Greetings and Happy Native American Heritage Month!
My personal words of the month have become acknowledge and savor. I find that as things get tougher and change waves over me, I want to numb out or move on to avoid feeling all the feelings. What I’m realizing is that the feelings are all still there, even when I don’t acknowledge them. The feelings may not be fully breathing, but neither am I; it’s as if I’m holding my breath.
While brainstorming something that would be meaningful for today’s blast, I felt the pressure to encapsulate ALL of my feelings and protection for Native American Heritage Month in one message. I have finally released that breath and have found my two words of the month – acknowledge and savor – to be the guideposts that I want to rest my intentions on.
So, while I won’t, can’t, and don’t desire to capture all of my sentiments around Native American heritage in this intro, I do want to dive into acknowledging and savoring some specific moments that may last a bit longer and go a little deeper.
So much of the pain I am witnessing around me in 2020 surrounds this idea of acknowledgment. We, humans, naturally feel less valued when we have to prove we exist, that we are in pain, that we’re being left out, that we matter.
November is Native American Heritage Month. Native American Heritage Month originated as a single day and has transformed into a designated month celebrated by the Library of Congress, the National Archives and Records Administration, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institute of the U.S., the Holocaust Memorial, as well as countless other individuals, organizations, and groups across the world. It’s also commonly referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.
The month is a time for us to honor the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native/Indigenous peoples. It’s also an opportunistic time to educate the general public about tribes, raise awareness about unique challenges Native people have faced historically and in the present.
The uncertainty of life and the reality of mortality has honestly shaken me a bit this year. I just learned that savoring is a grounding technique which allows you to take your time and really experience the detail. For instance, instead of mindlessly eating a handful of almonds while watching TV or scrolling the gram, savoring could look like grabbing one almond, chewing it slowly, closing your eyes, really tasting its flavor and its texture.
One of the most powerful ways humans make connections is through storytelling, which is also a way to both acknowledge and savor our lived experiences. Today, I want to savor a moment and movement I was fortunate enough to join in 2016:
In early November, I knew I barely had enough saved money to fly home, but something called me to reconsider that ticket. I had been enraged by the updates about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) conflict and how millions of dollars were being invested in building an underground pipeline to transport crude oil across the country.
Unfortunately, the disturbing part of this was that in building DAPL, sacred burial sites of Indigenous people would be disturbed and this pipeline could poison Indigenous peoples’ drinking water supply if and when this pipeline leaked (it has already happened). There, of course, was a solution to this – building a longer pipeline which did not interfere with sacred land. However, this would cost many more dollars for the companies investing in the pipelines.
I decided I needed to go to Standing Rock Reservation, South Dakota where thousands of Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people were gathering in protest to the pipelines’ construction. I knew no one in North or South Dakota, but I felt an undeniable connection to the cause. Something was pulling me and I didn’t want to neglect that knowing. My partner was hesitant to join me for the journey rather than go home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I decided I’d rather spend those days honoring our Indigenous people and my ancestors by joining them in protecting sacred burial sites and I was going to go alone if I needed to. Luckily, he joined me for the experience.
While I did not take a ton of photos while on the reservation (to respect the request of the elders), I have some lasting memories:
One of the first things I think about is the SIGHT of the reservation – there were thousands of people gathered outdoors, teepees, smoke from campfires, cars, people cutting wood, praying, singing… It was a communal space unlike any I’ve ever experienced. When we first got there, we were careful and cautious. We did not want to enter spaces we were not welcomed into. We wanted to be there in solidarity and to contribute to something meaningful while there, whether helping with food or cutting firewood. Devin (my partner) even got to help build a 20+ foot tall teepee from the ground up with locals.
After settling in, we gathered where the music and sacred fire burned – come to find out, this fire had been burning without going out for several months with the community’s care. While we stood there, learning and soaking in the gathering, a couple walked up to us, Monica and Greg. They could see we were new and pulled us aside to ask us about ourselves and took us on a long walk around the reservation.
They told us what different tents were for, answered some of our questions about history, emotions, etiquette for us outsiders. They even offered for us to spend a night in their family’s teepee that had burning fire – an offer we kindly declined for not wanting to overstep but then immediately regretted while enduring the coldest, snowy outdoor sleep of our lives. After our good talk and walk, Monica and Greg felt like the new homies. They made us feel we were welcomed in the space. Monica gifted us each with painted rocks to keep. Each rock had a word on it. Devin’s said You are LOVED. Mine said HOPE.
May you welcome new experiences and people to join you in your ongoing, upcoming challenges and may you use your voice to stand for something you believe in. We are more empowered when we acknowledge and savor the people, places, and moments around us. Happy Native American Heritage Month!
Mni wiconi: water is life
P.S. check out these resources:
- The National Congress of American Indians
- https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/ – check out the “For Teachers” section for developed lesson ideas you might consider implementing!
- Naive American Heritage Month Selected Resources For Teachers
- Winona LaDuke’s recorded livestream lecture from yesterday (11/16/2020) in which she shares ways to be transformational in addressing this moment in time and the changes ahead as well as some first-hand stories about her community. Winona is a Native American woman, rural development economist and author working on issues of sustainable development, renewable energy, and food systems (primarily in the area of Indigenous economics, food and energy policy). She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota and is a two time vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader for the Green Party.