When my husband and I moved to Cedar Rapids over a year ago, we quickly got involved with Advocates For Social Justice and the Sunrise Movement. These people I have met have continually challenged me to think more concretely about my actions and my influence in the world. Before each event and rally, they often began by naming the Native American people who lived on and cultivated the land in which we were standing. Until then, I had not heard of this practice, and it was new to me. Since then, I’ve heard this similar thing in several other circles I’m involved in. There were several indigenous people who lived in and around Iowa: Ioway, Sauk, Mesquaki, Sioux, Oto, Missouria, Sac, Fox, among many others. I bring this up in my November article because we’re about to celebrate Thanksgiving, a day when we give thanks and count our blessings, but also a day when we celebrate a false narrative that Pilgrims and Native Americans
gathered for a shared meal and lived in peace.
It’s challenging work and difficult work, but if we are to move forward in creating a just and more equitable society, then what needs to be lifted is the reality that the United States is a colonized nation. Our country’s origins fall upon colonizing the land that the Native Americans were actively living on and pushing out these people, human beings, who were living there. And for most of us, including myself, this was not the message I was taught in school. Where do we go from here? How do we begin the work of decolonizing a country and society that was founded hundreds of years ago?
Kaitlin Curtice, a Native American Christian author and speaker, writes that decolonization is about “challenging the lies we have been told and engaging in work that breaks down systems of oppression/colonization.” As a church and as individuals, how can we change the narrative, begin to ask questions, and give up some of our own power so the system can change? We might start by having conversations within our church about the things we learned growing up, starting the process of unlearning, and relearning together. As our church, we might acknowledge the Sac and Fox communities that cultivated and stewarded the land around us before any settlers took ground. This is challenging and hard work. It isn’t easy, but we follow a Jesus who went into uncomfortable spaces. As Curtice says, “We have to be willing to stand in our uncomfortable spaces as well.”
This Thanksgiving, as we gather around the table with our families and friends, sharing delicious food together and giving thanks, may we also have these real and challenging conversations about how we contribute to colonization and how we as a community might begin that work together to decolonize our community and our country.