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I am Indigenous First

I'm tired of my Indigeneity being leveraged as a political bargaining chip. I'm waiting for the day that colonialism dwindles in the palm of my hand, and blacked out with a stroke of my pen. This system was never designed to serve my ancestors, and it still struggles to serve this generation of Indigenous people. Treaties are still broken, and many of my relatives still lack access to adequate resources.

The world is full of cookie cutters of corruption. I'm not feeling very "love, peace, and equality," with my fellow Americans at the moment regarding recent political transitions. I do not expect everyone to understand the nature of my cynicism. There is a time for peace, and a time for rage. Sometimes peace can be in vain, and rage can be justified. I will not know peace until children are reunited with the parents, health care programs for low income marginalized communities are properly funded, and the lofty promises made by political candidates are kept. Until then, I will rage against complacency. There will be no peace, until the monsters among men reveal themselves from the shadows of appropriated democracy. We will not be able to "rebuild" this nation on a faulty foundation.

During the 2020 presidential election, the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina was promised federal recognition by both political candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump. We've been frighting for the resources that come along with full federal recognition since the 1956 Lumbee Act. Federal recognition should have always been a bipartisan issue within the constraints of this western political paradigm. Indigenous rights have never been before considered a Republican or Democratic problem, because members of both parties occupy offices, wrongfully placed on our ancestral lands. We know who we are as Indigenous people, and we don't need the our perpetrators to tell us who we are. We know what we lay claim to as original tenants of this land, and we know the magnitude of the debts owed to us as Indigenous People and rightful inhabitants of Turtle Island.

The Lumbee Recognition Act passed the House as of November 2020, but did not make it through the Senate in December 2020. Although, this largely resulted from a lack of cohesion amongst members of the Lumbee Tribe to have one orchestrated effort to address Congress. While we continue to have these divided factions of individuals and their supporters pop up through our community, the powers that be can remove their hands from the operating cross of the marionette; for they no longer have to control our demise. We expend our energy fighting each other with our differences in political views and strategies, while simultaneously forgetting the existence of our shared arch nemesis, who sits amused in the front row of the theater.

Meanwhile, on the puppet stage with us are other Indigenous Nations conned by the same political institution. The Eastern Band of Cherokee has historically thwarted Lumbee Recognition, based on the notion that we would take too many resources from the same funding source that the 574 federally recognized tribes pull from. It is disheartening to see our relatives adamantly working so hard against us, because of a "lack" mindset. Instead of keeping non-federally recognized tribes unable to receive necessary resources that we are owed by the colonial institution, we should be demanding an increase in funding being funded to Native American Nations, so that we don't feel as if we are fighting each other for bread crumbs. This doesn't just happen by lobbying in state and federal legislatures. We also have to make sure that we encourage our tribal leaders to apply pressure to the U.S. and state governments, and we must show solidarity as Indigenous Nations.

Some say that the constant battle for Lumbee recognition is served justly because of the way some of us have treated other state and non-recognized tribes in the state of North Carolina. There is a trend that those who have been abused and mistreated have the tendency to abuse and mistreat others. Even the Eastern Band of Cherokee have had their legitimacy questioned by some of our Western dwelling relatives. There is a possibility that we all need to take a seat at a table and hash out our beef all at once.

Healing starts at home. As Lumbee people, we have to reduce factions and become one major force, and we would be one to reckon with. As North Carolina Indigenous Nations, we have to have conversations about how to move forward so that we do not continue to move backwards. As Southeastern Woodland People, we have to fix our relationships with other tribes in the Southeast and Northeast. The People of the East have to work with the People of the South, West, and North to eradicate this culture of lateral violence. Lateral violence is but only a product of colonial violence that arrived in this hemisphere in 1492.

Movements to uplift Indigeneity do not stop at the U.S. Borders. We have relatives in Canada, Mexico, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and all over the world. The Indigenous People's Movement is a global endeavor against colonial terrorism and ecological racism. As we awaken and unite, we will realize that our numbers are much greater than the evil forces that work against us. Our greatest assets to this movement may be people who have been framed as our greatest adversaries, but we cannot allow colonial constructs of identity to dictate who we consider family. Blood quantum and physical appearance do not determine how Indigenous a person is; our path determines that.

Are you connected to your Indigenous relatives?

Do you practice the ancestral ways?

Have you figured out a way to incorporate your resistance to colonialism in your day to day?

These questions can be difficult to answer if your tribal leadership or community refuse to accept you based on the color of your skin. Even if you are rejected, no one can take your identity away from you. No tribal card, amount of beadwork or traditional clothing worn, or knowledge of language or songs can define the spirit and blood that lives within you. Tradition is important of course, but we must recognize the privilege of knowing language and songs given a complex history of varying levels of trauma.

Denying those who lost culture to white supremacy and colonization, is denying the beginning of our story as Indigenous people. The People of the East took the first hit. We are all descendants of those who survived genocide, but time played a crucial role in how much some of our ways survived. Nonetheless, we are still here. What we have lost, we find again with courageous curiosity and with the help of spiritual messages that we cannot always put into words for others. We rebuild what we have lost with our elders leading, and our generation leads the charge on innovation and reclaiming who we are in present times.

We talk about a revolution, but we need to take the steps to prepare for one. We need to stop showing our hand before our opponent has dealt one. We reveal our next move for our enemy to see, only to be struck down by our desire to live in glory in the illusion of the American Dream.

Before political affiliations, educational titles, or positions of power in the Western paradigm,

I am Indigenous first.

We have been called something else.

I am everything else second.

Prayers and medicine. Photo by: Gustavo Rodriguez, Walk In Beauty Photography.

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