November is Native American Heritage Month and instead of writing a Thanksgiving post, I’m compiling a very brief list comprised of one article, book, and podcast that I’ve enjoyed this year and would like to share with you.
In June, Jen Deerinwater wrote a fantastic piece for Rewire.News on “Two Spirit,” which she defines as the “umbrella English language term that refers to non-binary gender identities that were present in some tribal nations pre-invasion.” I love how Deerinwater situates queerness in the Native American experience, and debunks the notion that queerness is a concept invented and championed by the white, Western world:
“Many Indigenous nations have multiple genders and names for those who fall outside the gender binary. Candi Brings Plenty Wakinyan Tuwanpi Iwoanpa (Bright Lightening Woman) Cante Mikeyla Win (Woman Close to My Heart) of the Oglala Sioux and CEO of the Two Spirit Nation, said there were traditionally seven genders and a gender-free designation within her/their people. The Diné (Navajo) have the Nadleeh, Apaches the Nde’isdzan, and the Tsalagi (Cherokee) have the Asegi, to name a few.”
Read the full article here.
I was also moved by an interview of Tommy Orange for the New Yorker Radio Hour podcast about his journey to becoming a writer, what his identity as a Native writer means to him, and his much acclaimed novel There, There. The whole interview is worth checking out but one of the parts that gripped me was how he felt like a late bloomer when it came to reading and writing. As someone who often feels like I’m playing catch up when it comes to reading the Classics and knowing the Canon, I found this encouraging and grounding:
“After I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in the sound arts—a b.s.-sounding degree, I know—I needed a job, and I got one at a used bookstore… I found writers like Borges, Kafka, Robert Walser, Clarice Lispector, and, eventually, John Kennedy Toole and Sylvia Plath; “A Confederacy of Dunces” and “The Bell Jar” were pretty important to me as novels. I fell in love with reading while working at that bookstore, and felt like I was playing catchup for the next ten years. At some point in there I started writing, too, and felt even further behind. I became pretty obsessed with reading and writing. I loved what literature could do, how beautiful and transformative and devastating it could be, in such big and small ways.”
And most recently, I listened to this fascinating podcast called WordBomb in which the hosts of the podcast explore the significance of a popular word. In their episode on the word “native,” they explore the word’s cultural and historical context, its present-day usage, and how activists and artists from different First Nations relate to the words that have been used historically to describe them. Here’s a small clip from Falen Johnson, who was interviewed for the episode:
“If you don’t understand the history behind the word [Indian] and all the things wrapped up in that word, you can’t use it. When I use it, it’s an act of defiance, I’m doing it to be deliberately harsh, it’s a choice. When a non-indigenous person uses Indian, I’m like whoa, wait a minute… You can’t do that. You don’t live it.”
Listen to TVO’s podcast WordBomb here.
What are you reading and listening to this month in honor of Native American Heritage Month? Let us know in the comments!
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