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Little Thunders— Decolonization isn’t a metaphor

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In the early days of Spring, the Indigenous New Year, I met with a group of Native leaders from all over Turtle Island (North America), each of us from a different Tribal nation from Iñupiaq to Seminole. Our nations differed, but our minds were in the same place.

Gatherings like this have been happening with increasing frequency during this time of racial and political unease; whether virtual or in person, we are working on telling our own stories, in our own words. Our hearts lifted as we talked about the important creation stories that have been gifts in our lives. Not colonization stories. None of us had a story of how we hoarded wealth or stole land, claimed resources, or had a divine right to accumulation.

For my people of the Eastern Woodlands, the Anishinaabe, there are rich and beautiful stories of how we came from the earth, as soil carried on the back of a giant sea turtle. Other origin stories tell about the people of the dust from stars, or the first daughter of the corn that grew from rocky terrain. These stories are to be experienced, not read from a page or an article, but instead delivered with voice or through ceremony, with music, rhythm and in close connection. It is through these relations that we experience where we come from and who we are.

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The story of Indigenous people, if you were to ask an average American or even a scholar, is likely a repeat of lies. Colonization has distorted our origins, our stories, and our depictions. Early documents, like the Declaration of Independence, called us “Merciless Indian Savages,” which is no different from the beer-soaked sports jerseys with an image of a red-faced, feathered caricature.

Colonization has lied about where we came from. The ridiculous, and frankly inadequate, tales include the Bering Strait migrations, the big-game hunter “overkill” or the theory that Native Americans are descendants of recent migrations from Asia or Africa; or that we came from giants. I’ve heard many of these notions, these lies, most of which aim to fit a colonized agenda. If Indigenous people are less than human, not legitimately from this land, then it must be up for grabs? I don’t accept this.

There is a mistaken notion that Europeans came to this land and created a civilization. The truth is, Indigenous people from Turtle Island (North America) are diverse, sophisticated, innovative, have been here much longer than 14,000 years, and came from all directions, including the stardust and the soil. Our stories go beyond just the beginnings of our people; we are of the Earth herself.

The people who created the original lies about the Indigenous, the colonists, aren’t alive any longer, but the system they left in place favors a few, and not for the benefit of the many — certainly not for the benefit of future generations. In my group of Indigenous friends, we sing a poem that reminds us that we can never rely on a future to be handed to us by the hands of our oppressors.

Indigenous people were gifted a future. This gift is what makes us unlimited, and boundless. This gift is the soil that we came from. Colonization can tell nasty lies, can steal the land and put up fences, crisscross the terrain with freeways and shopping malls, carve white men’s faces into our sacred rocks and cut down all of the trees. Colonizers can come at us with all the tools of occupation, to try to erase us, to eradicate us, to colonize us. But no one has the power to kill what made us — we are still here, in the soil. It is what gives us life and remembrance of who we are and our oneness with the Earth herself. Decolonization is remembering that this is our home; this is Native land — and that’s a fact.

*The writer belongs to the Anishinaabe people from White Earth Nation and is an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe from the Ottertail Pillager Band of Indians.

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