. And I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

As it turns out, pantomiming exceptionalism is a fast track to despair. Cognitive dissonance. Risk aversion. Dropping out of shit you never wanted to do in the first place. Functional alcoholism. I returned home two summers later and tried to kill myself at 25. Though it’s possibly maladaptive to keep the hospital band from the night I overdosed, it’s a reminder that messing up is normal; but like, what the fuck. None of this is worth my life.

In other words, I am a recovering overachiever. And at 27 I’m just learning how to be myself.

Five Years Later

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It did not become real for me, I think, until that morning. It’s a moment you think about a lot until the very moment you arrive, and then your stomach is in knots and your mouth is dry. No matter how neat and orderly your plans are, no matter how much you think you control time, in that moment, your mind goes blank. And you ask yourself: What’s next?

My college graduation itself turned out to be strange and, in some ways, unremarkable. The morning was overcast and unusually humid, which was, of course, a bad omen for my curls. At the time, I was seeing some idiot guy one of my idiot guy friends had introduced me to; and because he was older than me, deeply insecure, and going through his own quarter-life crisis, he’d called me up drunk at 3am — just a few hours earlier — to project all of this on me on my graduation day.

I don’t remember what was said. I do remember telling him to go fuck himself; dozing off, somehow, shortly after for a few hours; and waking up as the sun was rising. My carefully ironed gown hung on the door of the closet. I remember the cords — one for Summa cum Laude, one for College honors — and the bright purple sash.

I worked for this.

As far as I was concerned, this was accomplishment because it was an accomplishment I wasn’t supposed to enjoy. I had gone to prep school, and when my first choice college didn’t work out, I resigned myself to a state college. This, of course, was not just taboo, nor was it simply a cardinal sin: it was the cardinal sin. It signaled that I had squandered the opportunity of a lifetime, hadn’t worked hard enough, hadn’t shrewdly navigated the college process the way an ambitious, non-trust fund, ambiguously brown kid from the wrong side of town should have.

I don’t think it’s projecting to say I think I was supposed to be ashamed.

I was told I’d hate going to a state school. That I was smarter and better prepared than my peers; that I’d be bored; that I’d transfer, anyway, to a “real” college.

And, probably because God has a sense of humor, none of that happened. My college experience was transformative. On the morning of graduation, I remember shuffling uncomfortably in the itchy gown, touching the bobby pins holding the mortar board in place, straightening my cords, the purple sash. So, I had done it. And as the sun broke through the clouds, lifting the uncharacteristic humidity, I remember the first sharp twinge of unease.

So, what’s next?

I started grad school that fall; and ten days later, dropped out. I moved to a big city, and I moved back. I started jobs paying more money than I could have imagined, and I quit. I dated (more of) the wrong guys, and I dumped them. At many of these junctures, I remembered my graduation day with a twinge of sadnessas if these failures had meant I had failed. As if walking across the stage, somehow, was mystically supposed to have changed everything.

Five years later to the day, I’m writing this reflection because, regardless how cynical I’ve become, I hold that morning close to my heart. I’ve struggled enormously finding my place in the world. I write this because that morning did not in fact change everything, but in some ways, it changed me. It’s taken me five years to understand that it was magic because I say so.

I’ve finally settled into a routine. I enjoy what I do for a living. I’m surrounded by good people. Most importantly, I know what works for me, and I’ve learned how to walk away from what doesn’t. I no longer hold myself responsible for figuring out everything. I no longer hold myself to account for other people’s shame.

And as it were, five years later, my younger brother’s college graduation is the very same weekend. It’s a moment I’ve thought about a lot since the late summer day he left home, the summer after I finished undergrad. It feels like a few weekends ago, and somehow, like another lifetime.

I’ve learned that what matters is not the chronology, but the synchronicity. Time is not linear, and if you’re paying attention, it will come back around to show you what you missed: when my brother came home last week, he told me he wants to wear my sash.

But…don’t you have one from your school?

No, he said. This is more important.

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I couldn’t imagine a higher honor.

Yalitza Aparicio Appreciation Post

Also, can we talk about white supremacy in Indian Country?

So, first thing’s first: Indigenous actress Yalitza Aparicio has been snatching edges since her debut in “Roma.” Most recently, she was giving the rest of us something to aspire towards on the cover of Vogue México. And let’s be honest—we are not worthy.

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Underneath her name, it says “a star is born” in both Spanish and Mixtec. I Stan. (Vogue México)

I haven’t seen “Roma” yet, but obviously, Yalitza is life goals. And her ascent onto the world stage has been hailed as a win for Indigenous womxn. It has been refreshing to see an Indigenous womyn who looks like me (e.g., brown AF) being appreciated for her talent and her beauty. And while Native folks all over Turtle Island are souped, I do think Yalitza’s meteoric rise presents the perfect opportunity to acknowledge white supremacy in Indian Country.

This is a conversation I do not like to have with other Natives, because, to be totally transparent, I don’t want people to misunderstand my point or think I’m bitter. We balk to acknowledge privilege of lighter-skinned and white passing Natives, never mind that said privilege is just an iteration of white supremacy. 

But it matters. How often do we talk about Indigenizing work, but in the same breath, marginalize brown (and I’m talking brown) Indigenous folks? Much to the chagrin of light-skinned Indigenous people, I contend that one cannot actually Indigenize anything without first naming, confronting and reconciling the ways in which we perpetuate white supremacy within our community. We are deeply invested in colonial constructs around Indian blood, but we are quick to center and uplift the lighter among us without critiquing why: most the Native folks who are really out here with big platforms and any amount of social capital (Instagram Indians, as my Maya Kaqchikel friend and I call them) are light, bright, and damn near white.

And that is a large part of why I think Yalitza, and her visibility, is so important. I am over the moon for her. And her dizzying rise to stardom presents many questions that get to the heart of Indigenizing work. After this moment, will we continue to uplift brown- and darker-skinned Indigenous people, particularly womxn, gender nonconforming/gradient, and Two Spirit folks, in our communities? How can we be critical of which Indigenous voices we center? How do we appreciate Yalitza without fetishizing her?

And, most importantly: how do you say “you better slay these ungrateful hoes” in Mixtec?