Indigenous People’s Day and the stories we must tell

This Monday was Indigenous People’s Day, a refocusing of Columbus Day. 

While in Minnesota last month, I had a morning to walk through the Minnesota History Center in Saint Paul.  I spent the most time in the exhibit Our Home: Native Minnesota.  It focused on the long history of the Dakota in the region, and the shorter history of the Ojibwe, who migrated from the East to the Great Lakes, making their way to what is now Minnesota in the 1600s.      

Walking through the exhibit called to mind the book Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  The author, Carolyn Fraser, begins by detailing the Dakota Wars of the 1860s, laced with broken promises from the US government to the Dakota.  This era included the largest mass execution in US history, approved by President Lincoln – the public hanging of 38 Dakota men.  The relocation of the Dakota opened more land for White settlement, including several of the homes of Laura Ingalls’ family.        

Not seeing any displays on the Dakota Wars, I asked a museum guide if I was missing something.  She noted there was a full display in another section of the museum, but that the Indigenous leaders who designed this exhibit wished to focus on the strength and beauty of their history rather than the tragedy. 

A similar theme surfaced several weeks ago when four of us from CMC met with Ty Smith, the Executive Director of NAICCO,  The Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio.  In telling their story, Ty started with pre-colonial times and quickly jumped to the 20th century.  I couldn’t help but comment that he had skipped over a world of pain.  He noted that healing from trauma is an ever-present part of their reality and that an important part of this is telling a different story to themselves about who they are.  Not merely victims or “angry Indians,” in his words, but a resourceful community committed to caring for one another and celebrating its gifts. 

You can give directly to NAICCO’s Land Back campaign HERE.

In following up with our antiracism focus on Sunday, it seems that this journey can look very different depending on where you stand in the overall story.  For some of us, it looks like becoming more familiar with the violent history that has led to where we are now and coming to terms with this part of our inheritance.  For others, all too familiar with this legacy, it looks like finding the joy, the beauty, the resurrection power that persists. 

It might be the both/and of this that can open the way for a new chapter altogether.