I woke up and rolled out of bed--Monday.
But not just any Monday.
Columbus Day Monday.
It's been a weird journey in Akron the last month or so. There was an ordinance proposed to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day and it got shut down before it started. I went with my friend Hannah, because we both care about Native people and we wanted to amplify voice in a context without many Native voices. Unfortunately, the meeting didn't even allow for Native voice to have any stage-time, as inter-council politics and dismissive actions towards leaders of color switched the conversation from decolonization to racism.
To be honest, we need to discuss both in our context, so it wasn't the worst ending.
BUT it still was discouraging.
Meanwhile the Cleveland Indians are in the playoffs the same week as Columbus Day and I'm sitting here still just observing everything unfolding, feeling like I'm watching a movie called "Life in a Colonized Context" wherein the main character is me.
What is life in a colonized context?
I go to exchange the breath of aloha only to be suffocated by plastic leis.
* * *
Katie and I are leading a group of white people in talking about being white.
I think it's the least we can do, really.
I didn't really know that I needed to talk about it until I was sitting in a room full of white friends hearing stories about how some have ancestors in the KKK, some are part Native American, and some grew up in really integrated communities. The more we say "white," the less weird it feels, kinda like when you've been keeping a secret for a long time and you finally start to talk about it.
* * *
I don't really know what to wear on Columbus Day. I'm still salty about the lack of conversation around Indigenous People's Day with the Akron City Council so I want to do something pointed. I think being sassy is my own coping mechanism for life in a colonized context.
Grief is day after day waking up and centering the voices of the silenced.
I wear my Cleveland Caucasians shirt, because it feels right. A caricature of a caricature, bringing light to racism, colonialism, and exposing things for what they are.
* * *
I park my car at Portage Path CLC and get out. I see the Northern Cheyenne Nation with their regalia gathered on the sidewalk and my heart leaps--I am home. Last week at CCDA in Detroit I got to meet up with Lisa, a Native sister, who spoke about her aunt telling her that she would be living in two different worlds. I often feel this way about myself, the deeper I get into working in decolonization. I speak two languages which are two worlds, two worldviews, two operating systems. It's not as binary as that, though--it's much more nuanced and layered. I am in-between many worlds, serving as a translator. Many call this intercultural work. I call it following Jesus.
I slowly approach the masses of children from The Lippman School and Portage Path CLC. I beeline straight for the Northern Cheyenne Nation, though. Let's be honest--they are why I'm here. I'm fascinated by this tribe that partners with a school and shares cultures. I wonder how much they're aware of the context their in, and our blatant disregard of Native people from Chief Wahoo, to Columbus Day, to not recognizing Natives flourishing today.
There is still clearly an "us" and "them" vibe, and the Northern Cheyenne Nation is part of the "them." Strangely, though, I identify more with the Nation than with my fellow Akron-ites, and so initiating conversation doesn't give me social anxiety.
I cross worlds.
"Hi, I'm Amber. Welcome to Akron."
I shake the hands of young men and older men, distrust in their eyes until one understands my shirt. He laughs, and I am in. All at once conversation is easy and care-free, and we are connecting in depth.
I've only ever talked story with Indigenous people. I know what it feels like, even as I can't give it a name. It is home.
* * *
We are going to walk the Portage Path--the path Natives once used to carry canoes between two rivers. It feels like a pilgrimage to me--really heavy and important. Last week I went to Stan Hywet, which is a mansion also on this road where one of the big tire industry leaders lived. Many people credit the tire industry for building Akron. I always get confused by that statement because the land was long before.
Anyway, I'm thinking of all of that as I'm talking with the Northern Cheyenne Nation. And the girls are wearing regalia and the guys hop in the back of the pick up truck to play the drum and as the steady beat rises, I am in many places.
I am in Hawai'i on the shore, drums steady from Native Hawaiians, worshipping Creator in song.
I am in Kansas at Haskell Indian Nations University, watching the drum and song in the gazebo reverberating throughout campus.
I am in a church in Navajoland, listening to a Tribe Called Red as we make frybread with one another.
I am everywhere and everyone I have grown to love, even as I am in Akron.
* * *
If we think of oppression as spiritual warfare, resistance is a prayer, and resilience is the fruit.
The drum beats down Portage Path, and I know a way is being made where one wasn't before.
Flowers out of concrete.
Emmanuel Christian Academy joins our group, and we all follow the sound of the drum.
We, the pastor and professor who have been at every City Council meeting I've been to.
We, the neighbors and Akron residents, students and teachers.
We--black, white, Latino, Asian--follow the leadership of the indigenous.
Those who know the land know before us all.
I weep, for the Kingdom of God is near.
* * *
Tonight at play practice Nim was talking about Christian missionaries in the refugee camps. He talked about this video they showed, "The Jesus Video," and how they spoke in Nepali and shared the Gospel, "inviting" people to pray at the end. He acted it out with Mega and I screamed laughing. It was like watching my own fundamentalism conversion nightmares unfold, except in another language and in another context.
I still have questions for him about it, like how he felt about the message and what he heard in the message. I know Christianity isn't his home religion, and I want to know how Jesus sounds. I am curious.
Jesus wrapped in culture is no fun, no matter what culture it is. But Jesus wrapped in Jesus is freedom.
* * *
When I was at Haskell Indian Nations University for "Would Jesus Eat Frybread?" I learned that the campus used to be a boarding school. Boarding schools were traumatic spaces for Native people--they were spaces where they were sent (usually among missionaries), and taught that their Native ways were bad and that white ways were good. The goal was to assimilate, but rather it traumatized, leaving generations fragmented from their histories and stories, a legacy that is still being sorted through today.
Many of the students felt the terror within them on the campus, speaking in pictures and visions about the atrocities of the boarding schools and how that oppressive legacy remained on the land. After a weekend of community and unwrapping historical trauma, the spirit of the place changed, and students named healing in the land.
* * *
I talked with Anthony of the Northern Cheyenne Nation after the event ended at the Summit County Historical Society.
"It's rough here," I said. "I don't even know how to explain it. People don't know things, unintentionally perpetuate. I'm really glad you're here. It is good for people to see."
We talked a bit about the work he's doing to revitalize his tribe's language and be sure it's taught to the next generation. The work is a common narrative I hear among Native people--the work of cultural revitalization. Language, dance, story--all these bear the marks of historical trauma, and it is a people that will ensure that they continue.
He talked about his reservation and how the roundabout is the latest thing to throw people off. I asked basic questions about size and population, trying to get a scope of the vastness of the Nation. I told him that I spent time on the Navajo Nation, and he said there are Navajos on his reservation. There was a connection in that for both of us.
Then I started to tell Anthony about Akron, and how we were talking about switching Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day but people don't really understand here why you would switch it. I could see that that didn't make sense to him, but I continued to press in and tell him about the Italian-American community and their deep ties to Columbus, and how because that community is deeply present and the Native community is not, that is why the narrative unfolded as it did. I could see that it didn't make sense to him, which made me laugh because the whole thing hasn't made sense to me, either.
It makes about as much sense as a "Cleveland Caucasians" shirt.
It makes about as much sense as Chief Wahoo.
Colonialism and racism don't really make sense. That's why they're so violent.
* * *
Burt Medicine Bull of the Northern Cheyenne Nation spoke some words at the closing ceremony. He spoke about the Portage Path and how as he beat the drums, and watched the dancing, he knew that they were making a way for the spirits to walk this path once more.
Tears sprang into my eyes, as I know what he was saying to be true.
Flowers in the concrete.
They walk as flowers in the concrete.
* * *
Sometimes, if I am to be honest, I want to give up here in Akron. I become discouraged at the lack of immediate Native community and connection to sustain me in this work of decolonization. I feel isolated, alone, crazy.
On my better days I am aware that this is the Enemy seeking to distract.
Most days I succumb to the loneliness, bitterness, isolation, and cynicism.
I was ready to toss in the towel this Columbus Day in Akron--giving up on a City that silences the voices of the margins, and centers the voices of the privileged.
Today I was reminded, though, that the Kingdom of God is like the little bit of yeast that a woman used to permeate an entire batch of dough.
"Thank you for the work that you do."
Brother, you remind me that I, too, am seen.