Indigenous peoples and communities have long used stories to understand the world and our place in it. Seedcast is a story-centered podcast by Nia Tero and a special monthly column produced in partnership with the South Seattle Emerald about nurturing and rooting stories of the Indigenous experience.
Since the 1940s, Native people have been protesting professional and non-professional sports teams with racist names and mascots. From the Cleveland Indians to the Washington NFL team, Native-appropriated mascots have been portrayed as some sort of “honor” to the Native community. However, naming a team after a racial slur or allowing opposing fans to chant “Kill the Indians” and “Scalp em bro” is not honorable to me or my ancestors.
Indigenous peoples and communities have long used stories to understand the world and our place in it. Powerful, prophetic teachings can be found in our stories which explain reality but also give us the momentum to imagine and make urgent change. Among these lessons, there is one that tells of a time when Mother Earth will be in pain and Indigenous stories and teachings will be needed for healing. I firmly believe we are in that moment now. In the midst of a global pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, the world is on fire and we are faced with the challenge of confronting deep truths about inequity and injustice. This challenge must be met by a solidarity between Indigenous, Black and Brown peoples speaking up for change. In this spirit, the South Seattle Emerald is proud to launch a new monthly column in partnership with Nia Tero as a creative platform for Indigenous voices and narratives. Our first story is an op-ed, by colleague and Indigenous creative Taylor Hensel (Citizen of Cherokee Nation), who brings light to the power of story and the storyteller. Her analysis of narrative as power encourages us to ask — What new stories can we tell to help create the better world we desire?
One of the most effective ways to disempower a group is to disturb its unity. The ongoing systemic attempt to erase Indigenous peoples through division has deep roots in the foundation of government and most western constructs, including storytelling. As a Cherokee filmmaker and journalist, this is a reality I know to be true.
For centuries, false narratives imposed on Black and Brown people about themselves and their communities have been used as tools of disempowerment. In the midst of a pandemic and civil rights reckoning, the need to rebuild and reform systems that continue to promote injustice is clear. One of the ways institutionalized oppression is continually reinvigorated is through the misrepresentation of marginalized peoples. This is done through the stories that have been told and continue being told about our past, present, and future.
“Within these late years, there hath, by God’s visitation, reigned a wonderful plague, the utter destruction, devastation, and depopulation of that whole territory, so as there is not left any that do claim or challenge any kind of interest therein. We, in our judgment, are persuaded and satisfied, that the appointed time is come in which Almighty God, in his great goodness and bounty towards us, and our people, hath thought fit and determined, that those large and goodly territories, deserted as it were by their natural inhabitants, should be possessed and enjoyed by such of our subjects.”
—King James I, The Charter of New-England
The Great Dying
Every Thanksgiving, classrooms across the country learn about a group of religiously persecuted Christian reformers fleeing England in order to worship freely in the New World. These Pilgrims likened themselves to the Israelite exodus from Egypt, a people chosen by God to be guided across the Atlantic to find, conquer and lay claim to their promised land. Upon arrival in what would become Plymouth Colony, the Pilgrims found a “promised land” that did not need to be conquered like that of Canaan, but rather a ghost town littered with untended fields, empty villages and skeletal remains of the original inhabitants. For the Pilgrim colonizers this was proof of God’s divine plan.