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.

PVDFest Was Lit

Providence showed up and showed out this weekend at PVD Fest! I saw everyone and their mom (like, for real); made some new friends; danced everywhere; and above all, I was amazed by the representation of Black and brown artists (!!! since we know Providence likes to act like we don’t exist). I underestimated my hometown, but I ended up having a blast this weekend. Summer is officially on and poppin’ in the Creative Capital!

Wequashim Wóhsumóe

Full moon musings:

The moon is super important in many Indigenous cultures on Turtle Island, and particularly so for those of us who are coastal, given that the moon affects ocean tides. Part of my own (re-)Indigenizing and (re)matriation practice includes reclaiming ancestral knowledge and (re)rooting myself in the natural world—because everything is connected, and because the fundamental objective of colonialism is to break our connections.

I’ve been in a season of unlearning harmful, self-destructive ways of being and understanding myself. Still feeling the illuminating, healing energy of last night’s wequashim wóhsumóe, full moon, as I move into a new season of building a new foundation of the old ways: Sankofa in practice. Grateful and continually growing.

Historical Rage: An Indictment of Providence

In Indian Country, we talk about historical or inherited trauma. But what about rage?

Black rage. This is what I’ve been feeling over the last few weeks as I’ve burned with resentment towards Providence, this oppressive city I returned to because I wanted to “make a difference” (whatever that means). I scoff when I think about martyring myself for a place built on the erasure, objectification, and exploitation of Native and Black womxn. Of course, the whole of this country is built – and functions – on our oppression. But I grew up in Rhode Island’s capital city and, for better or worse, I know it best.

For the other Providence kids, hear me: this post is not a complaint about “how small” this place is, or how shitty people are. I actually don’t find Providence as small or as shitty as we say. I do, however, know that it is far more racist and classist than most people are willing to admit. I know this because I have a degree in it (thank you, Rhode Island College History Department!), and because it is my experiential reality.

So what this post is, definitively, is an indictment of Providence. Never mind academia and businesses: every single social, religious and cultural space I’ve found myself here makes a regular practice of erasing Black people, objectifying us, and deploying our trauma for white consumption. This is nothing new. It is important, though, because New England anti-Black racism is insidious. It invisibilizes us. And the expectation is that I should be “grateful” for this “milder” racism.

But I’m not. I am enraged.

I am enraged that the Brown family made their fortune off selling my people, yet Brown University – the stepchild of the Ivy League – continually denies local Black students admissions while offering piddling college scholarships to a group of mostly Latinx kids as some half-assed form of reparations. I’m angry that the police terrorize the community where I grew up in South Providence; that the shitty school department staffed by white people from the suburbs doesn’t give a fuck about the Black and brown it supposedly serves; that the opioid crisis in Rhode Island only became a crisis when it started affecting them. I’m furious that traditionally Black institutions like John Hope have gone under while others are grossly underfunded. I’m mad that hipsters flocking to the West End want to talk to me about gentrification when they’re pricing out folks who have lived there long before the city was cool.

And I’m mad that people love to appropriate Black radical traditions around Martin Luther King Day yet project their anti-Blackness onto me. While well-meaning waumpeshau (white folks) in some of the city’s more progressive institutions objectify and deploy Black suffering and death as a way to pantomime activism, these same institutions expect me to stomach my own erasure for the benefit of white folks. This is hardly specific to New England. But the myth that racism does not exist north of the Mason-Dixon line is just that: a myth. After all (as I used to say when I worked at a museum), this state is called Rhode Island and Providence Plantations for a reason.

My rage does not function on an interpersynal level. In other words, I’m not mad at individual white people. I’m mad at whiteness, and how whiteness functions here, and how we tell ourselves it doesn’t.

My rage is historical. It is inherited from my parents and their parents and all their parents before them, all of whom this city denied, too. My rage dates back to the first slave ships that docked in New England ports and the Mayflower at so-called Plymouth.

My rage cannot and will not be reconciled so long as waumpeshau aren’t willing to reconcile with their colonial past and present. It’s not just about talking to that overtly racist, Trump-voting uncle; it’s also about taking institutions to task.

And ultimately, though white people love trying to shift the work, I cannot and will not do any additional emotional labor for them. Not ever, and especially not when I am working through the rage of being continually dismissed and denied on an urban plantation built on my land and at my expense.

Solange called it: got a lot to be mad about.

Nashāuonk Anóme

Note: when I use Church with a capital C, I mean all Christian folks er’where, similar to the Muslim concept of umma (community).

My upbringing was conventionally Christian in many ways. Church every week, vacation Bible school and Christian camp in the summertime, being subjected to the Left Behind series…yeah, the whole nine. I taught Sunday school for several years and got involved in campus ministry in college, and even now, I read books on Christian theology and secretly love Hillsong.

All of this is to say I have been socialized such that I know how to operate in evangelical spaces. And I can do so without people knowing, necessarily, that I have lots of problems with the Church. Like, serious problems: theological, ideological, and historical problems.

For me right now, the most glaring of these is that most white evangelicals don’t understand that their understanding of what it means to be Christian is decidedly modern and Western; that contemporary Christian identity only congealed in the last few centuries. And when I show up in evangelical spaces, by and large, people don’t understand that Blackness and Indigeneity are not new. Now, I am a New World phenomenon; but on both sides of my lineage, I come from ancient, pre-Christian people. People against whom the West continually weaponizes the faith. What’s worse, most white Christians aren’t even aware that the West co-opted Christianity and codified the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth—a poor Jewish mystic crucified by the power structures of His day—into narrow, exclusivist, and oppressive religious doctrine.

Like I said: serious problems.

The worst of it is that I actually really dig Jesus. Ugh! If only Christians listened to what He had to say about enlightenment, radical love, humility, and service! If only I could be a Christian and not feel like a traitor to my ancestors who suffer at the hands of white Christians and their kkklancestors! I mean, really: is it possible that I pray to the same God as Roger Williams did? And did he pray to that God as he captured and sold my people into slavery?

The short answer is that the work of Christianizing Europeans the world over is blasphemy of the highest order, a horrific perversion of Jesus’ ministry. But by and large Christians don’t know the history of the Church’s complicity in all manners of wonderfulness such as colonialismmuch less that Jesus would flip many tables if he were to see some of the hot messery in the Church today.

Many Christians in America are just beginning to grapple with these difficult histories. This sounds good in theory, but in praxis the conversation tends to be as reactionary as it is remedial. Such work around race tend to be ahistorical and couched in feel-good, fandom Jesus colorblindness. To claim that the Creator doesn’t see color and loves everyone (but hates queer people??) is a decidedly American cop-out entangled in a web of nasty ironiesnamely, that the construct of race is the default modality in this country. To add insult to injury, after engaging in half-baked conversations about race, Christians usually go right back to espousing ideologies straight out of the Dark Ages. And we wonder why so many marginalized groups want no parts of Christianity.

When I am in evangelical spaces and the topic of race comes up, I’m mindful to not take on the emotional labor of white folks. People of color did not create race. And every time white folks profile us, marginalize us, and kill us with no consequences, they make it about race. I do know for sure there are several tenets of Western Christianity that I just can’t get down with: patriarchy, the demonization of queer folks and people of other faith traditions, mission work in the 10-40 window as a vestige of colonialism.

So what does it mean for me, unequivocally Black, unequivocally Indian, to show up to church on Sunday morning? What does it mean for me to navigate evangelical spaces that normalize cishetero whiteness while othering everybody else? I’m still sorting that out. But I do know that I will not forfeit my cultural identity in order to be read as a good Christian by white folks.

Ultimately, none of this is easy, and I’m very blessed to be part of a supportive church community where I can wrestle with these questions; and in so doing, I realize there are no neat answers, at least not on this side of glory. I may well not be able to reconcile all of my issues with the Church as an institution. I may always feel caught in this nexus of history, assimilation, and colonialism. But it is precisely in that tension that I encounter grace. The Lord is working it out and making a way. I’m reading Richard Twiss. I pray the Lord’s Prayer in Natick after I smudge. Am I a cooning NDN, a heretic, the type of acculturated Black hoteps in Harlem rail against? Probably not. Just a Providence kid full of nashāuonk (Spirit) trying to find space for herself. Axé.

This One is For Us

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Shoutout to Native Americans at Brown (NAB)!

We celebrated Indigenous People’s Day on Monday, but it was today, October 12, that Columbus and his armada of goons first washed up on Taino land in 1492.

This past weekend was bittersweet. It was a reminder of indigenous resistance, but also, of how much we as a people have lost. I was in Providence on Monday, and as such, I couldn’t help but think of all the Pokanokets (Wampanoags), Narragansetts, and Pequots whom the English slaughtered during their various wars against us. I think of how Pokanoket identity was criminalized: under a colonial-era Rhode Island law that wasn’t repealed until 2006 (yes, 2006), one could be legally killed for claiming to be Pokanoket.

And yet, here I am—a Pokanoket in 2016, writing in time in which it’s controversial to say my Black life matters, in which riot police brutalize indigenous people protecting the waters at Standing Rock. How much has really changed since the Santa María?

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Not much. Including indigenous resistance to colonial violence.

On Monday, I woke up to gorgeous sunshine. I prayed, thanking the Creator that I’m here and the ancestors for having been here. And then, if we’re being real, I plugged my phone into the nearest speakers and started playing Solange’s “F.U.B.U.” Because the waumpeshau holiday for Columbus is about settler colonialism and settler identity. Because my people were here first, and we’re still here. Because this is for us.

I Got My Life at the 7th Annual Native American Culture Week in Providence

Yesterday concluded the 7th Annual Native American Culture Week in Providence. The events were open to the public, so naturally, many curious waumpeshau wandered through. What else do we expect when we try to make space for and about us? But that’s a different post—and trust me, it’s coming, to be filed under “Stop White People 2k16.”

Colonial gazes notwithstanding, it was refreshing to be surrounded by my people again. Because wherever and whenever Wampanoag, Narragansett, and Pequot people gather together, I feel validated. For sure, I roll my eyes when the white people show up in our spaces and claim the mythical Cherokee princess great-great-great grandmother. And I don’t think I’ll ever get over Pretendians at powwows who feel bold enough to get into the circle, dollar store feathers and all.

Plenty of those people were at the powwow yesterday, and they were trying their settler best to feel indigenous. Meanwhile, my family and our relatives from neighboring tribes got together to laugh, tell stories, bring updates on a cousin who’s away at school or an elder who just had surgery. I’ve been away for the better part of the year, so being around my family, on our land, was just what I needed. I could not be bothered with white nonsense; I was truly just happy to be home.

Mood.