Significance of Cultural Protocols throughout Indian country

Greetings from Nimiipuu territory

It’s been a while since I’ve written and I hope this posts finds each and every one of you out in Indian country well and in good spirits.

Recently I was reminded that although some Indigenous people make homes within reservation borderlands, that is not our only domain. There are distinct areas and regions that are considered home which extend beyond the Rez, and no matter where we are in this country, this is Indigenous homelands.

For some Indigenous nations, especially where the hunting, fishing, and gathering rights are concerned, we have ancestors from 160 years ago who were thinking of those of us yet to be born when they secured, through treaties, our Indigenous right to hunt, fish, and gather in usual and accustomed places.

Their ingenuity and intelligence is a reminder that it does not take a Western education or science to know that Indigenous Knowledge Systems is established on relationships that are not seen, but felt.

As Indigenous people, our spirituality is land-based and grounds us and our existence, and predates the establishment of reservations and the settler occupation of Indigenous homelands.

Although settler occupation continues to work at erasing our Indigenous rights, we have border towns and urban landscapes that are homelands where members of many nations call home.

From our spiritual teachings, we are unable to forget who our ancestors are, where we come from, nor to forsake our ancestral homelands. For many readers, this is nothing new and I’m preaching to the choir. However, this is also for the non-Indigenous educators who peruse through online resources searching for information on how to teach Indian children. Yes, the Last Real Indians is a classroom resource too.

As I come from two distinct nations, I have traveled to and from each of my ancestral strongholds throughout my life. When traveling, the familiar landscapes of Dine bike’yah and the great mountains and rivers of Nimiipuu territory, I experience “Coming home.” No matter where I travel, it is always a good feeling to come home.

Over the years and throughout my travels in Indian country, I learned of cultural protocols and acknowledgement of ancestors and ancestral homelands that unless we are in our home territory, we are in the homelands of other Nations. Songs, ceremony, and prayers (and spirits) of the ancestors of the people who lived in that area remain.

Though I come from a Northwest Indigenous nation, I come from the interior Columbia Plateau, east of the Cascades. In 2011, I was privileged to join a group of Nimiipuu youth in attending the Paddle to Swinomish Canoe Journey where the teaching and explanations of cultural protocols were further explained according to their culture and traditions.

The privilege and cultural exchange that took place in which Nimiipuu and Northwest Coastal youth was priceless and lifetime memories were made.

While this was not the first Canoe Journey for some, it was the first time for many of us. The cultural exchange displayed how reclaiming an ancestral teaching and practice such as cultural protocol needs to continue for all Indigenous nations and settlers as well.

As an educator, I am an instructor and teacher of teachers. I critique public school curriculum and research how settler colonialism has worked daily for the last 500 years at erasing our existence.

The miseducation of Indigenous people has taught us to not question our current public school education systems, but further, has taught us to forget what it means to be Indigenous. All this to say I don’t believe that it is a school’s job to teach our Indigenous cultural knowledge. On the contrary, when we as Indigenous people ask ourselves why we no longer practice such beautiful cultural traditions, we will find the connection.

Today, we should not be afraid to call out society for the miseducation that public schools continue to perpetuate on our youth. Especially when it comes to learning that this land, no matter where we are is Indigenous!

For example, Indigenous students, administrators, teachers, and people get called out in schools more often than we care to acknowledge and told to “Get over it” when referring to genocide and the Indigenous holocaust. When we ask questions, within education systems, whether in K-12 or in higher education, as nations, we have the right to ask questions that provoke how we are view or perceived in society not as relics, but active citizens.

What is often overlooked, as Indigenous people, is that we have knowledge systems and wisdom that is handed down from one generation to the next and is our intellectual inheritance, and comes directly from our ancestors. Because wisdom sits in places and is land-based, it is important to remind our youth that we are in a relationship with the lands where are our ancestors are resting. It is where we come from and why we cannot easily forget who we are and is the truth of our Indigenous ways of being which distinguishes us from others.

This post, inspired by former Black Panther and Sister Freedom Fighter Angela Davis and her recent visit into Nimiipuu territory, reminded me of why we do what we do as Indigenous people. We are spiritual and as shared by our Sister, who was taught this cultural teaching while working with a group of Indigenous women in Australia; unless one is Indigenous, everyone else is a settler.

Angela Davis at WSU
Angela Davis at WSU

The teaching made me reflect deeply on how I travel. Whether for ceremony, family, work, pow wows, leisure vacations, and while out on the land, whether its hunting, fishing, or gathering; there is humility in acknowledging there was at one time ancestors who sang, dance, lived, and existed on these lands.

In closing, when we are traveling whether on an interstate freeway, or at an airport in an urban landscape, we are on Indigenous homelands. Although visually and physically not present, it does not mean ancestors did not exist.

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