The Vastness of Indigenous Love: A Thanksgiving Reflection

by Robin Little Wing Sigo (Suquamish)

This piece was originally published on Nov. 25, 2021. In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, we are republishing a series of inspiring articles and op-eds that highlight the incredible ways in which community giving, generosity, and unity have transformed lives. These stories are not just narratives; they are testaments to the strength and compassion that flourish in our community when we support each other.

ʔuʔušəbicid čəd 

Learning more of my ancestral language during this pandemic has been a powerful gift. The ability to say I love you in Lushootseed, brings deeper warmth and nourishment to the vastness of love.  Indigenous love grows from a place of compassion, an understanding that I concern myself with others, and they concern themselves with me. This week of Thanksgiving I am reflecting on how my liberation, my joy, my health is always tied to yours. We are together, wherever we are. 

Connecting  liberation, joy and Thanksgiving may seem out of character for me. I am a Suquamish leader and scholar, and my journey has brought me to a place where I see how Natives have been intentionally, decolonizing Thanksgiving for centuries. The United States outlawed our spirituality until the passage of The American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978. But by  creatively incorporating the colonized rules, our leaders, my elders, were able to keep some traditions alive–hibernating until it was safe to awake them. Thanksgiving was an easy adaptation because it offered a place to gather, share foods, teach traditions and pass along oral histories. 

Indigenous love doesn’t follow colonized laws, it presents opportunities to reindigenize. Each time we passed food across the table, belly laughed at Uncle’s jokes, held grandma’s hand, helped wash the dishes and packed up leftovers; we were sharing the intergenerational memory of decolonized love. We reawakened our connections to ancestors of the past and future because indigenous love never misses an opportunity to connect.

This love is what researchers now call a “protective factor,” but we call it ancestral wisdom. I was born into this love as a cherished human of the Suquamish People. It is rooted and freely gifted. This love is the foundation of my personal resilience to all types of trauma. A resilience that is woven into a celestial wool blanket twined with that of my past and future ancestors. This blanket has been harmed along the way. It is tattered, but it’s warm protection is never ending. There are many beautiful elements of this indigenous love. We love big, create networks to save salmon, and host with deep care–whether it is for three people or thousands. But loving this much also means that I have  been to well over one hundred funerals in my time on this earth–and that number will grow exponentially as I age. Being tribal means that love and loss are part of my everyday life.

Learning that the direct translation of ʔuʔušəbicid čəd is not “I love you” but “I have compassion for you,” led me to more thoughtfully view love as something with healthy boundaries, that transcends the physical, while connecting us to infinite joy in the small things. Lessons that feel especially important in the time of Covid. 

As my family and I prepare for an in-person Thanksgiving, I am reminded that last year we loved each other so much that we chose not to gather. This year, it means that we’ll take rapid covid tests before we gather because we want to protect each other and share space. We will nourish each other with food, conversation and togetherness; which is keeping with our ancestral teachings of indigenous love. 

Thanksgiving as a holiday is fraught with lies, but our indigenous family will use this colonized holiday to continue to decolonize love. Embracing our celestial wool blanket, repairing its tatters, and adding to its resilience, as our people have done since time immemorial.

ʔuʔušəbicid čəd 

Robin Little Wing Sigo (she/her/tsi) is a Suquamish Tribal Councilwoman and the Suquamish Foundation Director. Robin is a mom to four children and an aunty to every kid she meets.

Featured image: Haida Heritage group members link arms in solidarity, during the fifth annual celebration of Indigenous People’s Day at Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Seattle, Washington, on Oct. 8, 2018. (Photo: Carolyn Bick)

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