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Indigenous Peoples Day: Heroic Origins

In my coming of age story, most pages are filled with rediscovering knowledge that was stolen, rewritten, or withheld from my people. Indigenous communities across the world often find themselves stuck on a loop. We've been down bad and discounted. We've had to overcome internal hardships that have disrupted our journey to success. Many of us have been robbed of teachings about our traditional ways of life in this colonial world. There has been a great deal of pain that pairs with a longing to know more. Through the stories of our elders, family members, information from historians, and hidden messages in our dreams, we are expanding on bits of information from the past and creating new stories together for our future.

River spirits. Wearing J. Okuma's Dentalium Butterfly skirt wrap. Photo by Cierra Grisson- Celestial Consciousness

All of this is for the sake of finding our true power. In order to unlock our physical potential, we have to go against the norm to find enlightenment. Part of our miseducation is not emphasizing that Indigenous people come in all colors. Indigeneity is defined by an individual or collective group's relationship with the land. Native Americans are only one category of Indigenous peoples; Indigenous populations include people with brown, red, black, yellow, and white skin from across the world.

We live in an age of detachment. People have been deprived of the opportunity to connect to their ancestral lands, either through removal, enslavement, or generational manipulation. In this generation, it is evident, by the current state of Mother Earth, that some of humanity has lost an appreciation for the land they occupy. Honoring Indigenous Peoples Day is honoring Mother Earth. Even if you don't have an ancestral tie to the land you stand on, you can still respect and acknowledge the people who do have a sacred connection. Mark Charles, Independent Presidential Candidate, compares settler colonialism to being a rude guest in someone's house; taking for granted the hospitality of the host.

Despite the common belief that Southeastern Native American tribes are "extinct," I had the luxury of growing up in a predominantly Native American community in Pembroke, NC. My mother always filled me with stories. At Pembroke Elementary School, I was taught to "Bee all I could Bee," and had some wonderful teachers, who celebrated our county's Indigeneity by reading us stories. At Pembroke Middle School, my teachers brought in Native writers and artists for assemblies and readings. In 6th grade, a Lumbee woman came in to read to us a poem that she wrote about the Lumbee River. I remember her words resonating with my spirit, and then, when I transferred schools away from home, I had a rude awakening.

I went to a predominantly white private school from 8th to 12th grade. The academics were great, and I had wonderful teachers there as well. However, I faced some hardships relating to some of the other students. At first I was teased for my Robeson County accent. I was very shy and didn't talk much until later in the school year. I was uncomfortable, and felt lost in class sometimes. I began feeling anxious in some of my classes. Thankfully, my history teachers empowered me to offer my knowledge about Native people when we covered our history in class. Later I realized later that there was so much more to learn than the one chapter that covered Native American people in U.S. history especially. This one chapter only covered a few Plains tribes. There are nine tribes in North Carolina, and yet there were no regionally specific or local tribal history lessons in our high school curriculum. During World History, I listened to the colonial stories, that my teacher recounted for us, championing the subduing of Indigenous populations across the world, with the exception of the Holocaust. Their stories were just like ours in the sense that they were told from one perspective.

By my side. Photo by Cierra Grisson- Celestial Consciousness

The lower school kids still dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians, and every November there was a dreadful Thanksgiving assembly. With the help of my mom, my brother and I, the only Native students in the school, took over the Thanksgiving assembly. I told the story of a jingle dress that was made for me, and danced. I didn't know how to articulate my feelings of disgust and disdain for epistemicide and colonization at the time. I had crippling social anxiety, and I felt completely weighed down by the burden of speaking for all of my ancestors and living relations at an extremely colonial institution. Years later, I found out that some of the students and teachers thought it was pointless and stupid. They said that my brother and I were more Black than Native anyway, and that we weren't "real Indians." All of this was behind my back of course. My spirit suffered there. I became emotionally dysregulated, and my only escape was through sports, and the support of friends, who felt the same way because of similar circumstances. I was popular because I excelled at sports, but I never felt like I truly fit in because of the dormant fire inside of me. In retrospect, I'm glad that I never did.

Classmates tried to justify to me that colonialism was the best thing that ever happened to my ancestors. We were tamed, and we wouldn't have access to the technology and infrastructure that we have today. I didn't have the words to respond at the time. I never thought about it, because I never had to think about it. Now, I would answer by saying that Indigenous societies were some of the most advanced societies in the world, and minimalist nature of using resources actually benefits Mother Earth. We more than likely wouldn't have the types of ecological catastrophes that we're seeing today, if an Indigenous mindset was applied to extractive and industrial industries. Ironically, I'm thankful for these uncomfortable conversations, because I learned how my opponent thinks. I know how they move, and therefore I know how to counter their attacks.

In college and grad school, I began to find my voice. I met like-minded people, who questioned the dynamics of our existence. I started creating homes away from the Black Water in Robeson County, with people from all around the world. With new stories and perspectives, I could brainstorm ways to bring medicine home to my people. So many of my Lumbee peers are on a similar journey. We leave, and we come back as a resource. Through healing ourselves and overcoming adversity, we come home stronger and move to strike injustice with precision and purpose. We're ready to dismantle systems of oppression, and to create our own systems that genuinely benefit our people.

On this day we celebrate Indigenous Peoples' resilience. As we collect the breadcrumbs of knowledge our ancestors left for us, we are led to a great spiritual awakening. With an abundance of wisdom, no amount of attempted murder, enslavement, or theft can keep us from our destinies.

Instead of "getting rid of the Indian problem," a generation of infiltrators and system-slayers has, inadvertently, been created. Dowsed in flames, we come out unburned. Our resilience is our superpower, and the prayers of our ancestors are our armor.

Together, we are all unstoppable.

Follow me. Photo by Cierra Grisson- Celestial Consciousness

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