I preordered the Kindle edition of Native and then picked up the audiobook free as a promotion for pre-ordering. Like I prefer, Kaitlin Curtice narrated her own book. As I have frequently said, almost always, the author can tell their own story better than a professional narrator. (There are exceptions and fiction is probably better for professional narrators, etc). Curtice is not a professional narrator, but the book calls for emotion and feeling in this personal book and she carries that out.
This is a far better book than I can write about right now. But I want to hit on one point that I think she talks about well. The US has always prized assimilation. But it never really occurred to me how much assimilating something requires giving something else up. It may not be you directly that is giving something up. But to assimilate impacts not just you, but your extended family and descendants as well. If you assimilate into another culture, you are separating your children from their heritage. That isn’t to say all cross-cultural change is bad, but that traditionally the only thing talked about was the movement toward unified White culture as a positive. But the loss of ethnic culture is a loss. Some have lost their ethnic culture because of forced migration and slavery as many African Americans have in the US. Many Native Americans were removed from their homes as children, forced into boarding schools, punished for speaking their native languages or expressing their culture and encouraged to adopt White norms.
However, those who today identify as White also have been assimilated and lost their individual ethnic identity. My grandmother, just two generations from me, and a woman I knew fairly well into my 20s came to the US from Finland as a 12-year-old. I have zero connection to Finnish culture, language, or heritage. There is a loss that has to be accounted for, not just the gain of her assimilating into US culture via NYC and rural Pennslyvania.
For so long, the only right way has been the American way, and the American way was always to assimilate into culture, to stop learning our language, to stop telling our stories, to fit in, to look as white as possible. It’s what my ancestors ended up doing in Oklahoma, and it’s why I grew up knowing nothing about Potawatomi culture but everything about Southern Baptist culture and about a white missionary Jesus. It’s why I grew up not knowing how to pray traditionally or how to speak our Potawatomi language. What does it mean to be Indigenous and to have ties to the person of Jesus without being tied to the destructive, colonizing institution of the church? It is a constant decolonizing.
I am skipping over Kaitlin’s story, I don’t want to be the one that tells it to you. But I do want to share her call to action.
When whiteness runs the narrative, we have to ask how and why. Why aren’t stories of Indigenous resistance taught in schools? Why aren’t our cultures celebrated for what they contribute, even to modern-day society? Because the Indigenous story has been buried under the white story, it will take a lot of work to uncover it. It will take more than Indigenous peoples to do the work—it will take all people. Decolonization doesn’t mean we go back to the beginning, but it means we fix what is broken now, for future generations. If you’re a teacher, it means you read books by Indigenous authors and you teach differently. If you’re a church leader, it means you change the narrative about reaching Indigenous nations and other forms of missions and recognize that, often, evangelism is erasure, and a listening relationship is something altogether different. If you’re a professor, it means bringing resources to your students that will challenge them to look outside the white narrative. If you’re a business owner, it means you work to diversify the workplace and root out toxic masculinity. If you’re an activist, take to social media and begin listening and following Indigenous people, and let that influence your everyday life. If you’re a parent, introduce your children to the idea that Indigenous peoples are still alive, still thriving, still creating and contributing to the good things that happen in the world. If we cannot begin where we are, we will have a hard time changing anything outside of us. Decolonization is always an invitation.