Today, biological families and families of necessity gather and give thanks for a diversity of things. When I was growing up Thanksgiving meant a day spent driving between parents houses or their surrogate locations and heart-heavy phone calls where someone wished we could spend more time together. I would fight the urge to eat my emotions in the State-sponsored cover-up of the historical trauma inflicted upon my people. I have a complicated relationship with today. It’s a jumble of historical trauma, family ritual dysfunction, & eating disorders.
“Hey woman, today is the day when we Indians get to be served by the white man,” was something that my grandfather would poke my grandmother with on Thanksgiving. My grandfather being full-bloodied Pawnee and my grandmother a white farmer’s daughter from Missouri. He meant no harm in this. It was his way to engage the hurt and trauma he experienced as a child and young man growing up in a nation that wanted what he had but did not want any part of him.
He was born in the early part of the 20th century to proud parents of noble heritage. Before his 3rd birthday his mother would be dead and his father was grieving the loss could not care for his two small children. My grandfather was taken from his father and placed in a system that actively worked to strip the indian out of the Indian.
In this boarding school he was privileged to be introduced to the white man’s ways. He got a world-class education. He played football. He was beaten if he spoke his mother tongue. His hair was cut short as a means to inhibit the savage within. If they could have erased his red skin they would have done that also.
He was also isolated from his family. He never saw his father again. His sister was lost until he was 17 and able to track here down. He was alone for the formative years. All the while he was instructed to worship God, the father, Jesus, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Lost was Tirawa and the Morning Star. Forgotten was the safety of home. He had little to be thankful for, but he was alive and determined.
Meeting my grandmother and finding security and safety in a family of his own, he gave thanks. He bought in to the trappings of traditional recipes of stuffed birds, dressing, and pies. He loved food. Food was very important to him. He drank some but food was his escape.
It seemed as if all of the broken treaties, the beatings for speaking his mother tongue, and the racist fueled oppression was poured in to the art of BBQ’g. He forgot how to express himself. He learned that if he was to survive in the white man’s world he needed to hide the Indian. Tight lipped he pretended he was not hurt. He convinced himself that yesterday did not happen. The longer this charade went on the more he hated himself. Soon, no one could hate him as much as he did. The externalized racism and persecution turned inward. With that drinking and eating became the only escape he could muster.
In our family food was always prime. We may have not had much of anything else. We never missed a meal. He passed that on to my father. At the very least food was not ever to be missed. Food became an award and treat. For good or bad food was a companion.
All of my conversations with my father or brothers center around talk of food. We do not say hello, “We ask what did you eat?” We all are “big men.” We all have difficulty with healthy processing of emotions. We eat our emotions. Happy or sad we do it with food.
Like is said, I have a complicated relationship with today. I do not hate today. I am not against Thanksgiving. It’s just complicated for me.
Today I am thankful and enjoy the company of family and make those same heart-heavy phones calls. I do wish I had more time with loved ones. I do wish that the historical trauma behind the scene of cute little kids dressed as pilgrims and Indians was addressed. I wish that people understood that appropriating Native tribal customs, healing practices, and lore is hurting the same Natives they admire or are infatuated with.
I want to be thankful for the understanding and acceptance that the same horrid actions and privilege behind blackface and other colonial holdovers is connected to the story of Native America. This is highlighted in the on going struggle to get the Washington DC football team to change its racist name. This is also present in the Atlanta and Cleveland baseball teams and in the Chicago hockey team. It is acceptable for folks to appropriate and don characters of Natives to provide for humor, entertainment, affirmation, and support. This will not change until Native America has allies and advocates that are diverse and committed. We need folks that are as committed to peace, compassion, and justice as they are to winning a Super Bowl ring, a World Series, or Stanley Cup.
Until then this day is complicated for me. I seek balance between my polarizing bloodlines, my need to eat and my eating disorder, and my soon-to-expand family and the families that are a part of me. Maybe I am foolish and today will always be complicated. Perhaps, I should settle for two out of three to be figured out. Hell, I’d settle for one of the three to be done away with.
But to be clear, it is never ok for non-Native people to wear “Indian cloths.”
I was 14 years old. I lived in Los Angeles. I had to attend summer school. I am not sure if it was mandatory or obligatory. I think it was my father’s way of keeping me out of trouble.
That summer I attended summer school and then rode my bike to the high school I would attend in order to participate in conditioning drills to prepare my 14-year-old body for the competitive rigors of high school football.
I was tall and still carried baby fat on my hormone exploding body. I wore my hair in a neatly coiffed flattop. I sported a tan. I was a willing and eager participant in whatever I had to do to please my father.
For as long as I can remember it was my dream to play on the offensive line of the University of Southern California. A dream also shared (perhaps seeded) by my father. There was no greater glory than a W for ol’ SC. Weekend rituals revolved around cheering on this West Coast Ivy League School in the middle of poverty.
I would bask in the joy and pleasure of my father’s ritual of adoration in hopes of gleaning a bit of attention. If SC won perhaps I would receive some affection. If SC lost I still may get the attention but it was certainly not all that joyful.
I was a slight, even skinny child in my early years. It was not until I was 12 that I got “big.” In one summer I grew a few inches and put on about 30 pounds. I became a “big guy” and the world was never the same.
The funny thing about being a big guy is that your heart and soul doesn’t always grow along with your body. I most certainly wore my heart on my sleeve and became a target for abuse because of it. Football was a place of intense masculinity. There was no room for wimps, pussies, or f-gs. Football was American and a place where men became men as we manned up to play this tradition-filled game.
The first few weeks of conditioning destroyed me. I was almost brought to tears on several occasions. I would have never cried and given them that satisfaction. I held the hurt in. I ran harder. I lifted heavier. I let my anger stew and diligently worked on become a jock.
In the process of this I worked so hard on the field that I puked almost daily. With unfettered pride I abstained from water breaks. I took on the ledged of Lott, Youngblood, Singletary, Otto, Webster, Lambert, and Butkus. I admired the manliness of these fellas. I aspired to be like them. Pain was weakness leaving the body. Concussions were not even on the radar. We were little men getting trained to become “real” men.
I endured weeks of punishment. I was not vocal like others. I was still feeling this whole thing out. I was isolated, guarded, and very unsure of myself. I was still sensitive and was not responding to the aggression and tough love like other teammates were. We were encouraged to get angry and fight each other on the field of battle. War language delivered us to frenzy. The longer this went on, the further I withdrew from it all.
I wrestled with the insidious nature of violence in the game. I lacked a killer instinct that others had. The coaches sought to fire me up by grabbing my facemask and yelling/spiting into it until they were satisfied that I heard what it was they wanted me to hear. When that did not sufficiently inspire me I would get a clipboard broken across my helmet and yelled at. As a last resort the coach would smack the ear holes on my helmet and stun me as he viciously shook my mask to make his point.
The violence and machismo did not stop there. The players self-regulated each other. A more accurate description was that hazing happened. I eagerly took part in this. I heard from old teammates, “This is what happened to me. It made me part of the team.” So, I endured the harassment. Name calling. The binge drinking at parties. The public humiliation. Then there was the “taking of donuts.” This was simulated rape. If you were lucky you were fully clothed when a group of teammates ascended upon you to simulate a sexual assault in public. You could be in line waiting for lunch and be attacked. You could be waiting for a ride home. You could be on your way to class. Your teammates would corner you and laugh as they passed you around and simulated having their way with you. Many of them joining in, in the hopes that they would avoid having their donuts taking or exacting revenge for having their donut taken.
It was worse if you were in the locker room showering or trying to change. This could happen to you whilst you where naked. This particular action was most feared. It was the kind of fear that is conjured up when thinking about being raped in prison. The younger teammates were always on watch of this attack in the locker room. This egregious endeavor was reserved for those deemed easy marks. Those that were deemed to be wimps, pussies, or f-gs got the worst of it. We learned to be tough and to keep our heads on the swivel.
It took me weeks after my donut was taken in line at lunch to build the courage up to quit. I could no longer endure the harassment. I was not willing to be macho according to their standards. I went to the coach to quit and he refused to listen.
“You got a lot of talent and a big body. Don’t you want to play in college or the pros one day?”
I guess, I said.
I hung my head in shame and agreed to talk to my father before I quit. That night I tried to talk to him and he gave me more of the same shame and regret line that the coach gave me. It ended with me agreeing to stay on for the rest of the year and fulfill my obligation to the team.
I am thankful that the coach did not tell the team I had wanted to quit. That would have exasperated everything. I endured the inspiring techniques of the coaching staff. The name calling. The macho shaming. My soul died inside. I became depressed. I could not quit. The game I had once loved no longer brought me joy. The big body I was blessed with was a prison of performance in a sport I no longer cared about.
I sought a way out. My first thought was to get injured. If I was injured I did not have to play and could bow out gracefully with all the honors of a fallen comrade. So, during practice I tried to break a leg or something. I once dipped my head to get a defender to hit my neck that I might be injured and not ever able to play again.
I slowly fell deeper in to depression. Then I found my answer in an unrequited high school love. When our little romance went sour, my grades suffered and I became academically ineligible to play. The label of dummy was far easier to wear then the label of quitter.
I read about this unfolding incident between Jonathan Martin and Ritchie Incognito I am not surprised or shocked. The behavior exhibited by Incognito and endured by Martin is a staple of professional football on down to the high school level.
I do not have much faith in the NFL and other organizations that support and affirm the sport of football in moving to change. Football is no longer a sport as much as it is a business. If tolerance and an affirmation of diversity in expression, orientation, disposition, ethnicity, or other differing human characteristics is to be received in football there needs to be big and dramatic shifts in the culture of masculinity that pervades the business-sport. If the NFL wants to clean up the league in light of the actions of Incognito then they ought to begin with changing the Washington DC football team name. Then the business of football needs to be done with the understanding that the human cost is real and that the facade of masculinity is damaging some as it gives legal geography for sociopaths and hurting people to victimize others. The fans watching and supporting their teams need to support the change. They need to demand the same kind of dignity in their lives and employers, corporations, governments, neighbors, and citizens all need to value the dignity and humanity of each other. If we want change beyond names and to end the exploitative systems that gnaw at the root of this Nation we need to embrace the fullness of humanity in us all.
I learned to harass, bully, and rib others. It was not something I was born with. Change is possible. I hope we are serious about it.
In the beginning Tirawa created the heavens and the earth. Tirawa supplied for the needs of all of creation. The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from Tirawa swept over the face of the waters. With this wind the Path of the Departing Spirits, known to the White Man as the Milky Way was created. East of the Path of the Departing Spirits is our father, Morning Star, and to the west is our mother, Evening Star.
The earth was filled with many creatures at the hands of Tirawa. There were Creatures that filled the streams and populated the waters. There were Creatures that occupied the air and perched upon the trees of Tirawa’s creation. Tirawa filled the sky with his Creation. The night and day belonged to Tirawa.
All that is or that shall be, is ordained by Tirawa, and the stars are his servants. From the east Morning Star began to pursue Evening Star in order to make love to her, but she continued to elude him. She put obstacles in his path, but continued to encourage him. When they found each other they lay with each other and gave birth to the Pawnee.
The number ten has always had significance for human beings, and this is because Evening Star placed ten obstacles in the way of her suitor. One of the obstacles was in the chaos beneath them. There was an endless sheet of water presided over by the Great Serpent. Morning Star threw a ball of fire at the serpent, which caused the serpent to flee beneath the waves. As the fire hit the water, enough of the water dried up to reveal earth and rocks. From these materials, Morning Star threw a pebble into the sea of chaos and it became the earth.
When the earth was in its proper place, Tirawa appointed four lesser gods to administer it. They were East, West, North, and South. They joined hands at the edge of the great sea on earth and a land mass emerged.
Eventually, Morning Star caught up with Evening Star and lay with her. Soon Evening Star conceived a daughter. When she gave birth to the girl, she placed the child on a cloud and sent her to earth. High above the earth, Evening Star asked Morning Star to water her celestial garden and, as a love gift, he made the first rain.
In the Celestin gardens of Evening Star, there grew a great many plants, including Mother Maize, the greatest of food plants. Evening Star gave maize to her daughter as a gift to plant on the newly emerged earth. Soon the Sun and the Moon produced a son, who married the daughter of Evening Star and Morning Star. Daughter-of-Evening-and-Morning-Star and Son-of-Sun-and-Moon are the parents of all living human beings, as well as the first beings to cultivate maize.
This is the Pawnee story of Creation. There are countless stories of how this world was fashioned. Along with these stories of creation we find stories of great floods, how law was found, and what happens upon death. Story is an important part of the human experience.
Joseph Campbell offers that story is essential to understand the human condition. Campbell tells us that story is how tradition, belief, and ritual is passed on and how civilization, religion, and humanity is fashioned. Where would any religion or faith be without the archetypes of hero, mentor, threshold guardian, herald, shapeshifter, shadow, and trickster?
Is not the purpose of the Bible to awaken in us a sense of awe before the mystery of being. Is this quest of being not the impetus of the wonderment behind the heralded question of why? The story of Creation is central to understanding the purpose and intent of the very life that I, you, and we spend here in this existence. What value does life maintain if absent purpose? What is purpose sans a rooted idea of where we came from?
The story of creation roots us in a way that we may entertain understanding of what, why, and how the universe is shaped and catapults us towards validation of the social order we find ourselves subject to or participating in. This social order includes religious framework.
The religious frame work to which I have been formed is largely Christian. To be more precise it is a folky, conservative, evangelical, charismatic Christian faith that I have experienced my awakening within. The tension of faith, reality, and what lie beyond are real for me. This folky Christian faith was always delivered with a side of Native wisdom and lore. I struggled to maintain a foot in two competing worlds, the Pawnee and the Christian. I was not able to be Indian and… so I hid the Indian within and took it out of the box from time to time.
Story has guided me in life. It has led me through trials and into the various stages of me being. Story has taught me songs of love and the dirges of mourning. Story feeds my soul as it seeks to restore balance within my fettered heart.
In the last few months I have awakened to my Indianness in more profound ways. I have intentionally explored my tribal history, lore, myths, and rituals. I have awakened to the historical trauma that seems to bind Native cultures in one homogenous thread of hurt and anguish. I discovered the soul wound left by this trauma and map out the hurt that connects my name to my grandfather White Plume and countless grandmothers whose names have been lost to history. The whispers of songs unsung for decades and the fading memories of dances long forgotten disturb the sanctuary of my soul, beckoning me to awake and follow.
I am unable to embrace the faith that fashioned me; the Christian faith that brought me comfort and carried me to the peace of my mother’s people. I do not hate Jesus, the creeds, the Table, or the baptism(s) that washed my sin. I am not sure that I can be my whole self within this faith. The faith that was delivered to my father’s people at the expense of culture, ritual, and lore. To my father’s people Christianity is a colonial faith that taught them that they are not human. The fearfully and wonderfully made creation does not include Tirawa’s children. The blessed children began as a wondering tribe from Judah. Tirawa is false and so are his children.
This is my beef with Christianity, is that the normative to which the faithful seeks to adhere to does not include Tirawa and his children. The cultural Christ saves in context but he still covers the “gods” encountered with his blood and the salvific act of redemption always moves us from where we are to another place of where we ought to be. That place (in the US) is abundantly white and privileged. It leads me to wonder, is the Bible capable of holding the ethos, ethics, and determination of all cultures?
At one point in my life I would have said yes. The Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is contextual and therefore meets all where they are at. The problem with, for me, this is that Jesus always disturbs who he finds and leaves them unsettled. Jesus comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comforted. What does this mean for Tirawa and his children?
If I embrace Jesus and this gospel of his, am I also to reject Tirawa and the ways of my father’s people? What then do I do with the abusive gospel that torments and hurts Native America? Can the Jesus that “civilized my people also be the one that saves me? I receive Jesus and I embrace the wonder working blood along with the spilled blood of Wounded Knee, the Long Walk, and the Trail of Tears.
Don’t forget, Tirawa made the heavens and earth as well.
This is White Plume (Kaw), my grandfather.
I have wrestled with my Native identity for a long, long time. I am a third Pawnee & Kaw. My grandfather was a picturesque Indian. Dark skin, think, long, black hair and a voice that sounded like thunder. My mom is short, lily white, and utterly Scot-Irish. My father is a hybrid of my dark skinned grandfather and a mixed race farmer’s daughter from Missouri and Oklahoma.
I grew up knowing I was “Indian.” I had pride in that word. It set me apart from others. It also brought shame. The shame of watching John Wayne and other heroic white heroes shoot and kill savage Indians to protect the God-blessed white folks taming the Plains. When my grandfather died the Indian was made in to ashes and scattered in to the wind. I literally have no idea where he was buried or scattered, outside of “the mountains.” With the scattering of my grandfather’s ashes the Indian in me was put away. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” And with these words I entered manhood at the tender age of 7.
I entered first grade and was gathered in a class with other “Indians.” My brother and I were fair-skinned and blond headed. The rest of the little Indians were largely Mestizo. We all learned to be Indian by making dream catchers out of popsicle sticks, weaving baskets out of paper, and mimicking “Indian Sign Language” from coloring pages we were instructed to color. There was no distinction given to the diversity of tribes. The 500 plus nations were collated in to a single homogenous blob of Hollywood Injun for us to digest and carry on our ancestor’s traditions.
I soon grew out of my Indianness. I was concerned with being accepted. There was no place for a white faced Indian living among people of color. I was not aware of my privilege yet, but I knew that white was better than red any day of the week.
As I aged I became acutely aware of the cool factor Indians had on white culture. Medicine Wolf Woman, the sweat, peyote, and any other pseudo-sacred relic of Native America was coopted to be a part of a new age religious cure. My culture was being marketed to white people as mystic, compassionate, and otherworldly. I could not participate because of my light-skin and blond hair.
I found comfort in the punk movement, then the straight-edge movement, swing movement, political atheism, evangelical fundamental Christianity, and the out right rejection of myself. All the while I consumed and searched for my identity in the form and fashions available to me. I watch Thunderheart, Man Called Horse, and Dances With Wolves ignoring the white savior aspects of them to try and glean any part of my Indianness.
I went to seminary to find the lost part of me. I found that I was lost but it was not of religious concern. That which I found was not lost at all. I found language to speak to the experience I was having. I became awakened to things I had long sense forgotten. Then I continued to fight.
I have been asked how does it feel to have my identity as a Native American be suppressed by the general populace. First, I do not think that the general populace suppresses my identity as much as it has been outlawed by broken treaties, dehumanizing social tactics, and the utter lack of acceptance that the historical trauma experienced by Native America is real and must be engaged in humility and compassion. Secondly, I do not think that the general populace is the guilty party. I believe that white privilege maintains dominance by segregating ethnic minorities in to divided groups fighting for crumbs whilst the white majority enjoys power. As far as the feeling goes, it is like being bound by people you have been taught to admire. You cannot prevent the binding and are then told to be silent as you are bound. Once bound you are set upon with words and deeds to condition you to be grateful for being bound. All the while you see of in the distance your ancestors calling you to dance.
As for some sort of reparation that is owed to Native America…I would settle for the US government to honor the treaties they used to steal, bargain, and rob our land with. There is no doubt in my mind that “America” owes Native America much. We are owed everything. This is our land, our home. We were written in history to be absent and savage. What we were was human. Being human got us slaughtered, removed, raped, destroyed, and dehumanized by a people looking for freedom, liberty, and peace. What do you think the repatriation ought to be?
Commit to 30 straight days. Involve your spouse. If you Involve your children you may endanger them and expose them to risks that will stunt mental and physical development. If you care about your children do not allow them to exercise this challenge.
Do not rearrange your schedule; try to maintain as normal a schedule as you can.
Spend no more than $4.50 per day total per person.
Donate the money you would normally spend on food to a local food bank.
Volunteer at your local food bank at least once a week.
Only buy and eat or drink items that SNAP allows for purchase.
Do not use food already on hand. Donate all allowable food to a local food bank or host a party to serve all food left in your home prior to embarking on this journey.
Include fresh produce and a healthy protein each day.
Use coupons and store-discount programs.
Keep a journal of what you buy and eat for each meal, as well as receipts. Also journal your experiences, focusing on feelings, changes in mood, cognitive ability, or relationships.
As many participants of SNAP are also subject to financial insecurity around paying rent, bills, and other expenses please do not purchase anything unnecessary for this month. If you must purchase anything beyond food then you may but must also donate an equal amount to the local food bank that you are volunteering in.
Lastly, do not tell anyone outside of your home that you are doing this while you are doing it. Keep the journaling private whilst experiencing this. Do not publish anything until you have processed this experience for a few months, still maintaining the weekly volunteering at the local food bank you have been working at.
Advocate for change and educate others on what SNAP is and how it serves the most vulnerable of our population. SNAP is not the lotto game many believe it to be.