Thanksgiving: Understanding the history behind "our" "traditions" in the U.S.

November is national Native American heritage month, I always find it ironic that this happens almost immediately after halloween - where several individuals STILL celebrate by dressing up in Native “costumes” ( It’s almost as if it was intentional - like we will only “GIVE” you the month right after halloween and the month that incorporates “Thanksgiving.” We will “GIVE” you the month where we will celebrate you but only in the ways that we want to - and why not with thanksgiving.

I am sure I am not the only Native person who has encountered a number of problematic “educational” activities where students are being asked to “re-enact” the thanksgiving “story” - with half representing pilgrims and another half “representing” Indians. ( These harmful activities only continue to perpetuate stereotypes and inaccurate narratives of Native people. For example, one of my college classmates shared with me one of her narratives she was taught as a young child - she explained to me that she believed that Indian’s only came out during the thanksgiving “holiday” - like we were some kind of ornament or decorations to adorn people’s houses in November.

While this day has evolved and some families and communities celebrate gratitude, I think its always helpful to understand the history behind "our" "traditions" in the United States as most often than not these "traditions" were based on colonial ideologies, the same ideologies that sought to subjugate communities for capitalist gain and power. These colonist ideologies continue to misrepresent Native people - with the age old story of "Pilgrims" and "Natives" coming together in harmony - when in actuality these narratives promote harmful and inaccurate stereotypical notions of Native people -1) that we are all the same and not from different Nations, 2) that we are not modern people living in a modern world, and 3) that the relationship with the colonist was not violent nor harmful, amongst a number of others.

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker - published a book in 2016 All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 other Myth about Native Americans. In their book they wrote a chapter called “Myth 4: Thanksgiving proves the Indians Welcomed the Pilgrims” - they offer similar insights about Thanksgiving.

“Their concealment within a simplistic story inevitably depicts a convoluted reality about the Indigenous peoples who played crucial roles in both events (myth Columbus and story of Thanksgiving) and it presents an exaggerated valorization about the settler’s role.  The result is a collective amnesia that fuels the perpetuation of Native American stereotypes, playing out over and over again in the classrooms and textbooks of American schoolchildren, generation after generation. This only masks the complexities of the relationships between settlers and Indians, and thus the founding of the United States.” (p.32)

They also offer 6 more historically accurate insights about “Thanksgiving:”

  1. Thanksgiving gives the impression that Mayflower pilgrims were the 1st European to settle on the land - in actuality Europeans had been traveling to North American since 1607 - settling the Jamestown colony.

  2. New Plymouth ( or the site of this fictional "Thanksgiving”) was called Patuxet - the ancestral land of the Wampanoag (Pokahoket) people.

  3. Pilgrims arrived in depth of winter and food was a concern, as a result Native homes and graves were robbed of food and other items.

  4. Squanto, who was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery, then sent to England and learned English, was sent by Massasoit (head Wampanoag Sachem or leader), Sagamore to be a liaison between the Natives and colonists. Squanto taught the pilgrims Native planting techniques which ensured a bountiful harvest they would have in the fall.

  5. In 1621 a formal treaty was made between the Wampanoag and the pilgrims of Plymouth colony outlining relationships of peace and mutual protection.

  6. The concept of “Thanksgiving” was not new to either group - the English had an ancient customs of harvest festivals. Spiritual ceremonials of gratitude had always been central cultural attributes among Indigenous people who believed in relationship of reciprocity.

Below are some things I have came across that provided some additional insight, I am sure there are others as well:

The “real” thanksgiving story…/uncovering-true-hi…/

"We know what we’re taught in mainstream media and in schools is made up. What’s the Wampanoag version of what happened?

Yeah, it was made up. It was Abraham Lincoln who used the theme of Pilgrims and Indians eating happily together. He was trying to calm things down during the Civil War when people were divided. It was like a nice unity story."
Everything you know about Thanksgiving is WRONG - Franchesca Ramsey

Harvest Ceremony: Beyond the Thanksgiving Myth

“Native American people who first encountered the “pilgrims” at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts play a major role in the imagination of American people today. Contemporary celebrations of the Thanksgiving holiday focus on the idea that the “first Thanksgiving” was a friendly gathering of two disparate groups—or even neighbors—who shared a meal and lived harmoniously. In actuality, the assembly of these people had much more to do with political alliances, diplomacy, and an effort at rarely achieved, temporary peaceful coexistence. Although Native American people have always given thanks for the world around them, the Thanksgiving celebrated today is more a combination of Puritan religious practices and the European festival called Harvest Home, which then grew to encompass Native foods.”

Teacher Resources…/teaching-thanksgiving-in-a-soci…

"School Thanksgiving activities often mean dressing children in “Indian” headdresses and paper feathers as they sing “My Country ’Tis of Thee” or “Mr. Turkey.” Some teachers might even ask their students to draw themselves as Native Americans from the past, complete with feather-adorned headbands and buckskin clothing. These activities might seem friendly and fun, unless you are aware of how damaging this imagery is to perceptions of contemporary Native peoples. This imagery contributes to the indoctrination of American youth into a false narrative that relegates indigenous peoples to the past and turns real human beings into costumes for a few days a year. It’s not just bad pedagogy; it’s socially irresponsible."

Decolonizing Thanksgiving: A Toolkit for Combatting Racism in Schools

“Stereotypical and racist portrayals of Native peoples fill U.S. elementary schools each November as students encounter historically-inaccurate portrayals of Native peoples in arts & crafts, books and lessons about a shared Thanksgiving meal, and songs and plays with hand-crafted headdresses and vests. But these activities are problematic, because they depict Native peoples in an ahistorical way and perpetuate myths about colonial encounters.”

National Museum of the American Indian - American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving

 “Each November educators across the country teach their students about the First Thanksgiving, a quintessentially American holiday. They try to give students an accurate picture of what happened in Plymouth in 1621 and explain how that event fits into American history. Unfortunately, many teaching materials give an incomplete, if not inaccurate, portrayal of the first Thanksgiving, particularly of the event’s Native American participants.”

Before we all get together with families this Thursday take a moment to learn more about the real history behind thanksgiving. Chief Oren Lyons (Onondaga) in Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future offers that Native Nations “have thanksgiving twelve months a year.”

“In the spring when the sap runs through the tress we have ceremonies, thanksgiving. For the maple, chief of the trees, leader of all the trees, thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for all the trees. Planting thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for the strawberries, first fruit. Thanksgiving for the bees, the corn, green corn, thanksgiving. Harvest thanksgiving. Community, process, chiefs, clan mothers, everybody is there. Families are there. How do you inspire respect for something? By giving thanks, by doing it.”(p.25)

Transitions...what do they actually feel like?

So many times I think we (yes this includes myself) view life or think about life in terms of moments in time, goals we set, obstacles that come our way, etc... I wonder what would happen if we also viewed life in terms of the feelings we have while experiencing these moments, achieving those goals, or through the obstacles that come our way. I am thinking this is akin to "being in the moment," "being present," "just being" - or whatever phrase that suits this feeling of FEELING. 

I am definitely guilty of always "doing" something - having believed that living "life" constitutes always being on the move and that being "productive" means constantly "doing." It certainly can be a vicious cycle and I have definitely gotten stuck in a space of constant movement - where I am actually not moving at all. It has not been until I finally allowed (or was forced) myself to sit still that I actually "moved." I know this may be a little existential but hear me out. 

In a few days it will be about a month or so into this huge transition of mine. I am talking a geographical, physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional transition. Within these past few years I have been really trying to listen to my intuition/spirit in how I decide to move in the world - so when this current career opportunity presented itself, it felt right and deciding to transition was an easy one. I was beyond excited to be able to work with my communities and come "home" - overall everything has felt "right" and on time (whatever that means).  What I wasn't expecting or really thinking about was what this "transition" would feel like. 

I am a firm believer that we all have journey's to walk and that those journey's have already been chartered out - and that gives me solace into my "moments in time." I certainly have stopped and reflected back on those moments and made sense of what those meant for me but I have never stopped in the moment to think about what those moments feel like. Like now, I am in this huge transition and I can understand it mentally and spiritually but have yet to understand what my emotions and heart are saying/feeling about it. I know I feel different and I know something is happening. But how do I make sense of those feelings or do I even make sense of them? I am starting to wonder what would it feel like if I actually let myself be "present in my feelings" and how that might translate into my greater sense of self. 

We are not transforming into something better or more worthy. We are transforming out of everything we are not. We are transforming Into the fullness of who we we truly are, who we have always been. So allow the true essence of you to finally step forward fully.
— Healing Energy Tools via Instagram

The American Dream - The Ultimate Facade

This week I had an off-site meeting at our nearby arboretum. During one of the presentations, the facilitator expressed how "nice it feels to be here" - presumably they were referring to "beauty" of the plant life surrounding the room we were in. I couldn't help but utterly disagree with the facilitator, this place did not feel nice - it felt like a grand facade. A facade working to eliminate and erase the Native plants that once lived there. In the place of the Native plants that lived there - now lived plants foreign to the land. In order for these new plants to prosper on this foreign land, a great care of focus on their needs was required for their survival. This reminded me all too well of the birth of America. A place founded on institutionalized systems of domination used to socialize "Americans" to accept one's place in the colonial hierarchy. A hierarchy focusing on the needs and survival of upper class white America. Just like the Arboretum took to caring for the needs of these new plants, America took to caring for the needs of upper class white America, under the guise of the "American Dream," the ultimate facade.

The rhetoric of the "American Dream" offers the idea that upward mobility is both possible and limitless, which Bush and Bush (2015) in their Tensions in the American Dream: Rhetoric, Reverie, or Reality argued “provided just the rationale to garner loyalty to ideological rules and principles of capitalism and white supremacy. This justification implied that those who succeed are worthy, while those who do not succeed are not worthy or deserving” (p.95). Just like the plants at the Arboretum, these new foreign plants became much more worthy and deserving to inhabit this landscape, because they "made it" - they worked hard to achieve this new found  livelihood. Never mind the care and focus the Arboretum gave to these plants survival, never mind the Arboretum's institutionalized support of these new plants. Now years after planting and caring for these seeds from all areas of the earth, this place know becomes a "melting pot" of a variety of plant life.  But who decided which of those plants belonged and which of them didn't? 

The "American Dream" has convinced us that to belong is to affirm one's status in the United States as "making it," particularly making it in under the ideological rules and principles of capitalism and white supremacy.  Instead of our statuses being associated to our familial lineages or geographic location, it is consumed with "what we do" and most often times than not but not always "what we do to make money." In this context, we have convinced ourselves that "what we do" is "who we are" - and that "what we do" is indicative of our worth. Never mind the institutionalized  systems that support the ideological rules and principles of capitalism and white supremacy. Never mind the care and focus these systems gave to upholding these rules and principles. 

The "American Dream" is nothing but a facade used to socialize "Americans" to accept our places in the colonial hierarchy. If we are wanting to liberate ourselves from the years of oppression and violence, we must look inward and "free ourselves of the myth of America" starting with the "American Dream."

The time has come, God knows, for us to examine ourselves, but we can only do this if we are willing to free ourselves of the myth of America and try to find out what is really happening here. Every society is really governed by hidden laws, by unspoken but profound assumptions on the part of the people, and ours (America) is no exception.

James Baldwin - Nobody Knows My Name  (p.142) 

13 days before 33

Last night, 13 days before my 33rd birthday I was reflecting - reflecting on how as a young person you envision your life a certain way, even last year or last week you envision your life in particular ways. With some sudden changes in my life these last few weeks, it reminded me is how quickly life can change and how you never really know what is going to happen or what journey we are meant to walk on. As I step into my 33rd year around the sun, my life is nothing like any of my previous visions and for that I have so much gratitude. Gratitude for all of the lessons and growth. One of my dear friends gifted me with Rupi Kaur's the sun and her flowers - and her poems touched me in ways that inspired a lot of insight and reflection. As I come to the close of my 32nd year below are 13 reflections inspired by 13 of her poems. 


"the universe took its time on you crafted you to offer the world something different from everyone else when you doubt how you were created you doubt an energy greater than us both"

With the way social media has infiltrated our world and our perceptions of others, its hard to not compare our lives to others. There were times where I sought validation and insight within these spaces. Most often times than not, it made me feel worse - feeling unfulfilled or envious of things I thought I wanted or I should be doing in life; as if I would be happier or I would find my purpose by ingesting other people's narratives on social media. These last few years and more significantly this last year, I feel like I have developed a strong sense of self, honoring my originality - believing that the creator made me uniquely so that I could walk the path that has been already set for me. 


"if i am the longest relationship of my life isn't it time to nurture intimacy and love with the person i lie in bed with each night"  

Over that past two years or so, I have often told people that I am in a really good relationship with myself, having a good sense of self love. Offering that "I treat my self really well and that my partner needs to be able to treat me as well or better" - (my sis even wrote a piece about this for the Root "#MeCrushMonday: The Audacity of Loving Yourself"). Having to be able to come to a better understanding of my relationship with myself, has not gone without its challenges or growing pains. A large part of overcoming those challenges was 1) breaking down the socially constructed ideas of what it means to be a Native women, to be educated, to be a "good" person, to be in a relationship, to be single, to be a mom, to not be a mom, to be successful (really the list could go on for days)...2) to accept that I am me and no one else can or will ever be me...3) that I am a human being, always constantly evolving and growing.  

- growth is a process

"you do not just wake up and become the butterfly"

Growth and evolution is hard, it takes work and its always constant. Learning to accept my growth and growing pains has humbled me and helped me to feel gratitude for all of my life experiences. Its hard to take every experience as a lesson, because some of the greatest lessons are the hardest ones to experience. 

-it is speaking to you

"trust your body it reacts to right and wrong better than your mind does" 

In the last few months I have been challenging myself to be courageous enough to feel my feelings, speak my truths, and be at peace with my journey. A part of feeling my feelings is trusting my intuition, you know the gut feeling that we can't explain how or why it came but we know its there, yeah that thing. I have always said I have a strong intuition, I think that is a bit of a misrepresentation. I think we all have strong intuitive capacities, we just have to stop and listen to them. For a long time, I have provided space to stop and listen to my intuition, sometimes listening to it and sometimes ignoring it. Most recently I have been trying to listen more closely, so I can sit with my feelings and feel.

(soul sisters - my title - not Rupi's)

"it isn't blood that makes you my sister it's how you understand my heart as though you carry it in your body"

I have and continue to be surrounded by amazing women in my life. From coming from a long line of strong women in my family and my community to the universe placing my amazing soul sisters in my life, I have always had the great fortune to be in community and learn from strong women. I am who I am because of these women, they love me, protect me, ride for me, support me, challenge me, and grow with me in ways that I could never ever have imagined. They have helped to build the strong durable fabric that is me and for that I am forever indebted.  


"when the world comes crashing at your feet its's okay to let others help pick up the pieces if we're present to take part in your happiness when your circumstances are great we are more than capable of sharing your pain" 

Often times as women of color and Native women we feel the need to be strong and take care of other people as well as ourselves. That can be a heavy weight to carry, there were times when that weight would get heavy for me, and I would get overwhelmed and exclaim "I know I am strong but I am human too!" For the fear of not "being strong" I would choose to "figure" things out by myself and just get through it, because that is what "we" do. Most recently, as I was allowing myself to feel my feelings - I opened up to my community. I  was met with overwhelming support and love (not that I expected anything different), it was so beautiful to know that they were there for me to "help pick up the pieces" when I let them. Growth.  

- family 

"what good am I if I do not fill the plates of the ones who fed me but fill the plates of strangers" 

Family and community have always been super important to me and I am grateful for all of the community that I have in my life. In my 20's I feel like I was more self-centered, focused on my "goals" and on this "crafted" future I had for myself. But as I shifted my focus to being more attentive to the "process" and the "journey," being closer to my family became very important to me. I joke and tell people that I don't want to be out in "streets" like that anymore, instead I want to be around my nieces, nephews, god-children, cousins, friends, etc. Its been 15 years since I have been "away" and it is time for me to come home. 

- honor your roots

"remember the body of your community breathe in the people who sewed you whole it is you who became yourself but those before you are a part of your fabric" 

While I am always very proud to be a Menominee women, I think these last few years I have been trying to be more intentional on understanding what that truly means. I want to be able to pass down Menominee teachings and language to my children, so they can pass it down to their children, and their children pass it down to their children, etc. Having a more comprehensive understanding of the impact and continued effects of colonialism, I believe its my responsibility to carry on those traditions. These next 30 years I want to dedicate myself to learning as much as I can.


"Our work should equip the next generation of women to outdo us in every field this is the legacy we'll leave behind" 

I have often said that I did not get this Ph.D. to be called doctor - I did it to serve my community, I did it to uplift and set a foundation for the next generation to come. I could not have gotten where I am without the hard work of those before me and I feel like its my responsibility to walk in a good way, to uphold and pass on the legacy of my ancestors. While I don't know what lies ahead of me in my journey, I am hopeful that in whatever path that comes before me that I can lay or add to the foundation already set by those before me. 

 - this will free you both

"wish pure love and soft peace upon ones who've been unkind to you and keep moving forward"

This lesson has been a hard one to actualize. It's hard not to get wrapped up and consumed by negativity. A few years ago, I came across this quote "how people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves." This really stuck with me and helped me to be more compassionate of people and their circumstances, trying not to take things too personally and offer as much grace as I am able to. 

-pace yourself

"the road to changing the world is never-ending" 

Often times I try to take on the world and try to be super woman - juggling a million things at once.  We live in such a fast pace world and for me, at times, I felt like if I slowed down, I was going to miss out on something or fall behind. However in these last few months I have tried to slow down a bit. Slowing down enough to be present to enjoy and taken in as much I can around me. 

"what is the greatest lesson a woman should learn"

"that since day one she's already had everything she needs within herself its the world that convinced her she did not"

This most certainly has been one of the greatest lessons that I have been blessed to learn thus far and I feel like it actually encompasses a lot of the insights above. I am all I need. 

the sun and her flowers

"this is the recipe of life said my mother as she held me in her arms as i wept think of those flowers you plant in the garden each year they will teach you that people too must wilt fall root rise in order to bloom"

As I enter into 33, I look forward to wilting, falling, rooting, rising and blooming. 

Soul Shaking: Reflections on A Wrinkle in Time

Different from my "normal" routine yesterday morning, I decided to listen to The Breakfast Club  and happen to catch Ava DuVernay's interview, particularly some of her thoughts about her movie opening yesterday,  A Wrinkle in Time - she said:

"Young people...they inspire me because I look at them and I say if we can get it right with them, then by the time when we are old and we need some taken care of as a country, as a family, as a community we have got some kids that will understand the legacy that they uphold and understand the things that we need, you create empathetic, solid strong kids now...that is what this film is, it really is a love letter to our kids - to focus on the things that matter..."

I thought to myself well that was dope - the universe saw it fit for me to listen to Ava's interview  before going to see this movie with one of my best friends.  When I tell you that this movie was so amazingly-beautiful - it shook my soul and being to my core. There were a few times I was beyond emotional - I only held it together because I was in a theater with other people, but could very well have broken all the way down (like ugly-breaking down-cry). I know you are probably thinking, this is a Disney movie targeted towards children and not full grown women.  People that know me, know that I truly believe in the universe and a divine purpose, and that we have a journey already charted out for us, and that it is up to us to be accepting of it.  Last night, this movie provided one of those divine moments for me, I walked away feeling all types of emotions...but ultimately truly inspired and motivated.

Without giving away too much (because with any piece of art, I feel like people should experience it for themselves and take away from it what they are supposed to), when I tell you Miss Ava encapsulated a lot of the things I have been thinking about when it comes to community, love, and healing within this very amazingly-beautifully crafted film. While I was experiencing (because its was an EXPERIENCE for sure) the film, I felt like she had interpreted all of my recent work and thoughts, and crafted them with so much love and intent into this film.  I felt so in tune with her message (hence - almost breaking down) of working to spread light and positivity to heal a world filled with so much hurt and violence. She mentioned in her interview "you have to put positivity in the world and people will find it, people who are looking for it..."well Miss Ava I found it and so much more. 

This movie reminded me of my time at Lawrence University  - my ultimate message was around "just being a good person" - and recognizing that there have been systems built as a result of colonization that have significantly impacting and shaped our experiences. I have been wrestling with this idea of "community" and using it has a tool of empowerment, and as I processed more, I connected it to ideas of decolonization - and re-envisioning our lives past our colonization. In particular using Indigenous knowledge to do so, connecting social justice to "our" seven sacred teachings of living a life full of compassion, kindness, generosity, respect, strength, gratitude, and humility. When I tell you I felt like Miss Ava was saying the same thing in the film - I could barely process it with my best friend afterward without getting emotional - I barely got the words out to her without crying.  Call it a "coincidence" or some sort of divine intervention but in my heart of hearts the universe and Creator brought everything together in perfect harmony last night and for that I am forever grateful and blessed. For that, Miss Ava DuVernay I am wholeheartedly thankful for your insight, intent, and inspiration.

We have a saying in the Native community - "the seventh generation" in most times in reference to this idea that whatever we do is going to impact the generations to come - after hearing Ava's interview and seeing the movie, I truly believe this movie is a "love letter" to our "seventh generation" to just be good people.  Maec Waewaenen Ava! 

Native: The Antithesis of being American

Lately, every time someone talks about being "American," I get a very visceral feeling - something about American nationhood makes me feel uneasy. Its more than my own conflicting feelings of being Native, allegiant to my own tribal nation and "technically" being American, allegiant to the United States. It's this feeling of opposition, this feeling of hostility to a nation that was founded on the principles where my ancestors needed to be erased. As I immersed myself in ideas of colonialism and the 19th/20th century United States citizenship/education policies it occurred to me that being Native in the United States was/is the antithesis of being American.

History Professor, Phillip Deloria in John and Kevin Little's More than a Word Film - describes two moments in American history where Natives needed to be erased or dehumanized in order for America/Americans to exist. 

"...The first is the moment of the American Revolution, where Americans, American colonists have to figure out culturally and in terms of their identity, their social identity, they figure out ways in which they can stop being British colonist and start being American and the fundamental claim they make is that they are Indigenous to the continent, this is what happens in settler societies, so they are Indigenous to the continent so they take old European rituals practices and beliefs and they graph them onto new symbol systems around Indians (refer back to my "Savage or Nah" post) and all of the sudden they create meaning for themselves they create an identity as being Aboriginal and Indigenous to the continent and that lets them speak in oppositional ways to the British government and in many ways, I think to build a cultural formation, that allows them to create a Revolution and rebellion, so Indians are wrapped up into the fiber of America from the very very beginning...

In order for the colonists to separate themselves from British rule they needed to be "aboriginal" to the Americas and do to that, the people who where already there needed to be erased.   

"...then there is a second moment at the turn of the 20th century when Americans are confronted with modernity and the sort of struggles around that and what does it mean to be an industrial place full of immigrants and the frontier is closed and there is all kinds of ways which they feel a sense of crisis, what gives them reassurance - a refiguring of this kind of Indian play that they do, where they can grab on to something that is authentic, that is of the land and that is anti-modern and gives them a sense of authenticity."

In order for America to be America, it needed to erase the Native people who already occupied this continent, it needed to erase everything Native - our cultures, languages, identities, etc., then it needed us to be anti-modern, functioning as a mere historical figure whose only role was helping to shape the "American" story. The impact of this is still felt today especially in our American institutions, of democracy and education. They both have been created, sustained, and worked for the betterment of this "great nation state." The United States is a nation defined and formed by the genocide of Native American communities. Colonial institutions like democracy and education inflicted those acts of genocide and went to any length to destroy and replace Native American culture and way of life. Though amazingly resilient, Native communities endured tremendous suffering and gave rise to the hardships that Native communities continue to experience today.    

Just like at the turn of the 20th century, America is still trying to understand what makes us American, grasping at any idea that may unify U.S. But until we can face our complicated and complex history we are bound to repeat and reproduce. 

"History is not the past, it is the present, we carry our history with us, we are our history, if we pretend otherwise, we literally are criminals." James Baldwin - I Am Not Your Negro   

Savage or nah?

"The idea of savagery undoubtedly enabled white American's to exercise multiple kinds of power over multiple kinds of Indians. Yet the existence of so many variations on the savage theme also suggests that stereotype might function better as a descriptive shorthand than as an analytical tool. A stereotype, we might say, is a simplified and generalized expectation - savagery, in this case - that comes to rest in an image, text, or utterance. It is a sound bite, a crudely descriptive connection between power, expectation, and representation." 

Philip J. Deloria, Indians in unexpected places, 2004, p.9

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 9.32.42 PM.png

In the past few years "savage" has become a popular word to use - so much so that on Instagram 8.6million (yeah MILLION) pictures were tagged with the hashtag #savage. The posts range from selfies of people to  inappropriate and most often offensive posts by people who the Urban dictionary refers to as "some who does not care about the consequences of his or her actions."  There is even multiple online stores that sells "savage" merchandise ( Popular culture has really embraced this word and as result attached new meanings to it but for me I cannot help but think about Phil's quote above and how it was used as a tool to exercise power over Native people.  


Every time I hear someone use the word "savage" - I feel a cringe in my stomach. I think about how extensively this terminology was used to refer to my ancestors, as a way to dehumanize them and delegitimize their cultural knowledge and ways of knowing. I think about the imagery in these pictures - imagery that attached a particular stereotype to ALL Native people - with "savage" being the common denominator..."savage warrior," "noble savage," etc. "Savage" became synonymous with Native people, so much so that the United States referred to Native people in the declaration of independence as "Merciless Indian Savages."


Not only did this dehumanize Native people to animalistic like beings, it also imposed a sameness onto all Native people - erasing the beautiful diversity of all of our Native cultures, nations, and communities. Ironically, as the use of #savage in popular culture increased so did the cultural appropriation of Native culture (see Native Appropriations - "Valentino didn't learn anything" for a good recap). Ironic because at one point in history being "savage" was considered to be demeaning and now being "savage" and appropriating "Native" culture is almost being sought after by popular culture.  While no different than any word that has been used to historically disempower and disenfranchise a particular group, I have been incredibly intrigued at how readily people use this term now - without understanding its' ties to the oppression of Native communities. 


Hey I have to call you doctor does if feel to be what?

Those are some of the most common responses or questions I have gotten from people since finishing my doctoral degree.  After all of the long days and nights at the coffee shop reading and writing where my main focus was always on finishing my project, I never stopped to think about if or how my life would be changing.  Not until I went to coffee/tea with a good colleague and friend where she asked how I felt about this "transition" in my life and if I was ok. Those seeming were very simple questions - but quite literally B-L-E-W M-Y M-I-N-D. I had never once stopped to think about this thing that became such a large part of my life for the past 5 years and quite frankly a large part of my identity as contributing to such a huge transitional part of my life.  At that moment I went into a slight internal panic - like holy crap what have I gotten myself I ready for this...what does this mean for my life, all of the question came flowing. She then proceeded to point out that because of what is included in the doctoral process, that I may see things differently than I did before, and therefore potentially shifting the way I go about life. Again MIND BLOWN!

Until then I never stopped to reflect about this potential shift, although I had certainly felt it in a number of ways and responded accordingly, I never thought about this transition in totality.  A transition that people don't tell you about...a transition that I felt I was not emotionally ready or prepared for. Within the coming months, I started to feel the intensity of this transition. I started to feel the weight of people's expectations and perceptions shifting because of these three letters being added to my name. This elevated status made me really uncomfortable - as I felt no different than anyone else, I felt like the same girl from the rez just trying to live in a good way, still learning and growing. Honestly I didn't want this to define me, I didn't want these letters to be the only way people see me. I recognize that this is a huge accomplishment for those who value education in a particular way but I also didn't want it to separate me from people who may not place the same value on education - as my choice to pursue my education was because of the type of strengths and skills I thought I brought to it and not because it's my measure of one's own "success." 

I have certainly been afforded a number of amazing opportunities thus far because of my new found "legitimacy" and because I have a community of awesome people around me (we will get to that point in a second). I feel like those opportunities added to other's elevated perception of me, which seem to add to my feelings of separation. I have had people referring to me "making it big" or "blowing up."I have so many emotions surrounding this separation (that may be real or in my head). I feel like I am no expert (contrary to what having a PhD tell you - you should be), I feel like I am simply fortunate enough to sit and think about certain things and offer academic commentary. I believe that commentary is reflection of my experiences, my community, and those awesome people around me and for that I owe so much gratitude. I often tell people that I didn't complete this PhD for personal elevation or status or to be called doctor - that I did it for my community, I did it to use my newfound skills and talents to be an communal asset. Although I would be remiss if I didn't point out that initially this was not my focal point - initially I wanted to pursue a PhD because I didn't know what else was next for me and it sounded like a good idea - it just ended up working out in my favor.  For me, this new elevated status comes with a tremendous responsibility - a responsibility to use it for the betterment of my community and those around me. 

Although I am mulling over this current transition - I am very grateful for the shifts that it created for me while I was in school (finding my purpose, reclaiming the use of my given Menominee name - Sasanehsaeh). It was certainly one of the hardest things I have ever had to do but am really grateful of my journey thus far.  To this end, I am not sure where my journey will lead me but I certainly know that this transitional point in my life has made such a significant impact. For those who may be taken on or considering this journey in education know that this may be coming at the other end of your dissertation - when you are Ph.inisheD.