In what has become something of an Erstwhile tradition, contributing editor Kerri Clement highlights a collection of Indigenous popular culture links, all of which feature history in some form or fashion. Let’s descend from the ivory tower, pick up the headphones or the cookbook and explore contemporary Indigenous culture during Native American Heritage Month and throughout the year.
Musician Frank Waln (Sicangu Lakota) has been on my playlists for the last several years. If you haven’t heard his work before, I highly recommend his 2017 album “The Bridge.” However, his latest release “My People Come From the Land” exemplifies Waln’s phenomenal skill in sampling and mixing styles, while retaining and uplifting raw and genuine emotion. Listen to this album straight through and experience Waln’s master storytelling as each track builds and changes on the form set by the previous song.
While this next album isn’t all that recent (2014), I’ve been listening to it on repeat for months. I’m a bit of a bluegrass nut and when I discovered this album by Swedish-Sammi artist Maxida Märak with the Downhill Bluegrass Band I geeked out! Märak, more of a hiphop artist by trade, takes Sammi tonalities and language and layers them with bluegrass instrumentals and the results are an amazing mixture of genre-defying music. Make sure to listen to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” and “Várálasj (Dangerous).” Her songs, in addition to her work, demonstrate the power of music as a tool for Indigenous activists across the globe.
Books and Op-Eds
The first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Creek), has published a new book, An American Sunrise (2019). History plays a leading role in this book of poems, which Harjo weaves with her personal history to create a rich tapestry of meaning that challenges the reader to consider contradictions side-by-side (including by playing with temporalities) to account for the historical in their everyday lives.
An American Sunrise – Joy Harjo
A stunning new volume from the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, informed by her tribal history and connection to the land. In the early 1800s, the Mvskoke people were forcibly removed from their original lands east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma.
It might seem a bit odd to list a cookbook, but Sean Sherman’s (Oglala Lakota) work in “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” is worth mentioning because of Sherman’s dedication to revitalization of Indigenous food pathways. Historical stories and foods play a critical role in Sherman’s work and I can’t recommend this cookbook enough. It highlights Indigenous foods and recipes, which in turn serve up a hearty dish of decolonial foods for the readers. From braised bison ribs to stewed berries to trout with roe, Sherman’s recipes will delight all readers while highlighting opportunities to rethink a colonized relationship with food. I also highly recommend his 2018 piece in Time, “The Thanksgiving Tale We Tell Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate the Holiday.” Sherman’s reflection on his complicated relationship to Thanksgiving celebrations challenges his readers to think about their own relationship to the holiday and Indigenous history. Sherman entreats his readers to consider Indigenous history, “No matter where you are in North America, you are on indigenous land. And so on this holiday, and any day really, I urge people to explore a deeper connection to what are called ‘American’ foods by understanding true Native-American histories, and begin using what grows naturally around us, and to support Native-American growers. There is no need to make Thanksgiving about a false past. It is so much better when it celebrates the beauty of the present.”
The Thanksgiving Tale Is a Harmful Lie. As a Native American, I’ve Found a Better Way to Celebrate
The story of the pilgrims and the Indians was fabricated to create division instead of unity-so instead, let’s focus on what we share: food.
In the realm of op-eds, scholar Phil Deloria (Dakota descent) has just published a piece in The New Yorker, “The Invention of Thanksgiving: Massacres, Myths, and the making of the great November Holiday.” Deloria applies his well-honed writing skills to the cultural and historical problems of the Indigenous relationship with Thanksgiving, including the harm of the myths and “half-thoughts” of the holiday. Give this a read to disrupt American narratives—I know I intend to use it in future classroom discussions.
The Invention of Thanksgiving
Autumn is the season for Native America. There are the cool nights and warm days of Indian summer and the genial query “What’s Indian about this weather?” More wearisome is the annual fight over the legacy of Christopher Columbus-a bold explorer dear to Italian-American communities, but someone who brought to this continent forms of slavery that would devastate indigenous populations for centuries.
Historian Kent Blansett (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Shawnee, and Potawatomi descendant) and friend of Erstwhile published an op-ed in the Washington Post addressing the 50th anniversary of the Alcatraz occupation. “How Alcatraz became a powerful monument for indigenous peoples” provides an important overview of the history of the Alcatraz occupation in 1969, as well as the consequences, which continue to reverberate throughout Native America and the United States as a whole. Blansett summarizes the importance of the Alcatraz occupation stating that, “The spirit of the Alcatraz occupation lives on in the next generation of indigenous activism, from the Idle No More movement to the Water Protectors at Standing Rock and Native Hawaiian protectors of Mauna Kea mountain.”
For more Indigenous-authored books, I highly recommend this blog post by Kaitlin B. Curtice (Potawatomi) “25 Books By Indigenous Authors You Should Be Reading.”
This year, I wanted to highlight Rebecca Nagle’s (Cherokee) Twitter feed. As a part of the hashtag #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth, she produces daily Twitter feeds addressing significant Indigenous histories. For example, she has addressed Indigenous sovereignty, Cherokee history, two-spirit history, and language, to name a few.
Nagle has an unmatched ability to provide a critical overview of complex and difficult topics in easy-to-access language. I highly recommend that you follow her on Twitter and follow all her daily history lessons in the month of November.
Rebecca Nagle has also produced a podcast I’ve been glued to all summer. “This Land” follows the developments in the case Carpenter v. Murphy or Sharp v. Murphy, which could decide the fate of almost half the land in Oklahoma and involves five tribes in the state. Nagle provides a critical perspective on the case and her historical narrative is heartfelt and informative. I cannot recommend this podcast enough. Nagle guides her listeners through the intricacies of federal Indian policy, Indigenous sovereignty, and Indigenous history while grounding the analysis in personal stories that bring home the potential consequences of the case. You will be glued to the series, eager to hear her updates on the on-going case.
“All My Relations” is a podcast produced by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) and Adrienne Keene (Cherokee) with the goal of exploring Indigenous relationships—“relationships to land and place, to a people, to non-human relatives, and to one another.” This podcast covers a variety of topics and includes a plethora of guests, but Wilbur and Keene’s sharp wit and unapologetic honesty ground the conversation in a very real sense. These women are confronting contemporary and historical issues affecting Indigenous people.
Finally, I wish to highlight the photographic art of Adam Sings in the Timber (Crow), particularly his project “Indigenizing Colonized Spaces.” This on-going collection of photos features Indigenous women in traditional regalia within a metropolitan setting, often cities with significant Indigenous history and presence. Sings in the Timber describes the goal of the project is to show “that wherever a person goes, they’re on Native land.” These powerful photographs speak to the ongoing strength and activism of Indigenous women and people, while challenging historical narratives of erasure and assimilation common in American culture and rhetoric.
Photographer Adam Sings In The Timber Wants To Change The Way You See Native America
Crow Fair is unlike any other Powwow in the world. For one, horses and their riders have the right of way on roads throughout the Powwow grounds. It also begins every morning with a parade. Crow, or Apsalooke people of all ages participate, some dressed in traditional Apsalooke clothing like Elk Tooth and white buckskin dresses, others in western wear.
To close, I want to bring to folks’ attention a resource, one I mentioned last year—a “toolkit” to decolonize schools’ often racist depictions of Indigenous people around Thanksgiving, created by Lindsay Passenger Wieck. Look here if you want to help decolonize your local school or other forms of Thanksgiving celebration.