Indigenous Resources (To Subvert Your Columbus Day)


I’ve been savoring Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Walls Kimmerer for the past six weeks and I’m still not close to finishing. In this season of transition and busyness, Kimmerer’s poetry mixed with scientific observation and Indigenous theology is exactly what I need to help me slow down and breathe. I reference this book on a near-daily basis and have recommended it to anyone who will listen.

Recently I was sharing what I had learned with my husband, Frank. We were talking about Indigenous culture and wondering what we could do next as a family. This summer, in preparation for our road trip up to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, we read books about Sacagawea as a family before making a detour to her memorial. This was an incredible activity to do as a family. We all read age-specific books about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Sacagawea’s role in its success. While in Yellowstone, we even found a follow-up novel written from the point of view of Sacagawea’s best friend.

As we raise thoughtful and intentional girls, one of our goals is to remind them that this land is not theirs. We are living on soil that was taken from its earliest inhabitants.

Columbus Day is today in the United States and Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. Frank and I were wondering how we could honor these days as a family. What can we tangibly do to recognize our role in the injustices of the past and how can we thoughtfully move forward in the work of restoration?

Even though our school district doesn’t observe Columbus Day as a holiday, I want to be aware of its recent reach in our society. (And, many areas still do celebrate it.) If anything, it reminds me to start thinking about Native American Heritage Month in November and all I can do to start preparing for that. (I did suggest skipping Thanksgiving altogether this year and this was quickly vetoed by Frank. So, we’ll still have pie, but we may also take a few moments of silence for all the massacres that surrounded those early thanksgiving feasts.)

I talked with Kaitlin Curtice about her practices around these particular holidays. Kaitlin is from the Potawatomi Nation and has written this month’s Red Couch selection, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places. (Read our interview with her last fall here.) She offered some suggestions for those looking to move into these days with intentionality.

1. Read books by Indigenous authors.
Kaitlin has compiled a list of 25 Books by Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading. I’ve read a handful of these books, so this is a great place for me to start as I expand my own repertoire.

Heart Berries by Terese Mailhot is a raw memoir about finding her own identity in the midst of abuse, dysfunction, and PTSD. For fans of Roxane Gay’s writing, I’d recommend starting here.

One Church, Many Tribes by Richard Twiss was a Red Couch selection a few years ago. This is a fantastic book if you’re looking for those links between Indigenous theology and Christian faith. His reminder that God is with the first nations is powerful.

Kaitlin recommended a Louise Erdrich novel that I have not yet read but Erdrich is one of my favorite contemporary novelists so I am definitely adding The Round House to my list!

Kaitlin also recommended Dr. Debbie Reese’s website, American Indians in Children’s Literature. This page is a treasure trove of resources and reading lists that I’ll be digging into more as I think about holiday gifts for our girls.

2) Visit Indigenous Sites
Our school district has a week-long fall break right after Columbus Day. We’ll be in town for the week but another of Kaitlin’s suggestions is to visit Indigenous sites. Here in Colorado, there are many places we can visit that would be better road trip excursions: Mesa Verde National Park, the Sand Creek Massacre Site, and Canyons of the Ancients National Monument are all places I’d like to take the girls when we have more time. But right around the corner from us is the Plains Conservation Center, where I used to take my second grade class. Here, we can learn about the Cheyenne tribe who crossed through Colorado as well as the homesteaders who settled their land.

3) Buy Indigenous Artwork
Our home is filled with original art from our travels and friends. Displaying artwork on the walls of our home helps tell our family’s story and reflects our values clearly to our girls and our guests. You’ll see prints we bought in South Africa, photographs of the Tetons, Slot Canyons, and Rocky Mountains. You’ll see giclee prints of Clyfford Still drawings and needlework from my grandma. Art tells our story. As Frank and I were talking about ways to incorporate this act of restoration into our home, art came to mind. So, we’re on the lookout for pieces we can display from local artists. I’m a believer in the idea that art comes to you when the time is right, so I haven’t done a lot of research on this but am committed to staying alert to fairs and exhibitions.

Above all, stay aware.

Kaitlin reminds us, “We are the holders of our knowledge, and the problem with American history and culture is that it’s been told by the view of whiteness. It has erased our voices, but we are still here, and it’s never too late to learn. So read our books, our poetry, buy our jewelry, read news from our news sources. The more you see Indigenous peoples as living, breathing sources of our own stories today, the more you’ll realize how important we are to American society.”

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