Give It Back

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

Instead, I:

✅ 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.”

Really digging the trinket box I painted on my birthday: wampum hearts with my family’s symbol, shallow water on the shore (a nod to the etymology of #Pequot), an Eastern basket; and, of course, wechêkum (the ocean) inside. This reminded me how much I enjoy crafting/small art projects. 🎨🌊🐚🌾💜✨

There Is No Way to Move the Mountain

I wrote this a week after Kobe Bryant, his thirteen-year-old daughter, Gianna, and their family friends were killed in a helicopter accident on January 26, 2020. It was not until today, the penultimate Sunday of Lent, that I felt compelled to share.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant at a Lakers Game
(via NBC News)

I don’t know why, but I looked up Kobe Bryant’s funeral today only to find out it still hasn’t happened. This unnerved me, and I don’t fully understand why. Still? Grief has stages, but no timetable. All nine bodies recovered, returned, not yet laid to rest. I think in statements about this horrific accident, I suppose, to try to square it with myself.

Why were they flying in that fog?

It was a frightful and gruesome way to go. Blunt force trauma into the side of a hill on a mountain in Calabasas, California; three weeks of nonstop press; a federal investigation; jerseys, candles, flowers, eyes red from weeping, purple, yellow. Where does this leave Los Angeles? I need to stop reading all the press. I need to look away from the wreckage strewn along the hillside because, more than a week later, it is still there on every article and in every news clip, the scene that none of us can unsee. And there is no way to make this better, no semblance of resolution. I’m angry it was Kobe, Gianna, and their family friends. Fog, blunt force, press. Every shot clock read eight, twenty-four.

Why did it have to be someone who told us he was sorry?

We wanted Kobe to be invincible because he elevated his focus and his work to a high art. Yet all that stares back at us from our screens is the scorched side of the mountain, the delicate trails of white smoke rising to a God I am pleading with for answers. Where does this leave the rest of us? There is no way to make this better. I refuse to believe Kobe was barreling towards that hillside his whole life because it’s just so egregiously unfair.

Like the wreckage of burnt, mangled edges of helicopter scattered along that mountain, none of this fits together anymore. No similes stick, and all my ruminating on the Black excellence Kobe reflected back to us are woefully incomplete. He did what you are supposed to do─he won─and he exploded into the side of a mountain. I was so rattled and angry at God the first few days that I prayed the hours faithfully, earnestly, searchingly: none, sext, vespers, compline. Vanessa, Natalia, Bianka, Capri. 

I can’t stop thinking about the sound of the impact, the explosion the churchgoers heard and felt from the street below. 

It shook the mountain. 

Why did You look away?

What does it mean to be recovered, returned, and not yet laid to rest? What does it mean to not know where to land? My mom once told me that funerals are very important for Black people because we need to look death in the face and accept it. I can’t keep looking at the crash site.  I write about it to integrate the shock, the outrage, the strangely heavy sorrow, to look unflinchingly at the mountain. I write about it to come back. There is no way to make this better. There is no resolution this side of heaven—only our grief. 

I know this to be true. And—not “but”—I don’t know why the Bryants, the Altobellis, and the Mausers had to die that day. And—not “but”—I know enough to know an explanation for an unnecessary helicopter accident is not a place to land. A funeral is not a resolution. It was a horrific accident. And when we acknowledge the mountain, the grief begins to move.

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.


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 not only know the history of Thanksgiving; I live with it. 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.