Show Up & Listen
December 10, 2020 | Reflection by Nicole Antonacci
When I was in first grade, I was funneled into “The First Thanksgiving” school play. Like many of my classmates, I was asked to play the role of “Indian.” If history wasn’t your thing in elementary school, you should know that the First Thanksgiving was the day that Plymouth colonists celebrated their first successful corn harvest with the Wampanoag Indians, who occupied the land before it was colonized. It is also one of the only historical accounts of harmony between colonizers and Native Americans to date.
Fast forward to the next time I learned about Native Americans in school and you’ll find me in 10th-grade global studies class, learning about manifest destiny. Quick recap: Manifest destiny is the 19th-century belief that U.S. expansion was justified and inevitable. Basically, White settlers felt entitled to the land that they “found,” and even though thousands of Natives already occupied that land, they were either forcibly removed or killed. Remember the Louisiana Purchase? Queue that one five-minute lesson on the Trail of Tears.
As I reflect on the only two times I remember hearing the term “Indian” in school, I am filled with deep sadness and resentment. In first grade, colonizers were the "allies.” In 10th grade, they were “justified.” Think about that for a moment.
America the Ally. America the Justified. America the Dreamer, the Good Guy, the Well-Intentioned Adventurer. Were you spoon-fed American history like celebratory ice cream, too? Did they not tell you that thousands of Indigenous people were slaughtered, sold as slaves, forced to go to boarding schools where they were stripped of their Native identities and forced to choose between assimilation and extermination as a result of colonization? Weird, they didn’t tell me that either.
The education system is flawed, this we know. It was designed to instill a sense of pride in this country — highlight the good, skim over the bad — this we also know. But if the only thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “native” is a teepee, it’s time for a serious update. Despite centuries of forced removal tactics and generations of unspoken genocide, Indigenous communities are still fighting battles they shouldn’t have to be fighting to protect a culture that was torn away.
Good news is, we know better now. Bad news is, Indigenous communities throughout San Diego County continue to be unrepresented, under-supported and unacknowledged. You can learn more about the battles that local Natives are fighting here, here and here.
Let it be known that I am a White woman. I am a White woman living on stolen land. I am a White woman, on stolen land, speaking about a community that I do not belong to and therefore should not (and will not) speak on behalf of. That being said, the purpose of this project is not to be another whitewashed history lesson, but rather a platform for local Natives to speak their truth. It’s time to check our blind spots, dismantle stereotypes and illuminate the resilience of these communities.
It’s time that we start showing up and listening.
Are you with me?