We all have this story, the story about Thanksgiving, the pilgrims and the Indians came together and shared a feast and they all lived happily ever after.
Nowadays, our schools are teaching our young children that Columbus didn’t discover America, because there were already people in America.
They haven’t gotten around to the fact that Columbus never stepped foot on North American soil. He was up and down in the Caribbean but he ain’t never seen the 13 colonies.
As children we learn about the murderer and thief Columbus, because without him we wouldn’t be here.
I don’t know if that’s a good thing for all of us. Because the “we” in that statement are White folks. But after Columbus day we all get warm and cozy and family friendly for Thanksgiving.
Elementary school children make turkeys out of construction paper and they don headdresses, still playing cowboys and Indians. We’re told as children to write down all that we’re thankful for because that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, right?
And then that’s the last time we ever think about Indians. Because they don’t exist anymore, right?
A few weeks back I went to do my own Professional Development down in DC and I walked in the room a little late and scanned the very diverse room for a seat next to a Black or Brown person.
A sistah who looked Latina gestured for me to come over to sit next to her. I thanked her for the kind gesture and the session began. We sat next to each other, laughing and Amen-ing, scowling and taking deep breaths during the morning portion of the training.
After lunch, our presenter, who I just loved was explaining the Blood Quantum laws to us. I was taking notes and following along intently. When my new buddy took a deep sigh and interrupted the presenter. She said, as a Lakota woman, I take deep offense to what you’re saying right now.
I looked at her caramel colored skin, her curly hair, her deep almond shaped eyes and listened to her Black girl accent and I was confused asf.
For the next few minutes they went back and forth, not arguing, just posing questions and finding deeper meaning before he apologized for the offense and she accepted. Once he moved on, I turned to her and was like, girl, I thought you were Dominican. She smiled and said, “Most people think I am Ethiopian.”
I had met my first Native woman, up close and personal.
But I hadn’t.
Two years ago, while working at a Catholic school on Long Island, one of my student equity team members was a Black girl who was also Native. She would often talk about visiting her family on the reservation, or how her White friends would tell her she’s so lucky she can go to school for free because she was a double minority. While her Black friends would tell her she wasn’t really Indian or that every Black person claims they got Indian in their family.
I used to cringe every time she spoke about her Native-ness. I realized now, that I was acting much like her Black classmates, doubting who she was, thinking she was just trying to escape Blackness or trying to be a magical or special kind of Black.
I think I topped Only1Khalya in levels of ignorance.
Decolonizing is a practice.
But, that wasn’t my only time meeting an indigenous person.
After my conference I was so excited to tell everyone I met a real Native American person. I had breakfast with Abram, you know, one of our bloggers here and I’m like Abram, “I met a real Native person for the first time.” And rightfully he got big mad. He said, “No you haven’t.” And I’m like, “Yes, yes I did. She’s Lakota.” And he’s getting angrier and he’s like, “Khalilah, you know me!” And I probably won the ignorant comment of the year award and was like, “No I mean a REAL Native American.”
Luckily, Abram loves me like Jesus loved the church and continued to talk to me. We talked out how I could be his friend, listen to him talk, build with him, especially around identity and culture, race and power and then tell him, that he wasn’t a real Native person.
Lordy, lord, lord, I felt stupid. I still do.
So, in the last 2 years I’ve met and known 3 real Native people. They’ve all looked totally different, had totally different experiences but I met all of them in the course of doing this liberation work.
I think, it might just be getting through my big head that Native people are not the caricatures placed in my mind by years of schooling and living in a White supremacist world.
Decolonizing is a practice.
So, it is Native American month and I know some us educators out here are being progressive in our instruction. We’re teaching our students about the genocide and the displacement. We’re teaching them about reservations and helping them to discover Native literature. Thanks Sherman Alexie.
But, are we teaching our students that Native people still exist, today and they look just like me and you.
Months ago, I was on YouTube, doing what we all do on Youtube and I saw this video from the Breakfast Club with Yonasda Lonewolf, also known as Queen Yonasda. I saw a Black woman dressed in Native garb. I wasn’t ready for the intersectional conversation, so I just saved it.
Mind you, the video is from 2 years ago. Thank God for YouTube.
Intersectional is an understatement for the intersection this woman stands in. I’m not gonna tell you about her, I think you should watch for yourself.
Did you watch it?
Because honestly nothing else I have to say is more important than you watching it.
Yesterday our newest CREAD contributor DJC Speaks, gave us some good history about the historical solidarity of Black and Native people. Hey girl hey!
But it was just that, history. I mean she asked us about the current state and made a great argument for why we should still have this deep solidarity.
I honestly, and being honest now, keep your judgment, I was like but I don’t know any Native people.
Yes, yes the hell I did. I said it. Not out loud. But luckily, I got ahold of my senses quickly and remembered they are here. They exist. I have met a few. I can meet more. And I am determined to build solidarity again.
I got a lot of learning to do.
We got a lot of learning to do.
But, it isn’t about reading about Native people. This learning can only happen through doing.
Oh, but if you have some time, check out another quick video I found, once I finally watched the Breakfast Club, once I was finally ready for intersectionality. Check out the documentary:
American Red and Black: Stories of Afro-Native Identity by Alicia Woods, 2006. This intimate film follows six Afro-Native Americans from around the U.S., as they reflect upon the personal and complex issues of Native and African heritage, ethnic identity, and racism within communities of color.