I am an Indigenous woman. I come from the Winnebago tribe and the Ho-Chunk people—People of the Big Voice. I come from a long line of strong and resilient people who stand up for what they believe in, share knowledge, embrace each other with love, and actively work to make the world a better place. I have learned and continue to learn from my relatives how to carry myself and how to act. I did not grow up with the traditions and culture of my tribe, but the wisdom and resilience of my ancestors live through me. Every single day, I learn more and more about who I am and who Creator has made me to be.
November is Native American Heritage Month. It is a month set aside with the intention of celebrating the cultures, traditions, ceremonies, languages, and history of Indigenous people. It is a time to recognize the beauty, strength, and resilience of the ancestral and contemporary Indigenous people across Turtle Island. Despite an entire month being dedicated to learning about the history and heritage of Indigenous people, many people do not know about the historical and current struggles of Native Americans in North America.
The world in which we operate is often blind or misinformed about Indigenous people. This is the harsh reality for Native Americans today. We experience the ongoing erasure and misrepresentation of our people group in many areas of our lives, including in school, at work, in our worship communities, and more. We are often portrayed in constructed, false stories like the Disney movie Pocahontas and the narrative of Thanksgiving. Frequently, we are reduced to stereotypes through mascots, costumes, logos, vehicle names, characters in media, and more. We witness it when people refer to meetings as “pow-wows” and when they talk about their “spirit animals.” We see how non-Indigenous people have appropriated our regalia, clothing, and cultural practices and renamed them as “Boho” and “Western” styles.
Native Americans are often spoken about using past-tense language. History talks about the colonization, genocide, and forced removal of Indigenous people as if it is over and done with. We experience micro-aggressions from non-Indigenous people when they say things like, “Do Indians still live in teepees?”, “Do you get to go to college for free?”, “My great-great-great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess!”, and more.
These experiences are exhausting, to say the least. I have encountered these problems in grade school, in churches I have attended, in my undergraduate studies, in every job and workplace, and now in my graduate studies in seminary. I am not alone in this experience, and this is the reality for many Native Americans. The history of Indigenous people is marked by mistreatment from the government, the Church, education systems, and more. The treatment that many Indigenous people are subjected to in their everyday lives can be degrading and demoralizing, but in spite of this, we are resilient. Our existence stands as an act of resistance to colonialism, attempted erasure, and systems that do not stand to benefit us. This is what I believe to be the heart of Native American Heritage Month. In spite of all of the ways we have been mistreated, we still carry on the traditions, teachings, and love of our ancestors in hope of a future where we are celebrated more than just one month a year.
I dream of the day when Indigenous people can exist without the pressures and hardships that this world has created, and I praise Creator for giving me a passion and heart to actively work toward this future. I believe that God has called me to a life of ministry and specifically one that advocates for and empowers Indigenous people. As I reflect on my past experiences and look toward my future, I am filled with gratitude and joy at how God has made himself known to me. As I continue on this journey and hold the tensions that exist for me as an Indigenous Christian, I am reminded by Scripture that God continually provides strength to those who abide in his will.
It has been written in our Sacred Teachings, “My faith gave me the courage to speak.” Since the same faith lives in our spirits, we too have the courage to speak. For we know that the one who raised up Creator Sets Free (Jesus) to sit beside the Great Spirit will also raise us up to be with him. Then together, we will all stand before him.
So then, all that we suffer is for your good. This means that Creator’s gift of great kindness will reach more and more people. Then many people will give thanks to the Great Spirit, bringing him even greater honor. That is why we never lose heart. For even though our outer being is fading away, our inner being grows stronger every day.
For the troubles we now face are small compared to what is coming and do not last for long. Instead, they are getting us ready for the great and shining beauty of the world to come, a beauty beyond comparison that will never fade away. So we set our minds not on the things we can see but on the things we cannot see. For the things we can see will last only for a short time, but the things we cannot see are from the world to come, which will never fade away.
–2 Corinthians 4:13-18, First Nations Version Translation
* The image that accompanies this post is original artwork by Bizzy Feekes. This piece is titled “Force” and was originally published in a booklet titled Where We Stand.
Bizzy Feekes is an artist, a seminary student, and a writer. She is Indigenous, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. She graduated from Kuyper College in 2019 with a double major in Intercultural Studies and Theology, and a minor in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Bizzy is currently attending Seattle Pacific Seminary where she is pursuing a Master's of Theology in Reconciliation and Intercultural Studies.