Celebrating Native American Heritage Month With Native Youth Led Racial Justice

Miss Potawatomi 2019-2020 Kateri Phillips

November is Native American Heritage Month
Guest Commentary

Published November 27, 2019

Bozho gete’i ndezhnekas.  Bodwewadmi ndaw, thigwe mine mbish ndodem. Hello my name is Kateri Phillips. I am a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. I am water and thunder clan.

I am the Racial Justice Youth Organizer Volunteer for the Native Justice Coalition and the current 2019-2020 Miss Potawatomi. I am so thrilled for this opportunity and have always wanted to do work like this. In Anishinaabe community I strive to be a positive role model and to share my voice. When the Native Justice Coalition reached out to me I was so excited because I would finally get a sneak peak of what it is like to pursue my dreams in working for social and racial justice.

To me, racial justice means challenging Native erasure in the media, raising awareness on limited culture and language resources, as well as challenging modern colonization. Equality comes in so many forms and I am passionate about this work. For example, in the Native community, I would like to see more cultural and language initiatives like cultural camps. I feel that it would help make a better space for us in society.

This system was not created with the Indigenous communities in mind. That is where a lot of issues come into play. There is so much work to be done and with that a lot of responsibility falls on our shoulders. Many Indigenous people have to work very hard to make a spot in this world for our culture. In my eyes, one of the highest forms of resistance is to learn your Native language. Language and culture is a large part of one’s identity. When you take away the language, culture comes with it and you take a way of life. In many Indigenous communities our language has been taken away. In my eyes, it is the biggest injustice because we not only face all the societal issues but identity complexes as well. That is exactly the reason why I find it so important to bring it back into our lives. To fight oppression and build up our communities is crucial to bring our people to a place we deserve. Where being Indigenous is acceptable and never looked down upon.  My vision is to see our culture held with greater respect and value in all aspects of society.

One of the best forms of racial justice is healing justice. This is powerful and could help the individual, family, and community for generations.  It is important to heal intergenerational trauma and bring back who we are as a people.  Everyone is needed in our communities and has something to offer.  We can set a good example by being sober, stable, or being a good role model for our children.  When we do that we are stronger warriors in our communities.  We need this healing in our communities to strengthen our Native communities and nations.

Fighting for equality could entail many different things. Some people take these issues and protest. Some may take these issues to the courts. Some take these issues and make art out of it like murals.  All these are great ways to fight for equality and they are all special as well as important.  I feel that we are creating new ways because it is so very needed in our communities. The way I fight for equality is with language and culture which is a large part of our identity. Our language is our culture. In Indigenous communities our language has been taken away because of colonization. Currently, we face culture loss which affects our communities. The history books lie to us and there are stereotypes and hurtful myths in mass media. These stereotypes and myths don’t represent us or our culture. This is why I am passionate about learning the language so for me this is my protest every single day!

Recently I have moved to the Great Lakes region from Oklahoma. Being here is helping me to learn more about my Potawatomi culture. This is where my family lived for generations until we were forced to move down south. In reconnecting with Anishinaabe Aki I started to feel more at home here with the incredible beauty of the land and water.  I learned that being Indigenous means that it is okay to feel at home no matter where I am on Turtle Island.

Anishinaabe people know how to live on this land. We know our medicines, the animals, our geography and so much more.  If we are looking towards a better life on this planet we need to look back on our traditional knowledge and change the way we look at ourselves. We need to recognize our strength and see we are not a conquered people. We are still here and this will always be our home.  Our resilience will always carry on when we love our family and culture. Let’s focus on that and never lose sight of it for the sake of social and racial justice.

With the platform I have with the Native Justice Coalition and my role as 2019-2020 Miss Potawatomi, my goal is to uplift positive imagery of Native people.  I want people to see the value in our language and culture.  I hope to do so with sharing my voice and my views as a Native youth.  Through speaking on racial justice panels or writing songs, I hope it can change our communities in a good way.  I am deeply committed to this racial justice work that is led by and for our people.  I hope my message reaches you and that you support this important work for our people and communities.

Kateri Phillips is a tribal citizen of the Citizens Potawatomi Nation. She is enrolled at Bay Mills Community College learning her neshnabe language and plans to receive a degree in Plant Chemistry. She currently holds the title of Miss Potawatomi 2019-2020 and serves as the Racial Justice Youth Organizer Volunteer for the Native Justice Coalition.

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