Photo credit: Diana Bermudez
What comes to mind when you hear the term Indigenous Peoples?
Is it thoughts of long-vanished, ancient cultures? Perhaps the kind of civilizations that you can only read about in history books or study the remnants of at museums?
Or does the phrase bring to the surface feelings of admiration and empathy? Maybe it even activates treasured memories of experiences with living, breathing, persevering human beings with a rich heritage and wealth of wisdom.
If you’ve been tuning into our social media over the previous few months, we hope your answer to that question is closer to the latter.
On the heels of a tsunami of knowledge spread on Indigenous People’s Day (and magnified by Native American Heritage Month in November), we’ve sought to raise awareness about the issues faced by the descendants of those who survived massacres and the scourge of colonization. By amplifying their knowledge and experiences, we’ve been allies in shedding light on crucial social issues such as: the epidemic of missing/murdered Indigenous women, land theft, and cultural genocide through whitewashing and appropriation.
Now, in this new year of opportunity, it’s a great time to reconnect with the Native causes closest to our hearts and create a plan of action for allyship. Here’s a recap of 3 things everyone should know about Indigenous Peoples.
1. “We’re Still Here"
How would you feel if people spoke as though you no longer existed?
Especially while you were living, working, and fighting for all the world to see.
Aboriginal Australians, Native Americans, Indigenous African tribes and other Indigenous Peoples..they’re not mythical relics of a bygone era. They all continue to live and persevere despite all that’s been done to them over the centuries.
For example, here are some staggering stats from The Meraki Story:
Indigenous women face murder rates that are 10 times the national average
In 2018, there were 5,712 known incidents of missing Indigenous women but only 116 registered with the DOJ
Homicide is the fifth leading cause of death for Indigenous women
Suicide rates for Native American women in 2019 were up 139% (USA Today)
Native Americans are three times more likely to have diabetes and having a life expectancy that is 5.5 years less than the US average ( US Department of Health)
And yet, the knowledge of their traditions and awareness of their struggles for basic human rights has continued to progress. In spite of generational trauma, the destruction of their homes, theft of their land, pollution of their water, and the continued killings - they persist. Their distinct cuisines, customs, music, dance, art and stories have a worldwide reach.
2. Thanksgiving Is A Colonizer Holiday
There’s a familiar saying: “History is written by the victors.”
But can we agree that there’s no victory in a series of massacres? No honor in the theft of lives, land, and natural resources? No gratitude in the cleansing and burying of entire histories and traditions? Because that’s what Thanksgiving was and is a continuation of in the eyes of First Nations.
Thanksgiving wasn’t the genesis of unity between settlers and the Wampanoag people. Nor was it the focus of some mutually beneficial cooperation between the invaders and natives. In fact, some Native American tribes consider it an official Day of Mourning. A reminder of either a celebrated genocide or evidence of the willful indifference to the truth of those times.
Indigenous voices say it best. Project Native Hope shared this quote from the United American Indians of New England:
"Thanksgiving day is a reminder of the genocide of millions of Native people, the theft of Native lands, and the relentless assault on Native culture. Participants in National Day of Mourning honor Native ancestors and the struggles of Native peoples to survive today. It is a day of remembrance and spiritual connection as well as a protest of the racism and oppression which Native Americans continue to experience."
Lastly, giving thanks (regularly, spontaneously and w/o obligation) is a central tenet of many older civilizations. It is a decidedly more sustainable and rewarding tradition than a whitewashed and commercialized Thanksgiving holiday.
3. Land Loss & Land Defenders
How much land has been stolen from your family? From your people, country, or even you individually? For First Peoples the world over, being dispossessed is a common (even expected) narrative. Generations of their children are born into this fight and are raised to continue reaching for what’s rightfully theirs as stipulated by numerous treaties.
This struggle to reclaim what was taken and hold on to what remains affects all of us. Why? Because the deeply ingrained lifestyle of harmonious, balanced living with the environment makes them among the best stewards of the natural world. From the Amazon Rainforest to Native reservations across the United States, communities organize to keep both countries and corporations from extracting resources from the land in a way that harms our habitats for the worse.
Mind-altering fact: One-third of the world’s remaining intact forests are found in Indigenous regions, according to Amazon Frontlines. So, as true defenders, they have a vested interest in preserving the land itself along with their legal rights to it. Those efforts protect us all during a time when our planet is facing a climate crisis. The original inhabitants are defending land and helping the world avert environmental disaster.
What Now? From Awareness To Action
Change is happening.
Battles are being fought on countless social and environmental fronts.
How can we be silent now that we know the scope of what’s at stake and how many lives are tied to these causes? In closing, here are a few guidelines on how to get started:
Be more aware of the history of your home, the land it’s on, the people who were there before.
Find out (directly from Indigenous sources) what’s specifically being advocated for in your area and how you can help.
Listen to those who live everyday with the fallout from centuries of heinous, unrectified wrongs that are continuing on a daily basis.
Let’s use our power of privilege. In our homes, at work, and through socio-political organizations in order to affect real change. Speak up and be an active ally.
Join in solidarity with Native causes. Through education, empathy, understanding, and actions we can transform their struggle into our fight.