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Village Life

Little Thunders — Honoring ancestral brilliance

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Every fall I’m enamored by my garden harvest of squashes, beets, and those last thick greens. The beauty of this time of year reminds me why it is so vital to honor my ancestors by keeping the traditions that have been passed down through the generations, and by keeping alive the skills they passed along. The memories of the fertility of this land are still within our bones, inside the marrow, which gives us the strength to survive and stand tall and proud of who we are.

Let us not be solely defined by our intergenerational trauma of resistance to the colonial project of the past 500 years, and instead, be animated by our ancestral brilliance that echoes through our bodies. Native American Heritage month reminds us that we are not a conquered people.

Our magnificent teachers are all around us, from the stars to the webs of roots deep beneath our feet, and all of the cultural survivors that carry the bundle of treasures that drives our resolve. What makes us beautiful and exquisite as Native people is that we have such diversity of cultures and relationships with one another. Artists, dancers, traditional weavers, scientists, gardeners, musicians, craft makers, medicine people, keepers of the way of life and the sharers of knowledge.

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The idea to set aside this time each year was first defined by Arthur C. Parker (Seneca), the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y., in 1912. He felt it was important to share the brilliance of our diverse cultures with others and marked a national day to celebrate Native heritage. Parker later went on to help found the National Congress of the American Indian.

Over the decades, there have been a variety of other Native people who led celebrations of our Native heritage, from the Rock Your Mocs movement and National Day of Awareness of MMIW to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. There are an equal variety of opinions about why the U.S. chose the month of November to celebrate Native American heritage — and the most obvious reason is Thanksgiving and the myth of the Wampanoags and the pilgrims sitting down for a big turkey dinner together. For us as Native people, it is a complicated month that also includes mourning, grief and remembrance.

The reality is that our ancestors have long celebrated the coming of the fall season, the abundant harvest, the sharing of our foods, our cultures during this time. I imagine that my ancestors were just as enamored by their harvests as I am still today. I’m reminded by the story about how we gain our knowledge.

The seeds and the land show us the pathway. Each seed that is planted courageously and blindly develops in the darkness of the soil, transforming into their fragile bodies. Their innate wisdom shows them what they are to become, and they move toward the light, growing, budding and then eventually sharing their nourishment with the world. These seed teachers use their creativity and innovation to completely transform, and we are indebted to their graciousness and bounty. But mostly, we are indebted to their story and their wisdom.

May we each choose to find a place inside our own selves, where we may have stumbled and forgotten along the way, to appreciate the wisdom that lives within us. Fill those chasms with the blessings of this harvest season, the sharing of our cultures, and the ancestral brilliance that lives inside. We carry a bundle of treasures handed down to us and we owe our descendants a bundle that is in better shape than we found it.

*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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