The month of November is Native American Heritage Month! This month is about learning (and unlearning), celebrating, and honoring Indigenous people, their history and presence today, and their ancestral land in which we still occupy under settler colonialism.
Below you will find inspiring words from YMN’s Executive Director, Mark Saint Amour (they/them/their). As well as a list of resources in which you can learn more, act on, and continue sharing and uplifting Indigenous Voices. We encourage you to use these resources, share them with your community, or promote them in your network!
“Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in this country. In order for that to happen, there has to be awareness of the past, an acknowledgement of the harm that has been inflicted, atonement for the causes, and action to change behavior.”
– Willie Littlechild – The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
Words from YMN’s Executive Director, Mark Saint Amour!
As someone who is Mexican Indigenous (Coahuiltecan descent), stories and narratives are deeply important to me, my culture, my spirituality/religion, my ancestry, and my life in general. So, as we are in Native American Heritage month and just coming out of Thanksgiving/taking, I thought it would be fitting to share a story with you from my personal life and follow-up with the formal land acknowledgement that we shared in our last newsletter.
If you have ever been in a meeting with me, beyond noticing my amazing multi-colored nails and assortment of rings, tattoos, and makeup, you may have also noticed my background, which appears as if I am in the middle of the woods, under some random porch roof. Most people assume it’s a digital backdrop – it is not. I currently live on the occupied and unceded land and ancestral territory of the People of the Three Fires: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Bodawademi, which under settler colonialism is known as Saugatuck, Michigan, and for the past year and half, without fail, I have taken all my meetings outside on the 5 wooded acres me and my family tend too.
Indeed, it is a covered porch, but it is not enclosed. So, if you happen to catch me in the summer you may see beautifully green birch trees, flowers, blossoming rhododendron trees, and if you are lucky, maybe some rabbits hopping right within feet of my sun filled laptop camera.
If it is the fall, you’ll see all the leaves changing colors, squirrels fighting over acorns on the branches behind me, and I may even be visited by the family of turkeys that are so used to seeing me outside, every day, in the same place, they’ll walk right up to me. Usually I have our family pug Jeffery by my feet who the turkeys are also used to, so much so, that Jeffery doesn’t even bark anymore, he’ll just look, go to bark, and then just put on a sad face knowing his noises will be ignored, and will pout between my legs as the turkeys walk by without a care in the world (it’d be kind of sad if it wasn’t just so hilarious). These are the good months that are filled with color and life and warmth.
Then comes Lake Michigan effect winter and freezing early spring. If you are in a meeting with me in the middle of winter, you may see a barren wasteland of gray frost and wood, a wind so strong you can hear it in my microphone, and a chill you can almost feel through the camera. And there I am, putting on a carefully curated scene within the camera window, wearing my same jean jacket, smiling and talking as normal, as if I am simply superhuman and completely accustomed to the sometimes negative temperatures. I am not. What you don’t see is the space heater that is right next to me, my heated tea mug, the electric blanket just out of view of the camera, and the battery powered heated hoodie that is keeping my blood circulating under all the layers and layers and layers and layers of clothes.
However, what you may also not see is the snow floating down to earth as if every flake was carefully placed there with love and intention, the peaceful cognitive dissidence of the music the silent forest plays, and the glimpses of white tail deer. You may not see it – but I do. It is a natural beauty that no summer or fall scene comes anywhere near matching. Somedays I just sit there, sipping tea, crying at its wonder. A wonder I would’ve never seen or experienced if I was taking my meetings inside. Even looking out the window feels more like watching something on television than it does being in it, immersed in it, a part of it, one with it.
Which brings me to spring and the actual story I promised you. This past spring the birds were so used to me they were literally landing on my laptop. I couldn’t believe it! I was speechless! What was happening and where were all these birds coming from! I was SURE something abnormal was happening. One day, after sitting on it and gathering the courage for weeks, I shyly asked the smartest person I know, my Ph.D. partner, who said something so profound it still strikes me today. They said, “Nothing abnormal is happening other than you’ve started to pay attention.” Let me repeat that – “I started to pay attention”.
I take all my meetings outside for many, many reasons. Working from home sometimes blurs the work/life balance, so working outside creates both a figurative and literal barrier between the two. As someone who is neurodiverse it is helpful to me to have moderate temperature shocks to my body to help me manage the way my brain works. But mostly, it’s so I pay attention to the earth, to nature, to the flora and fauna all around me. This Native American Heritage month and beyond, I urge you to start paying attention – I think you’ll be surprised by what beauty lays there. And now, a formal land acknowledgement:
In our time today and beyond, we must begin to center those who have been historically oppressed under settler colonialism and white supremacy, recognizing the very real violence and harm that has been done, and that is still happening today. It is imperative that we uplift and hold, that much of our work is founded upon that oppression, the exclusions, and erasures of many queer, trans, two-spirit, Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC), and other intersections of historically marginalized identities and communities on whose occupied land we live and work. We carry on their hidden stories through embodied practice. It is our hope that this acknowledgement demonstrates a commitment to support Indigenous visibility and sovereignty while recognizing the labor of Black enslaved people that went into working the land and building the infrastructures white systems continue to profit from today. We are committed to do the work of dismantling these systems and frameworks of settler colonialism and western imperialism whenever possible. We name this unlearning and relearning as work, because although change may begin with words, it must be followed through with actions, and that is the work we commit ourselves to doing, today and beyond.
Thank you so much,
Mark Saint Amour (they/them/their)
Mexican Indigenous of Coahuiltecan descent
Use This Link to Schedule a Meeting
Resources for Native Youth
- We R Native – We R Native is a multimedia health resource for Native teens and young adults. The service includes an interactive website, a text messaging service, and social media. We R Native addresses the social, structural, and environmental stressors that influence adolescent health; with particular focus given to the prevention of suicide, bullying, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, and drug and alcohol use.
- We Matter – We Matteris an Indigenous, youth-led organization that addresses health inequities around suicide rates, addiction rates, and more by connecting Indigenous youth with messages of hope, strength, and culturally grounded healing. We Matter also creates and distributes materials designed to encourage and support Indigenous youth and those who work with Indigenous youth. On their website, you can find various school activities and a teacher toolkit, as well as inspiring videos and artwork for Native youth.
Listen to Indigenous Voices
While we observe & celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ history and culture. We must also continue to uplift and support their voices. Take time to support, uplift, and learn from Indigenous voices. Not just today, but every day!
- Indigenous Movement Organizations
- Native Justice Coalition – Two-Spirit Program – This Two-Spirit program engages in decolonizing gender roles and identities within our Native and First Nations communities. They work to restore gender balance through honoring the entire gender spectrum that exists in our communities.
- Indigenous Environmental Network – IEN is an alliance of Indigenous Peoples whose Shared Mission is to Protect the Sacredness of Earth Mother from contamination & exploitation by strengthening, maintaining and respecting Indigenous teachings and natural laws.
- NDN Collective – NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power. Through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grantmaking, capacity-building and narrative change, we are creating sustainable solutions on Indigenous terms.
- Great Plains Action Society – Great Plains Action Society addresses the trauma Indigenous Peoples and our Earth have faced and works to prevent further colonial-capitalist violence through education, direct action, cultural revival, mutual aid, and political change
- There There – a book from Tommy Orange, is a wondrous and shattering novel that follows twelve characters from Native communities. Written by Tommy Orange, who is a graduate of the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. An enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma, he was born and raised in Oakland, California.
- An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States – a non-fiction book written by the historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States describes and analyzes a four-hundred-year span of complex Indigenous struggles against the colonization of the Americas.
- Our History Is the Future – a book by Nick Estes, In Our History Is the Future, Nick Estes traces traditions of Indigenous resistance that led to the #NoDAPL movement. Our History Is the Future is at once a work of history, a manifesto, and an intergenerational story of resistance.
- Media & More
- Indigenizing Love: A Toolkit for Native Youth to Build Inclusion – This resource toolkit was developed for and with young Native leaders. It was written to support Native youth, tribal communities, Two-Spirit and Native LGBTQIA+ collectives, community leaders, and partners who intend to better understand and support our Two-Spirit and LGBTQIA+ communities.
- This Land – a podcast from Crooked Media, is an award-winning documentary podcast about how a string of custody battles over Native children became a federal lawsuit that threatens everything from tribal sovereignty to civil rights.
- Bioneers Indigeneity Program, Videos, Podcasts, and Radio Shows -Bioneers is an innovative nonprofit organization that highlights breakthrough solutions for restoring people and planet. Founded in 1990 in Santa Fe, New Mexico by social entrepreneurs Kenny Ausubel and Nina Simons, they act as a fertile hub of social and scientific innovators with practical and visionary solutions for the world’s most pressing environmental and social challenges.
Acknowledge the Indigenous Lands You Are On
The land we live on is stolen land; Native Land Digital is a resource where you can search your address or click around on the map to see the relevant territories in a location. By clicking on the links, you will be taken to a page about that nation. There, you can view sources, give feedback, and learn a little more.
Attend a Local or Virtual Event
Tribal Nations are always putting on events to educate and celebrate indigenous voices and history. Take some time, research, and find out if there are any local or virtual events celebrating or sharing Indigenous Peoples’ voices! A great place to start would be to take a look at the events listed on the official Native American Heritage Month website or on the National Park Service calendar.
Be sure the events are led by Indigenous People themselves.