You’re Native — and most people aren’t. That’s something to be proud of. If you’re looking for some ways to show your Native pride — and share your Native culture — here are 10 ideas that might help.
1. Learn Your Language
Nothing quite connects you to your heritage like speaking the way your ancestors did. The English language, after all, is an imposition of colonialism and (we can admit) necessary to get along in this world — we need it to buy groceries, pay our taxes, tell the doctor where it hurts. But that, in a way, makes Native language all the more special: Feeling it on the tongue, letting it loose in conversation, writing it on the page — it’s an act and an activity that is a pure transaction with something so many people are content to let go.
2. Make a Statement
There’s something completely superficial to a t-shirt — and yet there is an art to the sloganeering. Think of today’s Native t-shirt artists as Native Mad Men: They’re bringing a message to the masses that needs to make its impact in seconds. It may be ironic, it may be humorous, it may be in-your-face, but it has to be clear. Deejay NDN of A Tribe Called Red caused controversy with his “Caucasians” t-shirt — he also caused some people to think again about the Cleveland Indians mascot. (He also gave the t-shirt-makers more business than they could handle.) Check out our selection of t-shirts with attitude to get an idea of the kind of message you can promote just walking down the street.
3. Get Together
It’s extremely important to interact with other Natives on a regular basis — let’s face it, American Indians are a small minority in America. The deck has always been stacked against the survival of Native culture and in favor of assimilation. Yet Native culture and pride has endured. That’s partly due to Natives willing it to survive, and there is strength in numbers. If you live on a rez, it’s not too much work to see other Natives. Another good way to commune with Natives is a pow wow. But what if you’re in the city? You may have to do some looking, but you will find organizations and centers all over the country where you can meet fellow Natives and share your common experiences. If you’re in Los Angeles, look up the Southern California Indian Center; New York Natives should visit the American Indian Community House.
4. Support the Arts
Art transcends. Art is a voice for those who are underrepresented and a showcase for those whom society seems inclined to ignore. Native American artists, filmmakers, musicians, actors and standup comedians are all using their creativity to take the Indian experience to the masses — and the work they do is damn good. If there is an American Indian artist showing work in your area, you owe it to yourself to experience that art. We have seen an explosion of great Native film in the past two years, and thanks to the internet it’s easier than ever to find these films. A shortlist of some titles you should try to see: Maina, Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Shouting Secrets, The Lesser Blessed, Winter in the Blood, and The Cherokee Word for Water. Better yet: When you’re going to that Native art show, play, concert or film — bring a non-Native friend.
Supporting the arts: Good. Creating art yourself: Even better. Now, we’re not going to suggest everyone reading this is an Allan Houser or George Morrison waiting to happen — it’s not about the work, but the process. Learning beadwork, weaving, and carving can be a sublime experience even if your end product isn’t gallery-worthy. Consult your Tribal organization (or a Native center, mentioned above) to find out about classes and workshops.
6. Speak Up
There’s a phrase we hear, and it’s often applied to Natives — “stewards of the land.” Do American Indians have a responsibility to speak up for the planet? Think about it this way — if the Indigenous people of the Earth don’t, can we be sure that anyone else will? The relentless forces of industrialization and capitalism have made a hash of the planet; they’ve ruined sacred lands and ignored ancient wisdom. Keystone XL is a Native issue. Fracking is a Native issue. By speaking out on environmental issues and educating others, you’re acting on the beliefs that have been core to Native culture for millennia.
7. Respect Your Elders
Mainstream, non-Native culture is obsessed with youth — and look what happens. In a world where Justin Bieber’s every predictable and scripted move is newsworthy, here’s a really rebellious idea: show respect to your elders; seek knowledge from them; use the lessons they’ve learned to guide you. We are all human beings, sure — we can’t resist the occasional issue of People magazine or unsophisticated comedy movie. But when you look at the big picture and know you’re guided by the true wisdom of the elders, you realize you’re on a better path than most.
8. Get Online
You’re reading this on a computer, or tablet, or smart phone — in other words, you’re a 21st-century Native. Yes, it’s the 21st century, and despite the injustices of the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, Natives are still here. And while it is the Native way to respect the past, it’s also smart to use the tools of the present. The internet can be a geeky, silly, trivial place — it needs all the Native help it can get. Stay informed by visiting ICTMN (you are doing that right now) and liking our Facebook page; you’ll also want to bookmark sites like indianz.com and powwows.com. Follow the best Natives on Twitter and get involved in that dialogue. Whether it’s environmental issues or swapping tales of powwow snags, American Indians have always been about communication: The time of the cyber-Native has arrived.
9. Eat Like a Native
No, we’re not talking about frybread and commodity-based cuisine. Those are important parts of Native culture — recent Native culture — to be sure, but there’s something to be said for knowing what Natives ate hundreds of years ago. Before humanity polluted its diet with additives, preservatives, synthetics, and sugar-laden soda and junk food. The earth provides what we need to be healthy; it’s when we mess with it that we do ourselves harm. One of the foremost experts in the field happens to write for ICTMN — a lot. Peruse Abenaki foodie Dale Carson’s archive here at ICTMN.com, and try to think more about traditional wisdom when you’re in the kitchen. You’ll feel better on more than one level.
To thine own self be true — William Shakespeare wrote that, and we are pretty sure he was not Native. But it’s an idea that is particularly important to Natives and Native pride. The perception of the American Indian by non-Natives has very little to do with who Natives really are. Whether it’s the photographer Edward S. Curtis, or the fake Indian Iron Eyes Cody, or decades of Hollywood films with their one-dimensional portrayals — the world expects American Indians to be humorless, hopeless, sullen people. And the reality is just the opposite. American Indians are fun, funny people, and the Native sense of humor and joyful way of life are most definitely things to be proud of. If you need some picking up, watch some 1491s videos. And we’ll leave you with this one: Remember, you’re Native, and most people aren’t — that’s something to smile about: