- By Levi Rickert
Opinion. On the morning of the 4th of July, I was reflecting on the duality of being both a citizen of the United States and Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, my tribal nation.
These days Native Americans talk a lot about decolonization. I contend Native Americans cannot undo 500 years of colonization. That is why I pondered—and even appreciated—the duality of my citizenship this week. We have come too far to totally decolonize what is today’s America.
At a recent Anishinaabe Student Leadership Camp at Grand Valley State University in my hometown, one of the themes was decolonization. During a session that I led, I told the students that you can talk all day long about decolonization, but I am not willing to give up microwave popcorn that comes out perfect every time. Yes, I know that our ancestors have been making popcorn for a millennium, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy some modern conveniences. While we can always work towards adopting the ways of our Native ancestors to come into harmony with who we are as Native people living in contemporary society, we will never be completely decolonized.
So, we live in a modern world where we should push for things that are important to us, such as ensuring that non-Natives understand we are still here and they even are taught our history. This is important so that non-Natives understand why we think and act in the manner we do.
Our history lets us know we are survivors. Our tribal communities have endured hostile environments and attempts at genocide that sought to wipe out entire tribal nations. And, when that did not work, the federal government took our children from their familial homes and put them in Indian boarding schools.
Last year, the Federal Indian Boarding Initiative Investigative Report provided a glimpse into the deliberate intention of the federal government to disrupt the Native American family structure through assimilation. The 106-page report says the government’s plan involved the permanent breaking of family ties. The report says the government’s plan involved the permanent breaking of family ties. Today, Native Americans remain in modern society burdened with the historical trauma associated with this history.
I thought about these things as I pondered a request I had received from a friend who teaches at Wayne State University. This friend asked me to endorse the effort for the City of Detroit to adopt an ordinance that Indigenous Peoples Day be celebrated as a paid holiday for its city government employees. The vote will come before the city council on July 11, 2023. I am told there is some resistance even though the city has already adopted Juneteenth as a recognized holiday.
For decades, I have been a proponent of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day.
Growing up, I was not taught the lesson that Columbus really was a lost sailor who was heading in a whole different direction than the western hemisphere.
I was also not taught Columbus actually never set foot on the land that is now known as the United States.
Nor was I taught of the atrocities that Columbus and his men perpetrated on the innocent Indigenous peoples in the western hemisphere: the raping of Indigenous women, the thievery of goods, and ultimately of the land. No, what I was taught was a constructed false narrative that began in elementary school about how “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and that he discovered America.
From early childhood as a young Potawatomi boy, I began to view history from a different lens than my non-Native classmates. Native Americans reject the notion you can discover land where inhabitants already live.
So, Columbus Day was a federal holiday that I felt uneasy about as it approached each October. Even as a child, I felt sick for the portrayal of Columbus as a hero, knowing our country’s constructed history was a hoax.
Author Jack D. Forbes writes the following in Columbus and Other Cannibals: “I will argue that we can compare the commemoration of Columbus with the doings of the neo-Nazis organizations in Europe and the Americas, groups which commemorate the great dates of Hitler’s regime.
“The difference is that the neo-Nazis are a minority and their commemorations usually do not receive much attention. The followers of Columbus, on the other hand, occupy seats of power throughout much of the Americas. Their holidays are national ones, often imposed on their respective societies.”
I appreciate the duality of my citizenship. In contemporary times, it is time to add balance to who we are as we co-exist in this country. It is proper that the City of Detroit honor the 30,000 Native Americans — dual citizens like me — living in metropolitan Detroit and all those others whose lands were taken from our ancestors.
Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.
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