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Sunday, January 31, 2021

On Being "Politically Correct"

By Claudia A. Fox Tree
  The Replica Senate Chamber at Edward M. Kennedy Institute (Boston, MA)
Photos by Claudia A. Fox Tree

When I hear someone say, "politically correct," it is usually in the context of criticism or making fun of something that is responding to the needs of a historically oppressed group. It essentially says, "I don't want to hear the truth" or "I am making fun of the people who want to spread the truth." It is often spoken by someone show has had their voice and story told and who hasn't had to fight for that right. The folks using the phrase should feel embarrassed because it signals they don't feel like they have anything to learn or unlearn. 

Don't you know that everything is "political"? What we choose to include and what we choose to exclude from education are all political decisions, so that phrase doesn't even make sense. Everything is political, and putting something down by saying it is "politically correct" means only listening to one perspective, typically the one not telling the whole truth, raising one voice, and continuing to oppress another. It acknowledges that there is a missing information, and often an unwillingness to learn. It's a way to put down people who want to respect all our relations and right historical inequities. The truth is that things can't be fixed without knowing the truth. In fact, you can't have "Truth and Reconciliation" without truth, it's that important.

We can only offer the Indigenous perspectives from community (that we've grown up with) and lessons from history (that we have had to relearn because they were omitted). Communities and individuals need to think about where they are going and what legacy of justice they want to leave the next generation.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Rekindling and Recognizing Our Relationship to the Land and Community

 The Serviceberry: An Economy of Abundance by Robin Wall Kimmerer

As Robin Wall Kimmerer harvests serviceberries alongside the birds, she considers the ethic of reciprocity that lies at the heart of the gift economy. How, she asks, can we learn from Indigenous wisdom and ecological systems to reimagine currencies of exchange?

  • We’ve surrendered our values to an economic system that actively harms what we love.
  • What if scarcity is just a cultural construct, a fiction that fences us off from gift economies?
  • Hoarding won’t save us … All flourishing is mutual.

(This article was a GIFT to me as I read it on Solstice morning, 2020)

The real cure for COVID is renewing our fractured relationship with the planet 

A lack of healthy, natural habitat weakens the immune systems of animals and the resulting sicknesses pass rapidly through them. Birds, prairie dogs, pigs, bats. With each infection, a chance for a virus to mutate into one that can sicken humans, and sometimes, global livelihoods. As such, a vaccine alone, no matter how effective, will not tip the balance toward health because COVID-19 is not a disease; it is a symptom of an exhausted planet. The renewal of a healthy relationship to our one shared mother, planet Earth, is the cure.

No one created the problems that threaten to overwhelm us from malice. Not the plagues, nor climate change, nor extinctions. They have occurred as side effects of a system whose rapid growth is both encouraged at all costs, and blind to natural limits.If the Earth is as alive as both climate scientists and Indigenous peoples say, and like a body, kept well by a diversity of cells, deeply connected, then the medical diagnosis that fits most neatly our modern sickness is not an infection, but a malignancy. If unaddressed, it threatens to use every last joule of energy, not from need, but from appetite until only it, and a husk, remain. As the IPBES concluded, we must “decouple the idea of a good and meaningful life from ever-increasing material consumption.” This must be the priority of our Group of 20 leaders, who met recently to talk about “recovery.” The solution will not be found by beating back the symptoms so we might return to business as usual, but fanning the flame of aliveness of the beautiful and healthier world beyond them that is in retreat.

When Texas Was At the Bottom of the Sea

Mountains built by life. Literally. To give a couple of examples, the volume of coral built up on the Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands is around 250 cubic miles. This is equivalent to building the Great Pyramid of Giza more than 416,000 times. And that’s just one atoll: The Earth has scores. The Great Barrier Reef, which runs for more than 1,800 miles along the northeastern coast of Australia, comprises about 3,000 reefs and 900 islands. It is the largest structure built by living beings in the modern world.

Resistance and Decolonizing

The Taínos Refused to Grow Food. 

The Spanish Starved. Rebellion against invasion triggered a series of events that would take a “swift and violent toll” on a Caribbean island’s native biodiversity.

This act of rebellion, writes environmental historian Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, “stemmed from the native population’s recognition of their control over the food supply.” She dubs it “the New World’s first food fight.”

The colonists were desperate for food. But, lacking knowledge and fearful of the untamed forests, they were unable to take advantage of the island’s native vegetation. (“It is a sad fate to die slowly from hunger within a few minutes’ walk from a seemingly endless supply of mangoes, papayas or avocados,” laments Paravisini-Gebert.)

To compensate, “the besieged conquerors resorted to eating everything in sight, with dire consequences for some species of fauna—and themselves,” Paravisini-Gebert writes. This first food crisis set several species on the path to extinction, including the Taínos’ mute hunting dogs and several endemic species of rodent. The colonists were so desperate that they even ate lizards, salamanders, and snakes.

Decolonizing in body, heart and mind. (CEPA)

CEPA is a project that designs and facilitates encounters rooted in practices to heal accumulated trauma from our being. It’s part of a movement of people working to transform their relationships and everyday life to co-create freedom, centering all marginalized peoples especially Puerto Rican women, gender nonconforming, trans, queer folx. To manifest a just future, we honor the wisdom of the earth and of our ancestors as we work to heal.

Decolonization for us is a process that begins as a personal questioning of one’s conditioning (what we value, how we learn) and ends with the autonomy of our lands. Our body is the first territory we can decolonize.Decolonization is:°A practice of remembering who we are, and of listening to and strengthening our intuition and our internal knowing.°Decolonization is not a metaphor. It is an undoing that has physical, psychological,social and cultural dimensions and they operate simultaneously and continuously.Decolonization is something we must practice. It is a series of actions: questioning,investigating, unlearning, practicing and sustaining. It requires a cultural shift in our collective conditions; and only we can manifest it together.°It creates the conditions where we are all guardians of the earth: it is a practice of recognizing, validating and expressing gratitude to the earth and other non-human beings that live on the planet with us.°We have witnessed the massive sale of Boriken that urges us to reclaim lands as away to allow us to return, remain and live a dignified life.

Contributions - Historical Truths/ Corrections


Created during Spanish flu, jingle dress dance now helping First Nations people cope with COVID-19: "I was really surprised when I started doing the research. I couldn't find a single photograph of what you would call a jingle dress before circa 1920 in the United States or Canada," said Brenda Child, a professor at the University of Minnesota."As a historian, it occurred to me that something very big had happened that created this new healing tradition."For Child, the creation of the jingle dress dance shows how First Nations people have learned to cope with new illnesses introduced to their communities. (Submitted by Brenda Child)That big event was the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919, and First Nations and Native American communities across North America all tell a similar story of the origin of the jingle dress



The Shared History of Wild Horses and Indigenous People: But according to Indigenous oral histories and spiritual beliefs from Saskatchewan to Oklahoma, America’s Native horses never went extinct. They survived the Ice Age and lived among Native people before, and after, the arrival of European colonizers, and a mountain of historical and archaeological evidence proves it—from ancient clay and wood horse figurines from North America and horse petroglyphs in Peru to accounts recorded by early explorers.

Indeed, in recent years Western science has begun to confirm what Indigenous communities have always known. Riding and caring for horses can activate the sympathetic nervous system in children and influence the rhythm of the human heart rate. Equine therapy is becoming increasingly popular for treating PTSD in military veterans and children experiencing anxiety and depression or recovering from trauma. “Horses are incredibly sacred, they’re more than sacred,” Running Horse Collin says. “Our people didn’t need those kind of studies, we just knew it worked.”

Yet, the official story that was written into the history books, and which persists today, is that the New World had no horses before the arrival of the Spanish. According to the narrative, the first horses to arrive in the New World in 1519 were the progenitors of every horse found on the continent in later years. That it would have been biologically impossible for a small group of horses in Mexico to populate regions thousands of miles away in as little as two years is never discussed.


Relearning The Star Stories Of Indigenous Peoples - Audio recordings: How the lost constellations of Indigenous North Americans can connect culture, science, and inspire the next generation of scientists. Here’s a question Pantalony gets sometimes: What is a series of star stories doing in a museum dedicated to technology and science?“People are surprised, but then it makes sense,” he says. “Of course cultures would have different stories based on this massive canopy from horizon to horizon that unfolds before our eyes every night.” Just like the telescope that sits in the museum, the story about Mars circling around in the sky like a startled moose is also an instrument of astronomical observation.In 2008, Canada began a major effort to right the wrongs of colonization. The process, which aimed to recognize the rights of Indigenous groups and shape a new relationship of respect, was broadly referred to as truth and reconciliation. At the museum, this took the shape of a conscious effort to include Indigenous culture and technology in the story of Canadian science—from snowshoes to star stories.

The oldest book written in the American Continent Is a Mayan guide to Astronomy: The Grolier Codex sometimes referred to as the “Sáenz Codex” or the “Maya Codex of Mexico” is a screenfold book fashioned from bark paper, coated with stucco on both sides and painted on one side. Ten painted pages survive of a twenty-page book; formerly there were judged to be eleven pages but two fragments are now considered to come from the same page. In 1976, the “United States-Mexico Artifacts Treaty of 1970” was invoked by the Attorney General of Mexico. This resulted in the seizure of the codex and its return to Mexico.Sáenz donated the codex to the Mexican government and it is currently kept in a vault in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City and is not on public display.The claimed discovery of the Grolier Codex would make it the only pre-Columbian codex discovered in the course of the 20th century, except for some codex fragments excavated by archaeologists.It’s another example of ancient writings come to life , the oldest on our continent. Other documents previously presumed to be inauthentic could need reexamination—in which case, we may (and almost certainly do) have a lot to learn about our past.


13 discoveries in the last year have fundamentally altered our understanding of human history

B.S. Bering Strait: Archaeologists determined that stone tools and artifacts discovered in a remote cave in Zacatecas, Mexico, were about 32,000 years old. They described the finding in a July study.The new evidence upended the idea that the first people arrived in North America after continent-hopping from modern-day Siberia via the Bering land bridge between 18,000 and 13,000 years ago. During the last Ice Age 32,000 years ago, that land bridge was impassable. So the research suggests the first Americans arrived by sea. According to the study authors, these migrants were likely anatomically modern humans.

Hunting: Scientists discovered a 9,000-year-old burial site containing weapons and animal-skinning tools high in the Andes mountains of Peru. They assumed the human bones there came from a skilled male hunter.But a closer look revealed that this hunter was female. Further analysis of 27 other burial sites across North and South America, which also contained hunting tools and date back to the same time period, revealed that 40% of the hunters were female.

Amazon Rock Paintings: Thousands of drawings hidden deep in the Amazon rainforest tell the story of an ancient tribe's hunting practices about 12,000 years ago. The drawings, which cover more than 2.5 miles of rock in Colombia, depict scenes of humans hunting mastodons. They also contain images of other extinct animals like giant sloths, ancient llamas, and Ice Age horses.Archaeologists announced the drawings' discovery in late November.


The College Student Who Decoded the Data Hidden in Inca Knots

With the help of his professor, Gary Urton, a scholar of Pre-Columbian studies, Medrano interpreted a set of six khipus, knotted cords used for record keeping in the Inca Empire. By matching the khipus to a colonial-era Spanish census document, Medrano and Urton uncovered the meaning of the cords in greater detail than ever before. Their findings could contribute to a better understanding of daily life in the Andean civilization. The only records the Inca are known to have kept are in the form of intricately knotted khipu textiles. In 2002, Urton began Harvard’s Khipu Database Project. He traveled to museums and private collections around the world to record the numbers of knots, lengths of cords, colors of fibers, and other distinguishing details about every Inca khipu he could find—more than 900 in total.


Did Columbus find early Caribs in 15th century Caribbean? Jury is still out

"We have several different notions of what Carib might be," Keegan told Ars. "We have cultural evidence, we have Columbus' reports, we have the accounts of French missionaries in the 1700s. Trying to sort through what all these different Caribs are, or whether they're even just one single cultural group, is what we were hoping that the DNA would help sort out. But as often happens in science, our questions are more subtle than our data."

After finally being able to study enough skulls, they discovered three separate clusters instead of the expected two: a Cuba cluster, a Puerto Rico/Venezuela/Colombia cluster, and a Hispaniola/Jamaica/Bahamas cluster. That prompted Keegan et al. to reexamine a pottery style known as Meillacoid, found only in Hispaniola, Jamaica, and the Bahamas, which anthropologists had previously thought were a separate migration.

"We found that the pottery style was much more consistent with the way those people called Caribs made pottery than the way people called Arawaks made pottery," said Keegan. "Those two lines of evidence led us to conclude that [Caribs] actually were in Hispaniola, Jamaica, and the Bahamas when Columbus arrived."

As for the reports of cannibalism in Columbus' accounts, hard evidence as to whether this was truly a regular practice is still lacking. "The Caribs in the Lesser Antilles told Europeans that they kill and eat their enemies, but this could be hyperbole," said Keegan. "We don't have any skeletal evidence. We're not finding human bones that are cooked or butchered—at least we haven't yet."

One other intriguing finding from the DNA analysis concerned the evolution of Caribbean pottery styles over 2,000 years, as the Archaic Age gave way to the Ceramic Age in the region. There are five distinct marked shifts in style noted by archaeologists: red pottery decorated with white painted designs, for example; pots with tiny dots or incisions; or more ornate styles of pottery with sculpted animal faces. Some archaeologists have viewed this as evidence for fresh migrations to the Caribbean, but the DNA analysis suggests that all the styles in fact were developed by descendants of the same people who arrived in the Caribbean some 2,500 years ago."It confirms what we expect, but as a social scientist, it just goes to show that genetics can't give us a complete picture of the people who carry those genes," said Keegan. "Genes may be discrete units that we can measure, but genomes are created by cultures."

NOTE: There is not perfect resource - this one minimizes the numbers on people on the islands. More research is needed.

"Pretend-ians" and Indigenous Identity

 Navigating Partnerships with Indigenous People in a Time of Ethnic Fraud Panic

As a non-Indigenous person, it’s never my place to adjudicate anyone’s identity claims. But I do have a responsibility to be thoughtful and aware, to get to know my Indigenous partners and the communities they come from. The process of getting to know Native people can be especially complicated in New England, which has some of the longest colonial histories on the continent. Since most eastern tribal nations historically dealt with the colonies rather than with what eventually became the U.S. federal government, many remain “unrecognized”--meaning, among other things, that they might not have formally delimited reservations, and might not have the kinds of systematic citizenship documentation that other groups use to access things like federal education and health benefits. It’s worth noting that even the northeastern tribal nations that are formally recognized today--say, the Maliseet in Maine, and more famously the Mashpee Wampanoag in Massachusetts--have been through periods in very recent history when they were not recognized by settlers as Native American, either individually or collectively. Additionally, many eastern Native people have been mis-identified (as “mulatto,” “Negro,” “white” or other designations) in census and other records. In the case of Vermont, infamously, Abenaki and other people of color were identified as “Pirates,” “Gypsies,” and other ethnic slurs as they were targeted for eugenic sterilization. 

While the United States does have somewhat recent laws that some have misconstrued as prompting “fake” Indian claims (e.g., the 1990 Indian Gaming and Regulatory Act, the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act), it is crucial to remember that the Abenaki communities in New Hampshire and Vermont pre-existed such legislation by a very long time.

In the interest of transparency, I should probably consider whether I have a personal stake in this discussion. I spent decades getting to know northeastern Native American writers and working with tribal community editors to publish the book Dawnland Voices, and this companion website, Would I be devastated to learn that someone is not who they claim to be? Of course. But I’ve been taught (by Lisa Brooks, Marge Bruchac, and others) that collaborative scholarly work involves years of relationship-building and relationship-tending. So I have listened carefully to these writers, visiting with them and their families. I’ve watched as carefully and respectfully as I could, as they’ve interacted not only with me, but also with their families--with their kin in Quebec, in fact--and with other Indigenous people across New England. Because just as Abenaki people have always known who they are, so too do other Indigenous people know who they are. Their ancestries, their kinship networks, their tribal identities, and their personal stories are not mine to judge; nor should they be judged by any other outside observer--Native or non-Native--who does not fully comprehend this region’s complex history.

If you are a non-Indigenous scholar, or just an interested learner trying to do your due diligence by Indigenous people, please do not rush to judgment and assume that all Abenaki scholars, writers, artists and others in the U.S. are ethnic frauds. In particular, please don’t rush to judgement based on hearsay or vitriolic social media posts. Continue to listen to Abenaki people, read their work carefully, and always vet the reputation and reliability of your sources. You can also reach out to me and other scholars who have worked in this area for a long time. We’re happy to share resources and readings, and will begin doing so in this space shortly.

White Privilege, False Claims of Indigenous Identity and Michelle Latimer

Trickster director Michelle Latimer’s offensive use of unsubstantiated claimed Indigenous ancestry to advance her career should be a cautionary tale to anyone who has discovered a distant Indigenous ancestor in their genealogy research and feels excited about now identifying as an Indigenous person.

The people making them have white privilege fueling their professional craft — all the time in the world to hone their talents, no family emergencies, no PTSD from residential school residuals holding them back. No endless parade of funerals, health issues, lateral violence showdowns, internalized shame, a life of racism both big and small in their lives to contend with every day. Able to show the world how high an Indigenous person can rise if they just demonstrate a strong work ethic — one of the “good ones.”No wonder decision-makers love pretendians. Pretendians provide them with all the dreamy Indigi-benefits without the dismal realities of Indigenous lived experience.

Connecting to one’s Indigenous identity should start with building relationships with your Indigenous family and community. Learning your history, stories, foods, jokes and nuances.But we have people right now who have started their journey as a potential Indigenous person by agreeing to sit on a panel as an Indigenous role model.Becoming Indigenous is not an opportunity to advance one’s career. We see through Latimer’s example how far one can take the possibility of maybe being Indigenous, and also how harmful it can turn.This is not a victimless offence. It is a continuation of white privilege and cultural genocide — quite simply, it’s wrong.


The Trouble with “Native DNA”

From the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 to the rise of private DNA testing companies like 23 and Me, many people increasingly think of themselves in terms of their genes. As Kim TallBear, a Native American studies scholar and enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribe, explains, this has mixed consequences for Native Americans and other indigenous people.

“Genetically defined, indigenous peoples are seen to be vanishing in an increasingly global world,” she writes.In social and political terms, the number of people in the world who define themselves as indigenous is not shrinking but growing.

DNA testing may seem attractive as a more objective process. But TallBear argues that this method has problems similar to those created by the reliance on “blood.” It risks defining indigenous identities in terms of a biological concept of race, rather than sovereign status and treaties with the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Ultimately, TallBear calls not for rejecting genetic science but for a “coproductionist” approach. This would allow for a possible place for genetics in determining indigenous identity but only by placing it within historical, political, and social context.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Good News in Indigenous (Native American) Country

 Native American tribe gets back Big Sur ancestral lands after 250 years A Native American tribe has reclaimed a small part of ancestral lands on California’s scenic Big Sur coast that were lost to Spanish colonial settlement nearly 250 years ago.The Esselen Tribe of Monterey County closed escrow on 1,199 acres (485 hectares) about 5 miles (8 kilometers) inland from the ocean that was part of a $4.5 million deal involving the state and the Western Rivers Conservancy

Senate Approves Commission to Revise or Redesign Massachusetts Seal and Motto –The Massachusetts State Senate on Tuesday, July 28, 2020 passed legislation that would establish a commission to study and redesign the Massachusetts state seal and motto in an effort to make it more inclusive and historically representational.The legislation, Resolve establishing a special commission relative to the seal and motto of the commonwealth (S.1877), will create a commission to study the state seal. Many people, particularly members of Native American communities, find the seal offensive and unwittingly harmful, and others feel it perpetuates a misunderstanding of indigenous culture and history. The commission will be tasked with making recommendations for a revised or new seal and motto for the state. The state seal and motto are featured on the Massachusetts flag and other official insignia.

Plimoth Plantation Will Change Name By The End Of The Year (2020) According to the museum, discussions about a name change have been underway for more than a year, and the museum plans to announce the new name later this year when it commemorates the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival. However, until the name change is decided, the museum is using a special logo that includes Plimoth, the English colonists’ name for the land, and Patuxet, the name the indigenous people gave to the land. The new logo uses both Plimoth and Patuxet with a blue swirl in between the names.

Football Team (2020): FedEx – which has naming rights at the team’s stadium – formally asked the Redskins to change their name. Nike removed Redskins merchandise from its online store.Friday, the team announced it would “undergo a thorough review of the team’s name.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell added that the league is “supportive of this important step.”

Land O Lakes (2020): For nearly a century, the Land O’Lakes Indian maiden has kneeled by the side of a blue lake holding out an offering of a 4-stick box of butter. No more. The Minnesota-based farmer cooperative has redesigned its packaging to focus on celebrating farmers ahead of its 100th anniversary next year.

Columbus Statues Removed (2020): List of monuments and memorials removed during the George Floyd protests: Scroll down or search Columbus. 31 removed as of July 4, 2020

DAPL (2020): Dakota Access Pipeline to Shut Down Pending Review, Federal Judge Rules. “It took four long years,” said Jan Hasselman, a lawyer with the environmental group Earthjustice who represents the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. “But today justice has been served at Standing Rock.” Also, Keystone Pipeline and Atlantic Coast

Supreme Court says eastern half of Oklahoma is Native American land (2020): The 5-4 decision, with an opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, endorsed the claim of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the land, which encompasses three million acres, including most of the city of Tulsa. The decision means that only federal authorities, no longer state prosecutor, can lodge charges against Native Americans who commit alleged crimes on that land, which is home to 1.8 million people. Of those people, 15% or fewer are Native Americans.

Indigenous people in Brazil win historic lawsuit after 24 years in court (2020): During the 1980s, the Ashaninka tribe of Brazil had seen large swaths of its land being devastated by deforestation at the hands of lumber companies seeking to exploit the indigenous reserve for resources such as mahogany and cedar wood. Seeking justice, the tribe managed in 1996 to take the companies responsible for decimating their homes to court. They finally won the lawsuit — in a victory representing a truly historic win for indigenous rights. On top of a $2.4 million settlement, the Ashaninka will receive an official apology from the companies who deforested their lands decades ago.

Indigenous Peruvians win suit to block oil exploration in their Amazon region (2020): Indigenous Peruvians win suit to block oil exploration in their Amazon regionA Peruvian judge ruled that the government exclude an indigenous region of the Amazon near the border with Brazil from any oil exploration and exploitation, a legal group said on Wednesday, in a win for native communities that have long fought against oil and mining projects on their land. “This ruling is historic because it is the first in favor of indigenous people in voluntary isolation against oil companies. Almost 98 percent of the territory of the indigenous people in voluntary isolation was above three oil lots,” said Maritza Quispe, a lawyer for IDL.

The Oscars (2019): During the 92nd Academy Awards, “The academy would like to acknowledge that tonight we have gathered on the ancestral lands of the Tongva, the Tataviam, and the Chumash. We acknowledge them as the first peoples of this land on which the motion picture community lives and works,” New Zealand filmmaker Taika Waititi (Māori) said before introducing the winners of the academy's honorary prizes. One of those was actor Wes Studi, the first and only indigenous person to win an honorary award. "I'd simply like to say it's about time," Studi started his acceptance speech. Studi was the first indigenous actor to win an Oscar and joined a handful of other Oscar winners of indigenous heritage, including musician Buffy Sainte-Marie, who won an Academy Award for Best Original Song "Up Where We Belong" in 1983 and sound engineer Hammond Peek, who won the Academy Award for Best Sound in 2003 and 2005. In 2018, Yalitza Aparicio (Mixtec & Trique) was nominated for Best Actress Academy Award for debut performance in Roma.

Mauna Kea (2019): Many Native Hawaiians have been protesting the construction of the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope atop sacred Mauna Kea for months. They scored a victory when Hawaii Governor David Ige announced that construction efforts were hitting pause. In Hawaiian religion, the peaks of the island of Hawaiʻi are sacred. An ancient law allowed only high-ranking aliʻi to visit its peak. With its high elevation, Mauna Kea's summit is one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. Since the creation of an access road in 1964, thirteen telescopes funded by eleven countries have been constructed at the summit. Thirty Meter Telescope controversy is forcing scientists to grapple with how their research affects Indigenous peoples.

Chief Wahoo (2018): The logo was last worn by the Indians in a loss to the Houston Astros on October 8, 2018 in the 2018 American League Division Series. News outlets noted the irony of the logo's final appearance being on Indigenous Peoples' Day/Columbus Day.


Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Three Sisters

By Claudia A. Fox Tree
Sketch by Claudia A. Fox Tree

I imagine that in the year 3000, the world will start over with seeds and stories. As in the past, in the new beginning, there will be the Three Sisters: the oldest will grow tall and strong; the middle child will use her sibling's sturdy stalk to wind up to the sun while her roots add nitrogen to the ground; and the youngest baby sister will cover the ground protecting the family from weeds. They will give the gift of food that when eaten together will provide a complete protein with much needed vitamins and minerals. This is because in 2020, there will be seed keepers, water protectors, and land warriors.

I used my garden as inspiration and sketched the plants (but I added the finished fruits of the plants, known as vegetables). They are at different stages in the drawing and wouldn't all be in the phases depicted at the same time (pumpkins would come much later in the season, as would fully grown corn).

I once heard a story that went sort of like this: "My grandfather was a farmer, working the land for food. My father worked on someone else's land and bought food from other farmers. I buy my food at the store and hardly think about who worked the land. We've lost our way. But my grandchildren, they will again work the land for food."

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Racism - Silence is No Longer an Option (Start planting seeds in your own backyard)

By Claudia A. Fox Tree
Painting by Claudia A. Fox Tree

I grew up with my parents telling me I was Indigenous and German, spending my early years in Germany and schooling years (elementary through university) in New England. They planted seeds. I can't help how, where, and when I was born or to whom. I can't even say I had much of a role in what I was taught in school. However, I can grow my knowledge with proper "nutrition." This nutrition includes reflecting on my heritage and filling in the gaps of my knowledge so I understand the past, the present, and the future. I also can grow my empathy, advocacy, and willingness to work on equity. One of the most important things I can do is notice my areas of privilege, even if "relative" to others in my identity groups, so I can use it to create change, be an ally, and, as Frederick Douglass says, agitate, agitate, agitate.

My family of German heritage did not participate in sending people to gas chambers (but they could have, and other families might have this in their own history). In fact, my mother was hiding in basements from ally bombs. She talked about the horrors of war almost every day of my childhood. I grew up learning a little about the holocaust, but not much in school. So, I educated myself with books, movies, and by talking with people. I have friends who are Jewish and have attended observances and celebrations. They have been some of my strongest allies, particularly in confronting inequitable holiday/ observance policies in our local school system. I even traveled to Germany and visited sites and museums related to WWII history. I acknowledge that some Germans did commit atrocities and that I have benefited on the basic level of having a German parent who survived something that killed 12 million people. I also have a grandfather who was college educated, owned a home, and had a job as an academic. I recognize that WWII Nazi leaders ordered atrocities and that these leaders should not be remembered and heralded as "great" through such things as statues. Instead, accurate, truthful history needs to be memorialized and told through the voices of survivors, actions of allies, and presence of resistance movements.

Moving forward, I can see that justice needed to include making amends to people who lost their property, health, and family members. Creating equity meant building support systems to help people with this particular trauma integrate back into society. I can see the need for  institutional/ governmental help, so concentration camp survivors could "restart." That may have included support with finances, medical needs, housing, travel, clothing, education, etc. Anti-Semitic laws needed to be rewritten. There is a need for empathy, compassion, and seeing the human dignity in each other. Rebuilding community after destruction is essential. I am not saying Germans were not affected by the war, or didn't work hard, my mother was certainly traumatized and worked hard for her Doctorate, but having family or herself in a concentration camp was not one of her traumas or one of my family's legacies.
As an anti-bias, anti-racist, social justice educator, I have learned that it is important to "name it," so we can see it, talk about it, and do something. Now imagine over 500 years of trauma and you have Indigenous people in the United States. Why do we statues of Christopher Columbus when he initiated genocide?

Get it? That's how racism works in the United States and why we need to do something, anything, within our own spheres of influence. We all have power to start somewhere with education, acknowledgement, and recognition, even if we start with our partner, sibling, cousin, or child. Then we can move toward equity and justice for other populations. We need to "start local" before we can "go global."

Silence shows acceptance. I am not asking you to apologize for what your ancestors did or didn't do. I am asking you to notice and acknowledge your unfair advantage based on racism and request that you do something to make it right, such as, taking down monuments to colonizers and murderers, removing Native American mascots (and mascotry), demanding inclusive curricula and complete, truthful Indigenous history in schools, and advocating for Indigenous Peoples' Day. Otherwise, the racist ideas of superiority prevail and are reinforced from generation to generation, which is what has happened.

Silence is dangerous. When we are taught what racism is, to notice it, to see its damage, and how to dismantle it, through school and media, then we can talk about it and address it. When I hear , "I just don't know what to say or do" or worse, "But that's not racism" or "racism is over," then I know we are not ready to have an honest conversation reflecting on this country's racist history and taking ownership of our part in dismantling it, therefore, you appear to be willing to leave with its advantages, while I live with its disadvantages and systemic institutionalized oppression.

Silence shows ignorance. There is a gap in knowledge between what white people know about racism and what People of Color know. There is a gap in knowledge between what non Indigenous people know about racism and what Indigenous people know. Do you know truthful, complete, and accurate history about Indigenous people? Do you understand the impact of treaties, the construction of dams, and the creation of national parks? Do you understand Indigenous culture? Can you name Indigenous contributions from past to present? Do you only know Indigenous allies who helped white people or can you name role models who helped Indigenous people? There are People of Color and Indigenous people who have internalized inaccurate information and either believe the stereotypes about themselves, or believe if they work hard, they can achieve "like everyone else." Let me remind you that it did not matter how much or how long or how hard women protested for the right to vote, they were not getting it until a man changed the law. That's why we need to learn about our own systemic advantages, so we can see the inequities and support change.

Silence perpetuates silence. As you learn, teach others, so that they can learn to speak up and take action and so you can grow your allies. To this day, most people say they are uncomfortable talking about racism and/ or avoid the topic altogether. The silence of my friends is palpable and painful.

Silence is violence. Racism is about power and intersects with many identity groups. The news media does not talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women, which has reached epidemic proportions. Violence to the land allows fracking and pipelines to disrupt the natural environment and threatens to damage water supplies. Silence about this damage leads to Indigenous protests which rarely make the news. The Dakota Access Pipeline started in the summer, and awareness of this particular pipeline didn't hit national news until December. Violence to land is violence to the body. Uranium and coal mining has increased the rates of cancer and other health ailments among Indigenous populations.

After formal education, I grew my own knowledge with different mentors, resources, and conversations. Start by planting a few seeds and trees in your own backyard and the forest will follow.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Everything is Political

By Claudia A. Fox Tree

Sketch by Claudia A. Fox Tree

For the record, everything is "political" - from what is taught, seen, and heard to what is not. For example, omission of accurate, truthful, complete history of North America in our schools is a political choice. Lack of discussion about justice movements and resistance - a political choice. And the "politics" are set up by those in power.

It is not about democrats or republicans, it's about racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-antisemitic, able-ism, etc. and THAT power and privilege transcends political parties. It requires a person to be willing to accept that they have learned misinformation, openness to dismantle and relearn, and ability to self-reflect, thank the teachers, and make actual changes that bring equity to all (and perhaps reconciliation and/ or compensation or just holding up to the darn treaties!)

"Mascots don't offend me" (But they should!)

By Claudia A. Fox Tree

Sketch by Claudia A. Fox Tree

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ~Frederick Douglass

Not all opinions are created equal, nor should they be. There were "opinions" that women shouldn't have the right to vote, own property, inherit land, work, marry while being a teacher, get custody of children in a divorce, get a divorce, etc. These "opinions" were institutionalized as laws and cultural codes/ rules. I think we can agree that opinions like "women should NOT have rights" and "women SHOULD have rights" are not equal in weight. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to the conversation of historical oppression when folks are seeking equity and justice?

The opinion that "slavery should not end" does not have the same weight as "slavery should end." These are issues of human rights. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to the conversation of seeing humanity in others, and as not seeing people as a stereotype or object?

Opinions that the Earth is flat versus round don't carry equal weight because one has science to back it up. There is sociological and psychological research showing the damage of stereotyping for EVERYONE, not just the group being stereotyped. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as the stereotype also affecting your own humanity and community?

This isn't an "in my opinion, broccoli is better than carrots argument" which really is YOUR personal opinion. This is about systemic, historical, and institutionalized unfairness couched as "opinion." Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to you, personally, but relevant to the public display denigrating a group of people, most frequently without adequate counter narratives?

Most people don't think "white• folks" are all like the Simpsons or Family Guy because they can see that those shows are the exception and there are many, many examples of white families for comparison. In institutions, like schools, legal settings/ laws, publishing houses/ books, and movies, reflect back successful people, so there is never a question of having comparison role models and images for white people. That is not the case for Indigenous people and other people of color, and their families, culture, and history. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as an irrelevant  comment, since it is essential that stereotypes be removed, especially in the absence of positive images and history?

Opinions that "I've never seen racism" are not evidence for racism not existing. If someone says, "I've never had a house fire, therefore they don't exist" we would all see that statement as ridiculous. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as not relevant to the conversation because it is just as ridiculous to enter a debate with someone who believes it doesn't exist because it doesn't impact them, even though it clearly has affected others.

It is just as important for non-targeted people (those not represented in mascots, statues, images, etc) to eliminate stereotypes. Aren't they allies? Besides co-creating a healthy community, these images create implicit bias by associating "Native Americans" with "warlike characteristics, etc." In the absence of accurate information, those biases become the only association and then emerge and affect decisions like who to hire, fire, give raises, find guilty in court, include in school curriculum, etc. Why can't "Mascots don't offend me" be seen as a way to maintain a status quo, reminding everyone of who is in power, and putting Indigenous people in their place? "Mascots" are part of preserving a racist history and not part of creating an equitable community.

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. ~Frederick Douglass

* I use the word "white" in conversations about race for several reasons, including that signs and laws said "Whites Only." This is a conversation about racism, so that's the word to use. Racism, as defined by David Wellman, is "a system of advantage based on race." System means not individual acts of meanness and prejudice, but institutions and cultural rules.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Anti-Racism: Including the Indigenous First Nations Perspective

By Claudia A. Fox Tree
Sketch by Claudia A. Fox Tree

Thanks for asking about anti-racist books related to Native Americans. Unlike other oppressed peoples, many books about Indigenous people are not written by Indigenous people. In addition, many professors in "Indigenous" study departments at colleges and universities, those who write academic books, are also not Indigenous. Can you even imagine a Black studies department without a Black professor? Or Jewish studies without a Semitic professor? By Indigenous, I mean, Native American, American Indian, and First Nations of North and South America (though I prefer talking about specific people and their specific tribal nations). I will say that I am more familiar with North American resources. I have picked important topics instead of specific nation stories (though some of those are in the mix, too). There are many, many more books, if/when you want to learn about a specific tribal group.

Indigenous people who write tend to tell stories and don't always "spell it out," so the reader has to do some work, which is made more difficult because most people have very little understanding of Indigenous history and culture, so EVERYTHING seems to be new learning, and that’s a lot to process. To understand “storytelling,” I recommend reading Thomas King or Lori Alvord.

There is no "perfect resource" - not a book, person, documentary, nothing. You have to have many experiences and resources in order to understand nuances and specifics about anything, but when you go from no knowledge to some knowledge to really wanting to educate yourself, I feel it is important to remind people that this is WORK! You will need to unlearn and dismantle most of what you "learned" and think you know about this country's history and its original people. Plus, books are not written as anti-racist this and anti-racist that. You need to understand history, in order to understand culture, and so that you can even somewhat interpret what is happening now. Period. Sometimes, you'll learn about one or three specific tribal nations, and sometimes it will be general (many nations) across "Indian Country."

Indigenous People will sometimes write/ understand the same things differently. This is obvious in the "real world," however, when there is so little accurate information out there, it is more challenging because most people are only reading/ viewing one or two voices/ resources about Indigenous people. Just remember the Indigenous people are speaking from their own research and experiences. Even this list is informed by the questions I am asked, the places I've traveled and lived, and feedback from others who read the books I recommend.

Here's some places to start with categories I think are important, moving from my "read first" suggestion down within each category. I have read/ viewed/ listened to all these, so it is a "curated list" of my favorites, resources that informed my own thinking, and those by Indigenous authors. Of course there are many more resources, but as you can imagine, it is hard to get emotional energy to dig into a new book when much of the history is so traumatizing and triggering for me. (I also have a do not read list which includes 1493 by Charles C. Mann and Gun, Germs, Steel by Jared Diamond - which are my litmus test for racism - "if you recommend then, then you haven't done enough work").

Also, I didn't include specific resources on identity, though it is embedded throughout. That's "next level work." However, I want to remind folks that many Indigenous stories are mixed with other racial/ oppressed groups: Black (New England, Southeast, Caribbean); Asian (West Coast, Hawaii); Latinx (Southwest, South America); and more. After all, we have been intermarrying and creating community together for 500 years.


  • ** An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  • ** “All the Real Indians Died Off” and 20 Other Myths About Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes) 
  • ** The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by Andrés Reséndez (Mexican)
  • ** A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies by Bartolomé de las Casas – more books about 1492 here on my blog
  • ** The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative by Thomas King (Cherokee) – though all his books are great
  • American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World by David E. Stannard
  • The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens
  • 1491 by Charles C. Mann – but NOT his second book, 1493
  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer

  • ** Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Potawatomi)
  • ** Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford
  • * *The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing by Lori Alvord (Diné) and Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt
  • Extraordinary American Indians by Susan Avery and Linda Skinner

Resistance (environmentalism, protest, food sovereignty, etc.)
  • ** As Long as The Grass Grows by Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Colville Confederated Tribes)
  • Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States: Restoring Cultural Knowledge, Protecting Environments, and Regaining Health by Elizabeth Hoover (Mohawk/ Mi’kmaq)
  • This Land Is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony, and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving by David J. Silverman – more book about Thanksgiving here on my blog


News Sources


  • ** All My Relations with Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) and Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation)
  • Uprooted: 1950s plan to erase Indian Country Podcast About the genocidal Indian relocation and termination policies of the US government in the 1950s and 60s. At the time, "blackness" was defined by the "one-drop rule," but "Indianness" could be washed away in just a few generations through intermarriage with whites. More black Americans meant more workers to exploit. Fewer Native Americans meant more land to take.
  • Growing up Indigenous when u don't look it (20 min)
  • Here are more First Nations and First Nation Women podcasts, but I don't listen to them all

  • Bitterroot by Abena Songbird (Abnaki)
  • Durable Breath: Contemporary Native American Poetry by John E. Smelcer (Alaskan Native/ Ahtna) & D. L. Birchfield (Chocktaw), Eds.
  • No Parole Today by Laura Tohe (Diné/ Navajo)
  • Rainbow Dancer by Heather Harris (Metic/ Cree)
  • Columbus Day by Jimmie Durham (Cherokee)
  • Sculpted Stones by Victor Montejo (Maya)

Articles (think of these as focusing on white privilege or non-native privilege and cultural appropriation)

Children's Picture Books
  • We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom (Anishinaabe/ Métis) and Michaela Goade (Tlingit/ Haida)
  • Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard (Seminole) and Juana Martinez-Neal (Peruvian)
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle's Back: A Native American Year of Moons by Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) - he has many, many books
  • Giving Thanks: A Native American Good Morning Message by Chief Jake Swamp (Mohawk)
  • The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter (not Native)
  • Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Muscogee - Creek)
  • Pow Wow by Linda Coombs (Wampanoag)

Novels and Young Adult
  • There, There by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne/ Arapaho)
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
  • Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card
  • Soaring Spirits: Conversations with Native American Teens by Karen Gravelle (not Native)
  • The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)
  • Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown (Dorris Alexander "Dee" Brown)

Films, Movies, Documentaries
  • ** Dawnland
  • Native America (PBS 2018) Native America in the Classroom – Lessons with clips from film
  • Smoke Signals (Indigenous actors, producers, directors) – two young Idaho men with radically different memories of Arnold Joseph, who has just died, road trip to retrieve Arnold's ashes
  • Edge of America – New teacher is asked to coached female basketball team on a reservation)
  • The Fast Runner – Two brothers challenge the evil order: Amaqjuaq, the Strong One, and Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner. Atanarjuat escapes running naked over the spring sea ice
  • Leonard Peltier (90 min, 1970s)
  • Trudell – Movie about this activist
  • Crooked Arrows (a little campy, but great conversation starter, Indigenous actors) – About the origins of lacrosse, filmed in Massachusetts



TED Talks, Short Films, etc.

Music/ Songs: a mix of songs in indigenous tongue, English, and vocables (the importance of Indigenous languages):
  • AIM Unity Song 
  • Wishi Ta and other songs by Brooke Medicine Eagle.
  • Sharon Burch has several YouTube videos. I love “Colors of My Heart”
  • Crystal Woman is also great, and Who Will Speak is one of my all time favorite Indigenous songs
  • Indanee by Pat Humphries is beautiful
  • Here is a good, simple song for Columbus Day
  • Prayer Loop Song by Supaman shows Hip Hop sound “layering” 
  • Why also has a Jingle Dress Dancer
  • Stand Up is about DAPL
  • Blackbird by The Beatles sung in Mi'kmaq by Emma Stevens
  • The Climb by Miley Cyrus sung in Mi'kmaq by 10 year old Kalolin Johnson
  • Gentle Warrior (featuring Devon Paul and Thunder Herney) by an older Kalolin Johnson

For Educators: These are books more directed at people who are teaching and looking for curriculum

Some of these overlap with the list I have elsewhere on my blog

Allies to First Nations can do the following:

  1. Get into the habit of making tribal land and nation acknowledgements.
  2. Listen to Indigenous voices.
    • Talk to elders in the community.
    • When working with First Nations Indigenous People (and other marginalized groups), “yield the floor.”
  3. Integrate history and culture into curriculum and/or daily lives (or conversations around specific holidays/ observances).
  4. Read books by Indigenous authors. Do your research.
    • Learn about real role models and Indigenous contributions.
    • Learn about Inequalities that still exist and that resistance is ongoing.
    • Learn the real history of Indigenous People.
  5. Attend Indigenous events (even virtually).
  6. Join organizations – Support organizations advocating for Native American communities.
  7. Donate to Indigenous organizations, legal defense funds, etc. (even small financial contributions go a long way).
  8. Follow Indigenous groups on Facebook.
  9. Become aware of stereotypes and campaign (or at least talk) about dismantling them.
  10. Consume media and art created by Indigenous People.
  11. Advocate for a more inclusive, truthful school curriculum.
    • If you are connected to a school, advocate.
    • If you are connected to media sources, educate.
    • If you have political access, speak up.
  12. Take care of the environment – Beyond recycle, reuse, reduce, and compost, build a reciprocal relationship with the earth’s beings.
  13. Share what you learn – Bring your community, students and family along on your journey.