HAPPY NATIVE AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH, aka The Appropriation Season

by E.M. Lunsford

Wait, you didn’t know it was Native American Heritage month? You’re not alone! And until recently, you’d never have known it by the White House declarations.

Native American Heritage Month was begun in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. Until then it varied from a day to a week long in October. It was begun in 1916, when it was just the second Saturday in May.

For more info: https://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/about/

So, how’s it going? Glad you asked! It. Sucks.

First, allow me a disclaimer. I am a white-coded (means I look more white than Indigenous) Cherokee (whose great grandmother was NOT a princess, but more on that later). 

I was raised as white because “it was easier”. I’ve spent a good part of the past 25 years tracing ancestry and reconnecting. In that time, I’ve forgotten more about Native Cultures (plural!) than most non-Natives know. There are also Choctaw, Chickasaw, Mvskoke (Creek), Osage, Delaware, Cree, and Northern Cheyenne ancestors, but for brevity’s sake, and because the connections are unclear, I just say Cherokee. 

I was told my Native blood was “not enough to matter”. It does matter. It matters to me. It matters to our people. But there is a disconnection between my great grandmother and my grandfather, her son. I’m sure he took a lot of abuse for being Native, and he turned away from it. He was white-coded as well, and denied his heritage. He wrote on our family history we were “Irish”. 

Seriously, I can’t find Irish anywhere. 

Great Great Grandma was born before the removal (Trail of Tears). Great Grandma was born after. Grandpa was born in Tennessee, then moved to Oklahoma, where he was to receive the land allotment that Cherokees were granted, but he refused. He also refused to admit to being Native, and somehow escaped the Dawes Roll. It was not a choice, but if you could “pass”, apparently you could skirt that. Somewhere in there, he uprooted the family and moved to New Mexico for a few years, returning to Oklahoma after the Dawes was closed. Therefore, I cannot enroll.

I say this so that you know there are many far more qualified than I to discuss certain matters, but I have something to say, and if you know me, I’m going to say it! I’m not quiet, or nice, which is why I’m always getting suspended on Twitter. May also have something to do with my high blood pressure. Especially this time of the year, that I call The Appropriation Season. It’s bad enough the rest of the year, but (the former) “Columbus Day”, Halloween, Native Heritage month, and Thanksgiving, bring out the worst in the racists and appropriators.

As usual, for Halloween, we had many people mocking us, letting us know they were going to use our culture as a costume and there t’warn’t a damn thing we could do about it. If confronted, they dug in, and really let their racist flags fly. A couple got thrown out of a Shari’s in Lewiston, Idaho for creating a disturbance. They were wearing “Indian” costumes, drunk, obnoxious, belligerent. (They slung) war whoops and racial slurs at the employees who were Native American, most likely from the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) tribe, just ten miles away.

There were arguments from moms that they just could NOT break their little girls’ hearts by NOT letting them go as Pocahontas! I mean, what would they SAY to them? Oh, I don’t know, maybe explain that she was not a fictional character, that Disney film was a lie, and that she was really a young girl close to their age who was very badly mistreated, kidnapped, and taken far from her home? (The details about repeatedly being raped can wait until they’re older, thanks.) Explain you should respect other people and their cultures? 

Oh, yeah, that’s too difficult.

We had others saying they were going to dress all their kids as Indians. We had the “murdered Native woman” costumes, complete with very realistic bullet holes in heads and chests, and fake blood. HAHAHA! It’s great because racism and mocking a demographic with the highest rates of rape and murder is FUN!

Then November first, we had Pamela Anderson, PeTA shill, wearing a headdress and not much else. When confronted, she lashed back, posted a story (by a white writer, of course) as to why it was not cultural appropriation. She also lashed out at award-winning Inuit Throat Singer, Tanya Tagaq, about seal hunting, including a lot of untruths about the value of the pelts, age of the seals taken, and manner of hunting. No, Pammy, they don’t bash in the skulls of baby seals. Meanwhile, she’s trying to push Justin Trudeau to put prisoners on an all-vegan diet. Personally, I think that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. As a staunch vegan, Anderson is supposed to avoid animal products. Apparently, she thinks feathers grow on trees. We also got a LOT of hate from her fans… Slurs that, as usual, Twitter didn’t see as being a problem. Instead of actually listening to any of us, she was busy blocking us. Yes, block actual Native People who tell you “no”.

Note that last comment refers to the same person who claims to be a “Native American Prince”, who is not only a convicted child rapist, but has tried to connect himself to every tribe in North America, including the Anasazi.

Next, we have the occupant of the White House who, instead of acknowledging Native American Heritage Month, decided instead to declare it “National American History and Founders Month”. Only a few days later did he ALSO declare it “Native American Heritage Month”. In case you were also unaware, he is very racist, very anti-Native American. His remarks about Native people can be found online, and include statements such as, “They don’t look like Indians to me!” and claiming our casinos are all mob-run. Granted, some of us aren’t that thrilled with our tribal council members, but they’re (usually) hardly “mafioso”.

We also get to deal with all the remarks of how the white man brought us EVERYTHING. Yeah… smallpox, cholera, syphilis, toxic land, water, air… They also show they have no idea what “sacred” means. Only a few tribes wear the “iconic” feathered headdress, and usually, only men, though some tribes do have women who wear them. Note I used present tense there. We still wear them. In order to wear one, you have to earn every feather. It is the same as stolen valor to wear one you did not earn. But still, we have those “part Cherokees” who claim they’re fine with it. Well, Cherokees never wore those. Not until they were being trotted out in Oklahoma like prize specimens. They’re still not ours to wear. Most equate “sacred” to “ours”, and a common refrain is, “Well, then, give us back your i-Phones!” We also get, “Give back those jeans”, “Your name sounds “English” to me!”, “Go back to living in tipis, then!” Shall we have a little history lesson? Yes, I think we shall! Ready? Too bad, here it comes.

While these same people will demand anyone coming here assimilate to “American culture”, they seem to miss the point that when white people came here, they refused to assimilate to our cultures (again, plural!). In fact, while they stole our food, land, and very lives, they also stole our children, put them in boarding schools far from their families. They were forced to cut their hair, burn their traditional clothing, and speak English. They could be beaten for speaking their original languages. They were also subject to medical experimentation, as we were considered animals, under the U.S. Flora and Fauna Act. Children went in healthy on Indigenous diets, and if they didn’t die, became very malnourished, as they recorded the effects of diet and starvation on children. Children were murdered outright during punishment. They were raped. They were given a poor education. They were farmed out to local families as indentured servants, paid a pittance, which was then turned over to the “schools”. In these homes, they were worked incessantly, often beaten and raped. Children who ran away were either captured and beaten horribly, or died of exposure. Few made it home. 

“That was hundreds of years ago!” they’ll claim. The last residential school closed in 1996. NINETEEN…ninety six. Many still stand, some still used. Most have graveyards on the premises. Some have mass graves with no identification of the children buried there. Some that have been identified have been repatriated. Many are just lost to old records.

In this system, language and culture were lost. Another culture was forced upon us. New names were forced upon us. This is why our names don’t “sound” Indigenous. This is why we only wear our traditional regalia for ceremonies. Those who came out the other side of the boarding school system (boarding school in the U.S., residential school in Canada) were terrified to speak their language, or just forgot. They forgot the ceremonies. And with good reason. If we practiced our ceremonies, we could be imprisoned, until the Indian Religious Act of 1978. 

This is why we hold it sacred. 

This is why we don’t share it with the public at large. This is why we insist on keeping these things for ourselves. But others insist we “must share”. 

Sharing without permission is called stealing. 

It is not yours. This is why we’re upset when you go waving wands of burning sage around (that will be another article). This is why we’re angry when you show off the “dream catchers” you make for Etsy. You don’t understand these things. You just see them as “cool”. You tell us you “love our culture (singular)” or you’re “honouring us”, when we tell you repeatedly we do not feel “honoured”. 

Appropriators don’t like being told “no”. They don’t like, respect, or honour actual Indigenous people. When confronted, they begin screaming about phones, computers, etc, demanding we give all that back.

Okay, two can play that game. We’ll give that stuff back. But you have to give back our land, our clean water, our game, and our food. Oh, food? Yes, 60% of the world food supply is Indigenous in origin. Potatoes, tomatoes, avocados, chocolate, squash (which comes from an Algonquin word), corn, beans, peppers, vanilla… and the list goes on and on. Matter of fact, when the invasion took place on our shores, Europe was in the middle of another famine, partly due to destroying enemy fields. You have to give back snowshoes, tobacco and many medicines. What would “Thanksgiving” be without turkey, cranberries, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, or green bean casserole? 

This game isn’t so fun when you really take a hard look at it, is it?

My pinned tweet says, “They want to kill us and wear our skins. Meaning, they like our “stuff”, our “culture”, but hate us, want us out of the way so they can enjoy our things without being told otherwise.” 

You’ve taken everything from us, leaving us crumbs, and now you want the crumbs. “But who will keep the history of Native People alive?” Oh, I don’t know, Becky, how about NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE? You know, those people you abuse, harass, vilify when you get corrected? 

You whine that we’re not very nice. If all that has happened to us, and is still happening, had happened to you, would you be “nice” about it? We get demands to do the labour for people, take them by the hand, spoon-feed them the correct information, educate them… kindly… while they scream slurs at us and refuse to accept what we have to say. They want the “fun” and “cool” parts of us, but they revile us, demand we go back to the 18th century while they enjoy modern luxuries. They don’t want the oppression, the racism, the hatred, the youth suicide rate (eight times the national average), the rape and sexual assault (these crimes against Native women are ten times the national rate). 

They don’t want to know that Native women and girls are far more likely to be sold into sex trafficking, their murders seldom investigated, or that in some cases, they call it “natural causes”… when they’re found wrapped in plastic and dumped in rivers, or beaten, raped, murdered, folded in half and shoved under a camp trailer. Natural. Causes.

Just today, I was watching a live stream on YouTube by a creator I used to respect. No more. I came in about the time he mentioned Native Americans, calling our “religion” (singular) animistic. When I countered him, he gave me a dictionary definition instead of listening to an actual Native person about our cultures. His other followers dog-piled on me, insulting me, calling me a troll, for daring to tell them they are wrong about our cultures. Instead of listening to me, he demanded answers immediately, faster than I could type, as did his followers, and because I would not gently teach him everything I know in five minutes, he threatened to block me. Typical. When I mentioned we deal with this all the time, they blamed my anger. You have twenty people screaming at you, demanding answers, and you can’t do enough for them, let alone get time to direct them to adequate sources of information not written by white people who think they know better than the people do themselves.

Some refuse to listen to us because we don’t look like their idea of an “Indian”. We’re too light or too dark (especially in the case of Black Indians, or Afro-Indigenous people). They have a Wild West idea of what a Native American is, and supposed to look like, and when we don’t fit that idea, more racism and slurs are thrown our way. 

They took our land, our cultures, our languages, now they want our very identity. Whatever “they” decide that is. Because they have decided THEY are the deciders, and only them. This is our reality, online and in person, every day.

Another tactic is the “part-time Indian”. Those who claim some mysterious Indigenous blood they have no proof of, or worse yet, a DNA test. If we ask them what tribe, they shut down, and the insults come. (Most of us introduce ourselves by our name and tribe(s) – it’s common practice.) 

We get every stereotype of “proof”… the straight black hair, the cheekbones, and so forth. (Funny side story, I was volunteering with a local tribe. They told me the story of a man who tried to claim Indigenous blood by putting his forehead against the door to show it was “flat”, based on practices from some Northwest Tribes of flattening a baby’s head. “You see that? You see that?” I said, “You should have said all you see is an idiot with his head against the door!” He thought they were BORN with the flattened skulls—that it was hereditary!) 

They are often the ones who come in to counter Indigenous voices. “I’m part Indian, and I don’t see a problem with it!” These people either have no proof, some family rumour, or they’ve never tried to connect with the culture they claim to be from. These people are only “Native” when they need to justify anti-Indigenous sentiments. They’re not marking it on their census forms. They’re not discussing it in conversations. They only dust Great-Grandma off when they need to use her to claim they’re not offended. 

As always, non-Natives will listen to the “Native” giving them permission over the voices of those contrary to themselves. You could have one thousand actual Native people saying no. One “pretendian” says yes and that is all they hear. Like the infamous “Annenberg Poll” a certain D.C. team ran. In that poll, about the name of the team, they did not ascertain the people they were polling were actually Native. Just that they claimed “some Indian blood” was good enough. 

90% said they were fine with the team’s name.

Meanwhile, Indian Country Today held their own poll. 67% of people who were more than just self-identified said, “… it is a slur, it is offensive.” Even the dictionary defines it as such, though some will jump through every hoop imaginable to find a dictionary that doesn’t define it as such. 

This is our daily reality. 

They will absolutely deny mascots, costumes, stereotypes, have anything to do with the obstacles and pressures we face. Even showing them actual psychological studies do not deter them from insisting we’re just looking to be offended, we’re thin-skinned, etc. (American Indian Mascots ). Seeing your entire race lampooned, mocked, derided constantly, it, along with historical trauma, causes a lot of harm. But you can’t tell them that. They will demand you do the work for them, give them links they will never read, then turn and say, “NUH UH!” (This is known as sea-lioning).










American Indian MascotsAPA calls for the immediate retirement of all American Indian mascots, symbols, images and personalities by scho…

Also being dealt with constantly, but especially this time of the year, are all the rancid stereotypes: we don’t pay taxes, we get free college, we get “paid for being Indian”, we’re all alcoholics, we’re more predisposed to alcoholism because we don’t metabolize alcohol properly. Let’s shoot these pigeons while we’re here.

  1. We pay taxes. There are some exemptions if you live on your tribal     land, but we still pay taxes. Our casinos pay taxes. They might not be as high as other casinos, but they pay taxes. Loads of them.
       
  2. The only way we get “free college” is if we earn it. Scholarships, tribal funds — we still have to do the work and get the grades, whether it’s a tribal scholarship, or a scholarship designated for Indigenous students. And no, you can’t just “claim” to be Indigenous and automatically get one, either. There is a lot of proof and paperwork that goes into the process, usually. Girl allegedly lies about being Indigenous to get scholarship
       
  3. We don’t get “paid by the government” just for being Native. Some tribes pay their members (usually at the age of 18 and up) a stipend, called a “per capita”, but few tribes actually pay this “percap” (which is also the basis for many a Native joke).     These funds can come from casinos, mineral rights, oil rights,     fishing rights, logging rights, etc. The U.S. Government has nothing to do with it. They’re not just handing us cash just for     being Indigenous. If that were so, my cheques have been lost in the mail for a really long time. Since I’m not enrolled, I would not qualify, and my tribe isn’t a percap tribe, anyway.
       
  4. Studies have shown we metabolize alcohol the same way as anyone else, and     that we are not more prone to alcoholism. It shows that Caucasian people are actually more prone to alcoholism and binge drinking.     But when you have a population that is 62% of the nation compared to a population that is 2% of the nation, it just becomes more obvious.
  5. 5. “Free healthcare”. Yes, we get “free healthcare”, called Indian Health Services (IHS), but often clinics are few and far between. You need transportation, money for transportation, and the clinic may be more than 100 miles away. Clinics are often woefully under-funded and under-staffed. Wait times can be weeks, and emergencies are frequently life-threatening. If you must go to a non-Native hospital, you may be refused, sent elsewhere, treated badly, misdiagnosed, and refused necessary drugs, because of stereotypes of being drunks or addicts. And IHS may not cover the cost, as it was not previously authorized. IHS may or may not cover dental/visual.

We’re not even a week in, and we’ve already had more than enough. And     remember, this is what we deal with on a daily basis, it’s just a little heavier traffic this time of year. So, if there is something you want to know, either find a good online source written by     Indigenous people themselves, or ask actual connected Indigenous people on social media. Despite what many think, we are still here, we do exist in the 21st century, and we know what we’re talking about. 

Just ask kindly. Do not demand that we “must” give you information. We’re humans,     when it comes down to is, of varying temperaments. Ask someone from the tribal culture you want an answer from. Want to know about something from the Dine (Navajo)? Ask a Dine person. And for Creator’s sake, do not tell us you have a spirit animal! 

You. Do. Not. 

Have a happy Native American Heritage Month, enjoy the harvest dinner with your loved ones, and remember to give a thought and a prayer to the blood spilled upon the land you occupy.

E.M. Lunsford is an Indigenous writer who has opted not to use a standard bio. Some biographical details are available in Lunsford’s article on Native American Heritage Month.

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