I firmly support the move away from Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous People’s Day. And today, I’ve been in some difficult but necessary conversations with some people regarding that.
Someone from a local community group continues to troll and harass me online because she doesn’t like the work that I do, and this person believes that it should be the work of “real Native people.” I was once willing to engage with them in a respectful way, and there was no answer that I could give that would dissuade them from seeing me as a “white new-age woman” who has chosen to engage in cultural appropriation of traditional ways. The fact that I have worked with teachers and mentors in Peru for over 15 years that have taught me traditional and cultural practices, and have given me encouragement and approval to proceed in my work, was not sufficient. Nor was my naming my own Native ancestry, which I have been working to explore and reclaim in respectful and meaningful ways for many years now – this person was unable to see or comprehend that the very acts of colonialism that they were seeking to speak out against are also responsible for the decimation of my own heritage, which in my own lineage crumbled just a couple of generations ago. The complexities of these issues are simply beyond the reach of someone who has chosen to be a short-sighted social justice warrior who has not done the deep dive necessary to navigate significant gray area. Make no mistake: I do not walk in this world as a Native woman, nor do I make any effort to claim the lived experience of those who do as my own – and whenever possible, I listen to those who do walk in that way, learning from their experiences and struggles, and am grateful for some wonderful podcasts that continue to help me to grow and learn and understand.
In another direction, I have often heard people suggest that the way to solve these issues of colonialism in the US is for people to just return to their ancestral homelands. It’s not that easy. Given that most Americans have ancestry that is quite diverse, and some (including myself) also have mixed ancestry that is both Native and from other lands, there is no way that this is even an option. In my work, I encounter people every single day who are exploring their ancestral heritage through genealogy research, and it’s quite the melting pot for all of them. It is a rare American that can say that they are definitively from one place or ethnic background, and most cannot. I myself have ancestry from two different Native North American nations, as well as England, Wales, France, and Scotland. My wife has ancestry from Germany, the Philippines, and Polynesia. If we propose returning to our respective ancestral homelands (if that was even possible), how do we determine which direction to choose? Based on lived cultural connection? Based on language? Based on DNA testing? Based on physical appearance?
In these two examples, I hear people responding in different ways to a situation that is complex and where there are no clear solutions. We must find ways to make reparations for the harms caused. Even if every person could just move back to their ancestral homelands, that would not undo the legacy of harm created through hundreds of years of colonization on these lands. We cannot undo what has been done. But we can find a way forward that is wise and respectful. We can work diligently at every level to protect vulnerable cultures, listening to and centering the voices of those cultures directly.
And for those of us who are a melting pot of ancestral ethnicities and cultures and languages and ways? For those who are called, it is possible and deeply meaningful to come to know who we are as the living face of ALL of our ancestral lineages. As cultures have been so fractured and fragmented through colonialism, forced migration, war, and many other forces, it’s often quite difficult to connect with our roots in order to know who we are in that way. In fact, I’d argue that in contemporary American culture, it’s not even particularly desirable – most people have bought into the ideology of hyper-individualism so far that they can’t even comprehend that we are both singular and unique, as well as the most recent expression of thousands of years of humans that came before us. It is possible, though, to begin to reconnect, and to uncover ways to repair the fragmentation that may be hidden within us when we exist in a culture of rootlessness. I believe that when we do begin to address these things, on a personal and collective level, some of the chaos in our world will shift.