Land Acknowledgments: The Importance of Acknowledging the Original People of Michigan

By Tara Maudrie, I-LEAD Program Assistant

Land Acknowledgements are a relatively novel concept to most people today, but to Indigenous people this concept is centuries old. Indigenous people for centuries have acknowledged that the land upon which they stood (and stand today) is not theirs to begin with but rather a gift from the creator. In most Indigenous cultures land was not ‘owned’ by people but rather a shared gift and resource. A common conservation theme among more modern Natives is that we do not own the Earth, we are borrowing it from our children and grandchildren. Although this is a cute saying shared all over Facebook and Pinterest, this truly was and is the philosophy of many Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples.

A Land acknowledgment is an act of reconciliation made by non-natives and native alike to acknowledge that the land they are standing on is not traditionally theirs. Many Native Americans who migrated or moved away from their traditional homelands often acknowledge the traditional people of the land they now occupy as well. For example, Mexica dancers who dance in Michigan Powwows often choose to acknowledge the Anishinaabe people before they dance.

The Mexica dancers at AIHFS’s 2019 Powwow & Health Fair

These simple statements, normally three to four sentences or less, remind all in attendance who hear this statement that Indigenous culture is simultaneously the past, present and future of this land and has been for centuries (Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory). This simple statement, which in some progressive schools is added before or after the Pledge of Allegiance, is a verbal reminder to hold yourself, and those around you, accountable to honor the land, the people who originally inhabited it and to protect the future of the land you stand on (Friedler, 2018). Land acknowledgements are more than just acknowledging the first people of the land, they are also honoring the land itself, and calling all of us to action to protect the land we stand on.

North Bar Lake at Sleeping Bear Dunes in Michigan.

Academic Universities’ responsibility to the traditional people of the lands which they occupy is far greater than most universities realize. Indigenous people are rarely recognized or discussed in the college setting, in fact in my entire career as a college student I have heard Native Americans mentioned twice without me specifically bringing up the topic of Indigenous people. Indigenous people are often wrongfully disregarded or forgotten in discussions regarding academia simply because they make up such a small portion of students. Statistics show that only 70% of American Indians graduate high school within four years (Oliff, 2017). While 60% of the general population who graduate high school continue onto college, only 17% of American Indian students continue onto college (Oliff, 2017). Only 13% of Native Americans hold a college degree and the number of Native Americans that hold graduate school degrees are so small that there are not even statistics available (Oliff, 2017). Currently Native Americans make up less than 1% of undergraduate students. There are many barriers that prevent Native Americans from completing college including: being first generation college students, being more likely to work in college, rural isolation and lack of familial support. Looking at these statistics it is no wonder that Native Americans are rarely discussed in academia, Native students make up the smallest portion of college students and quite possibly the smallest number of college professors as well. Land Acknowledgements are a step towards recognizing that the history of Native Americans portrayed in History books, or in pop culture are not the true stories or history of the traditional people of the land and to educate non-Natives about what they can do to foster an environment that will hopefully encourage more future Native students.

Land Acknowledgments are a positive way to begin making amends for the wrongs done against Native people. By acknowledging that the land of a University was not originally theirs, it is a small acknowledgment of the dark past of America that is seldom discussed. As stated by Know the Land, “Land acknowledgements do not exist in a past tense, or historical context: colonialism is a current ongoing process, and we need to build our mindfulness of our present participation.” Land acknowledgements are also an important reminder that Native people are not just the past of the land but also the present and the future. Too frequently Native Americans are referred to in the past tense, and many people forget that many Native Americans do still live in their traditional lands and are still a very real part of the continued existence of the land and a vital part of the community.

Friends of the AIHFS Sacred Roots Garden – Spring 2018

It is also important to remember that even though using Land Acknowledgements is a very important step towards creating a healthier relationship with Native people, a land acknowledgement is just that a step. In order to create a lasting and meaningful relationship with Native communities, there needs to be communication and a partnership with Native people. From an academic standpoint there are several things a University could do to help build this relationship. A land acknowledgment is generally one of the first and most important steps that is made. The next step that could be made is to make sure that Native history and culture are being taught from not just a colonial standpoint but also the Native point of view as well. A Native student organization can be made (I would make one but I unfortunately recently graduated). Creating a University’s Land Acknowledgement is a step in the right direction towards creating a healthier relationship with Indigenous people but in order to make this a meaningful acknowledgement, it needs to be more than just a statement in the beginning of a meeting. An acknowledgment should be a reflection for each person in the room to remind them of the past harmful relationships between colonial powers and Indigenous people and also to remind them that the past does not dictate the future, and that each person can do their part to create future positive relationships with Indigenous people.

This land acknowledgement was created with the intention of being used for a University in the metro-Detroit area. It is structurally based on Northwestern University’s acknowledgment and the City of Detroit’s by David Pitwanakwat.

This University sits on the traditional lands and territory of the Anishinaabe people, also known as the Three Fires of the Confederacy comprised of the Ojibway, the Odawa and the Potawatomi. Since the beginning of time it has served as an important and sacred place for these tribes and many other tribes throughout this region.

Today and everyday we acknowledge the peoples native to this land and the land itself. It is this University’s responsibility as an academic institution to respectfully discuss and educate about the traditional people of this land and the hardships they have faced and continue to face. Our intent is always to educate and enlighten, never to accuse or blame.

“By listening to your story, my story can change. By listening to your story, I can change.”



Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2018, from

David Pitwanakwat. (He is in Law School at University of Windsor and University of Detroit Mercy and has experience writing Land Acknowledgments. He wrote both Wayne State’s and the City of Detroit’s.) Retrieved on October 1st 2018.

Friedler, D. (2018, February 09). If You’re Not Indigenous, You Live on Stolen Land. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from

Gurneau, J. (n.d.). Native American and Indigenous Initiatives. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from Acknowledgement.html

Know the Land. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from

Oliff, H. (2017, May 16). Graduation Rates & American Indian Education « Native American / American Indian Blog by Partnership With Native Americans. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from

Editor’s Note: Since the submission of this posting Tara has moved on from our agency to pursue a Master’s of Science in Public Health with a concentration in Human Nutrition at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We wish her the best as she pursues her dreams!

Year of the Hummingbird

by John Marcus

The past 3 years I’ve visited my family in the southwestern united states, I’ve noticed animal themes. These themes may even have been happening during prior years, but I never noticed them. By themes, I mean various things will come together as part of my trip that are traits associated with an animal:  colors, imagery or even weather.

Two years ago the buffalo was the theme. There was a lot of snow when I went to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos. My dad, a Taos Pueblo American Indian, used to say that you only should do the buffalo dance at certain times because you will make it snow. I even received a pendant with a buffalo on it.

Last year it was the wolf. While in Phoenix visiting my mom, sister and nephews, I went to a flea market specifically looking for a lightweight jacket. I almost gave up, but my mom asked around and the only jacket they had with an animal on it was a wolf. As an American Indian, we have our clans and try to wear it as a message of our clan to others. There are reasons for that which I won’t cover here because that deserves its own article. Since that wolf jacket was just what I was looking for in every other way, I bought it.

This most recent time, which was last month, I feel my animal theme was the hummingbird. On my last day in Albuquerque, I purchased something intuitively. At the center of the design was a hummingbird. After the purchase, someone asked me if the hummingbird had any special meaning. I realized I had been caught off-guard and was not familiar with any stories related to it. I said that I had seen it used amongst Michigan tribes some, but more so in the southwestern United States. With that, I began my search into the different meanings and characteristics of the hummingbird.

Liking videos more so than reading, I began my search on YouTube and found a lecture posted by University of New Mexico – Digital Media Arts, no less!

From this lecture by Dr. John Ubelaker you get a scientific explanation for why the hummingbird will always look for the red flower and migrates great distances every year. Also, he said they have evolved together. When the hummingbird drinks the nectar to fuel its very high metabolism, it also gets pollen on itself and that will transfer to the next red flower. Why red? Well, they can distinguish red vibrates at a higher frequency level than blue so they seek more energy because they need so much energy.  Every year around this time they start their trip from Central America to North America. They can travel about 20 miles a day.

Some other interesting facts about this little bird is that it has 1000 feathers and each has a neuron attached to it. What that means is that each feather is individually controlled. No other bird can do this. Another fact that I found amazing is that the color of the feather is determined not only by pigment but also by structure. This accounts for the shimmering effect the feathers seem to have as the bird moves through the air.

My own observation is if you believe, as I do, that plants have spirits, then this red-flowering plant must certainly understand that it has a special relationship with hummingbird. If something helps you “evolve,” then you must certainly love it too.

In the video, The Legend Of The Hummingbird, posted by YouTube user Morgan1121, she shares a story that comes from the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico. In it, a young woman and a young man from opposing tribes start to fall in love by a pond, but the young lady’s father finds out and he begins arranging a marriage to someone else. The young lady goes back to the pond and asks for help. She is changed into a red flower and tossed into a field with other red flowers. Later, the moon instructs the young man not to wait for her any longer. The moon then explains what has happened to the young lady. He asks her for help and she changes him into a hummingbird. He begins flying to each of the red flowers in search of his lost love. The next morning the people of the village saw this new bird and gave it the name hummingbird.  From this story, you get an explanation for why the hummingbird will always look for the red flower; it is not describing migration, it is telling us about the search for love.

Another story about the role of the hummingbird comes from a YouTube video called, “How Hummingbird Got Fire,” which features Valentin Lopez, Chairman of the Amah-Mutsun Ohlone tribe of California. Their traditional tribal lands included what is present day Santa Clara County, south of San Jose. This area includes the 4th highest peak of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains and is called Mount Umunhum.  In fact, it turns out the name itself is from the Indigenous tribal language group, Ohlone and it means, “resting place of the hummingbird.” Once again, the hummingbird is strongly associated with this migration it makes every year.

I will not share too much about the story because it’s worthwhile to watch the video when you have a moment. In this video the eagle asks hummingbird to bring fire. My take away is that the hummingbird is seen as a representative of the bird tribe, which means they are respected individuals. In this case, the hummingbird brings fire to their tribe, which could be a simile to spring bringing warm weather.

As I wrote this blog, a memory of seeing an old black and white picture hanging up in a hallway display case of the Saginaw Chippewa casino popped up into my head. I saw this around 8 years ago. The picture was of a large group of natives in intertribal dance regalia. The stage appeared to be a drum, a very 1950’s style of set design. The casino had put text with the picture to give it context; I believe it said  the picture was a performance of the hummingbird dance. As I studied the picture closely, I was pretty sure one of the guys in a “war bonnet” holding a drum was my great uncle Teofilo, my dad’s uncle from Taos Pueblo. Teofilo had moved to Detroit prior to the 50’s so it was a strong likelihood to be him. Then I thought the dancer on the drum actually may have been my dad. I heard many times from my mom and dad about a place in northern Michigan that they would go to demonstrate Native American dancing when they were younger. I called my mom to ask about that era, which turned out to be the late 50’s. Sure enough, she said my dad did perform the hummingbird dance at Chappell Lake, near Tawas, Michigan. The background on Chappell Lake is that a couple had relocated from New York City, where they had worked in theatre, and made this outdoor Native American dance theatre. They hired Native Americans as the performers. It was probably a nice change from picking fruit, as local Native often did to make a living during those days. Since my dad, born and raised in New Mexico, did end up marrying my mom, I guess you could say the hummingbird was once again a part of migration and love.

Getting back to my trip, like all travelers, the day to prepare my return home had arrived. After laundering my clothes at my aunt’s house, I laid them out on the bed to start packing them into my luggage. That’s when I noticed I had a lot of red clothing. I usually have blue, black and grey. Later when mentioning it to my aunt even she said, “yeah, I think this is the most red I’ve seen you wear.”

(L to R) Aunt Juanita, Me, Uncle Frank

Was this another red coincidence or just more enforcement of this theme? After returning to work, our CEO, Ashley Tuomi, asked me if I had eaten a lot of green chilis, as I had on my previous trips, and I thought about it a minute and realized I did have some, but I actually had more red chili than green this time.

Posole with red chili from Black Mesa Casino in New Mexico

When I started back on the job one of the first things I had to do was get started on our quarterly newsletter here at AIHFS. One of the big choices for that is deciding on the cover design. I usually try to use a big agency event that is coming up or has recently happened. Even though spring is not an agency event, I know spring has been on everyone’s mind since we have had a harsh, cold winter. So, I thought that would be a good theme and it did not take long for me to know I wanted to use the hummingbird to represent spring. This was long before I even thought about writing this blog. After several drafts, I ended up creating the following design, which you will also find on our latest newsletter when it comes out.

In summary, the hummingbird is associated with love, spring (warmth), migration and red. One of our Native American core characteristics is humility. In this region, humility is one of the Seven Grandfathers Teachings. Here are the other six: bravery, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect and love. With this understanding, I thank the hummingbird for sharing these things I have learned from it and I thank the creator for putting these teachers in our path when we need them.

As mentioned earlier, right around now the different types of hummingbirds are making their way up from Central America and will be looking for that red flower to help feed them on their journey. As a way to pay back what they have taught me, I think I will look into planting a couple of hearty red flowers that will keep growing every year. By the way, from that lecture I learned that these birds actually remember each year where these flowers are that they fed from previous years.

In closing….

Does anyone have any recommendations for what red flower has done well in attracting (feeding) hummingbirds?

Watch for an update where I’ll share a picture of the plant I planted, and if I’m even luckier, a picture of a hummingbird actually feeding from the plant after it’s been planted.

Special thank you to Nickole Fox,  Director of Community Wellness, for helping with editing.

Preserving Our Heirlooms

Written by Nickole Fox (


Inspired by my sorrow of seeing some of my heirloom tomatoes grow moldy and the summer coming to an end, I decided to do some canning this morning.  It is my 3rd time canning.  My first time was at the workshop at AIHFS a few years ago coordinated by Shiloh and the second was 2 years ago when I had 3 milk crates full of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season (suffering from the same kind of sorrow at the thought of wasting all those tomatoes).

This year, I grew a few heirloom varieties-Cherokee Purple Tomatoes, green zebras and 2 beautiful heirlooms that I don’t know the name of.  I scored these plants from the Garden Resource Program (GRP) Collaborative ( when taking myself out on a date one Saturday in May.  Since my date to myself included going to Eastern Market to find veggie plants for my garden, I texted a good friend who works in the area, who replied that she was at the GRP plant distribution at Earthworks (  So, after buying a bunch of plants, I headed over there to say hello and help a little. By the way, helping at the GRP plant distribution is one of my very favorite things to do! It’s always amazing to see how the community comes together to share about their plans for their gardens, catching up and sharing smiles. Anyhow, that’s where my heirloom plants came from.

Later that day/weekend, my husband helped with prepping the earth and my girls and I planted.  We tended and watched them grow, pulling weeds, begging neighbors for grass clippings for mulch in early/mid-summer and adding stakes so they could grow taller. Side note: I finished reading Cherokee Women by Theda Perdue (  recently, which discusses a great deal about the roles of women in Cherokee territory: historically-strong, stewards of the earth, family and community. Our first ripe tomatoes had blossom end rot, so they became chicken food, but the later ones were much better.

Then, they were coming faster than we could eat them…so, it’s time for salsa!

Speaking of heirlooms, the salsa will also include garlic that was passed to me from my Grandpa Frank; he had been growing it for about 20 years before I started.  This year was my 4th year growing it, and it harvested beautifully.

To add to the flavor, we are including banana peppers, cayenne peppers and chives from our garden and jalapenos from my neighbor’s garden.  Thanks to the Porters!

Getting started, we checked the garden for more ripe tomatoes, inspected them all for rotting (those ones are chicken food), then rinsed and blanched them.  Blanching is a process where you put the tomatoes in boiling water for a minute or two, then put them in cold water to remove the skins.  I left the first batch in kinda long, so they got super mushy. I improved with the second round.  Chloe, my older daughter helped with peeling and seemed to enjoy it.

Penny (my younger daughter) wanted to help as well, so we went outside to harvest some peppers and chives.

After the skins were off, I removed the cores (the hard part on the top center of the tomato) and cut the big pieces smaller, then put them on the stove to simmer. We added the diced peppers, garlic, chives, salt and pepper.  Then, following directions from my ball “Guide to Preserving” (–guide-to-preserving-%2837th-edition%29-1034026VM.html), cleaned and heated the jars/lids.

(In case you didn’t know, the coffee *could* be an essential ingredient during canning-wink, wink)

I filled the jars ½ inch from the top, poked the bubbles, put the lids on not-too-tight and put them in the half filled canning pan-the red one in the picture!   Boiled 15 min, cooled 5, set them on the counter for 12 hours and labeled.

So, it’s actually been a week now since I canned this salsa and we’ve eaten a jar of it with friends, I’ve given a jar to my dad and a friend has offered to barter with me for a jar.  Since I am blogging, I have also been thinking a lot about what this all means to me personally and for our community.  I’d like to hear more from you all about all of this…but some thoughts I’ve had:

  • What are my children learning from all this, am I setting them up to be stewards of the land, our family and our community?
  • What more can we do to preserve our “heirlooms” whether it’s our children, our planet, our water, our traditions, our foods for a season, or our foods for generations?
  • How can we build ourselves and each other up to know we are all worthy and capable of all of this?

I know there is also an amazing opportunity coming up at AIHFS that our Sacred Bundle and Sacred Roots teams have been working on together-a Gathering of Native Americans Community Wellness Retreat.  This three day community working gathering will explore what it means for us in the Urban Native American community of Detroit, of southeastern Michigan and how we can best live, with culturally based seasonal practices.  If you can make it, please contact us!   AND, you can get involved with our farming/gardening initiatives (YOUR farming/gardening initiatives)!


Read more:

Indigenous Food Systems

Native Food Systems


More about Canning

NPR story about Cherokee Purples

Native American or American Indian?

By John Marcus
Communications Specialist

As part of my duties, I send out a group of blurbs to our email subscribers that we call AIHFS Community Announcements. (if you are interested in signing up for this, click here) Sometimes I will get a response or question emailed back to me.  Recently, I received a question in regards to the first people of this land: “What do you preferred to be called?”

I let them know that mostly, I try to think about the context. One of the most formal contexts that we can discuss is the political status as designated by the United States government. This we would also refer to as a federally recognized tribal member. This is someone that has a tribal enrollment card from their specific tribal community within the United States. This means they are legally entitled to the rights of that Tribe, as designated by that Tribe who in turn maintain a special relationship with the United States. The specifics of that relationship vary from Tribe to Tribe and is beyond the scope of this blog. I think of federally recognized tribal members, or cardholders, as American Indian because that is the term used by the U. S. and this term is used to designate which communities are able to receive monies and things like that. These community benefits are the result of having a government-to-government relationship originally, or more specifically government-to-government agreements, also known as Treaties. This important point is often left out of most discussions about what to call us. This is also a good time to mention that most tribes in the Americas existed before the United States, Canada, or Mexico and their relative imposed international borders, but I’m focusing mainly on the United States in this posting.

When I am in a more relaxed setting, I usually use Native American or my actual tribal names: Mohawk, Pueblo or Chippewa. From the heritage on my father’s side, I can say pueblo, or sometimes I will get more specific, since there are 19 pueblos, and say Taos Pueblo, but the traditional name means place of the red willow.

photo by Elisa.rolle from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 (link for license:

On my mother’s side too, I sometimes get more specific and say Six Nations Mohawk (meaning Six Nations Indian Reserve, Ontario, Canada), but the traditional name for Mohawk people is Kahniakehake and means people of the flint, which incidentally, geographically referred to eastern New York state. Those were the homelands of the Mohawk prior to the American Revolution.

Cornhusk representation of the Six Nations/Haudenosaunee Confederacy Of Chiefs and clanmothers endorsing the Great Law Of Peace.
In 1988 the US Congress passed a resolution that recognized the influence that the Six Nations constitution had on the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

When I was a boy crossing the international border into Canada with my maternal grandfather he would always tell me as we got closer to the booth housing the customs agent, “remember, when they ask citizenship, you say North American Indian.” I felt confident while waiting for the person in the booth to start asking the citizenship question in our vehicle and, at my turn, I would say, “North American Indian.” It was one of my earliest experiences of feeling like an adult.

My grandfather was from a generation that had migrated to the Detroit area and I believe had this identity discussion back in the 40’s. As a result, they formed what they called the North American Indian Club, which later became the North American Indian Association. The organization is still in existence today.

Looking closer into what the term Indian even means, what do the Indians of India call themselves now that they are no longer under British rule? Their country is still called India on maps and in the media. Now according to Wikipedia the ancient Greeks referred to the Indians as Indoi, which translates as “The people of the Indus.”  The Indus river runs through what is now called the country of Pakistan. But we don’t know if the people of that river actually called themselves that or not, only that this is what the Greeks called them. It turns out when the people of India did break free of British rule and adopted their constitution in 1950, they used the name Bharat as an official name for the country throughout that document. Yet, on the maps I have access to and all the news I can find, that country is still called India. So, even the “real” Indians are not actually Indians, but that’s what everyone still calls them.

That brings us around to one of the most important perspectives, the media perspective. What voice is that context? What efforts have they made to use the appropriate designation?

Bringing it back to our original question, I must also say that a Native way of pursuing this question is to ask this question of the native community members, under guidance of local native Elders, and listen to their results, as my grandfather’s generation did. Until then, I will go by what the local Elders I’ve heard use and also go by what my family has used. If someone uses a label around me in a manner that I find offensive then I will tell them as much. Most people will respect that.

In trying to follow my own micro version of the Native way of approaching this question, I did an in-house survey, amongst the native staff here at American Indian Health & Family Services. Below are the results and I hope they help us all move forward on this question.

How should the U.S. news refer to U.S. Indians? AIHFS natives say Indigenous.


What do you prefer everyone uses in informal gatherings? AIHFS natives say Native.

For additional viewpoints on this question, here are some links to writings I have found helpful.


In closing, here are some questions to consider.

  • If you are Native, what term do you prefer and why?
  • If you are Non-native and have asked a Native what they prefer, what was their response?
  • There are also state recognized Tribes throughout the United States. These Tribes are not “recognized” by the federal government. I wonder if they might have a different choice for what to be called?

Traditional Food Principles: Cultivate Generosity & Gratitude

by Shiloh Maples
Healthy Foods Initiatives Coordinator

The fast-paced, money-driven society that we live in forces us to live in a scarcity mindset— the false belief that there will never be enough; whether it’s money, food, time, energy, or something else entirely.  As a result, our actions and thoughts stem from a place of deficit or lacking. That mindset leads us to believe that there is a limited amount of good things to go around and if someone else gets something then there must be less for us. We can begin to hoard our belongings, it can create sadness or envy, and breeds competition. However, Mother Earth has shown us this time and time again—being generous with our abundant gifts allows all life to thrive.

An elder once told me that generosity is one of the core parts of living a good life. Mother Earth shares her abundant gifts of the land and water so that we may live. She does this with a spirit of love and generosity, expecting nothing in return except that we respect and honor these gifts. Showing our gratitude for this life and its gifts can be done many ways. We can offer sema (traditional tobacco), say a prayer, sing our songs, practice our ceremonies, prepare a Spirit Plate, and feast in honor of these gifts.

When we take time to carry out these traditions, we show reverence or deep respect for the gifts our relatives share with us— and our relationship to them is reinforced.  Incorporating these rituals of thankfulness into our daily lives allows us to cultivate a spirit of gratitude. Our interconnectedness is remembered and we gain a deeper appreciation for how all of these gifts have helped sustained our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits. We are honored by their gifts and our gratitude honors them in return– it’s this reciprocal or mutual gift-giving that sustains all life.

Typically during the month of November, people pause for a brief moment to give thanks. But true gratitude is a lifestyle. It’s in the way you speak and treat all of your relatives. It’s the spirit that you approach your work and tasks. It’s the loving spirit you greet the world with and carry with you throughout the day. So, yes, let’s continue to feast and give thanks for all our gifts— but let’s continue to make it a habitat to express our gratitude each day.
For more info like this, be sure to follow our Sacred Roots Newsletter found at this link:



by Chris Biek, LLMSW
Behavioral Health Specialist

The story you write of your life with each other is what will keep you alive in the hearts of others.

Grief is about loss, loss of another and loss of self. As we find people, places, and creatures that we endear to our hearts to, it is inevitable we will also feel joy and pain. The loss we feel is more than just physical, it is emotional and spiritual, it is a loss of self. We are not individuals on our own navigating this world, we are interconnected through experiences, laughter, and heartache. When we lose someone, a pet, or a home we knew well, we lose a piece of ourselves and the pain of loss can be unbearable.

It is important that we take time to mourn in our own way and in our own time. Grief has no time limit and oftentimes can last a lifetime. There is no pain that outweighs another, we all feel grief in relative terms, meaning, a minor loss to one person may be a devastating loss to another. We can never know what another is feeling and how grief is affecting them, only that it is and we want to be aware of their pain. Simply listening and showing that you are present can be enough to help someone process their grief. By listening to another, you are allowing them to release pent up emotional energy, helping them to transform their pain into something that might someday comfort them.

Healthy grief can transform over time and become, stories, laughter, and sometimes tears. Those stories live on in our hearts, keeping those memories alive within our hearts, allowing the ones we love to become immortal. The journey toward healthy grief is not easy, nor is it particularly kind, but it helps us to grow and learn. There may be days when you feel the weight of grief is too much, weighing you down, keeping you from the sunlight. Other days you might find it to be irritating and poking at a hot fire of anger within. All of your feelings are okay, they are yours and you are allowed to feel them, contrary to social beliefs. Only by experiencing these emotions and feelings can we reach for happiness and feelings of being content in our lives.

Like those who celebrate Día de los Muertos, we must keep those memories alive, so they may live in the land of the remembered. If you can weave the threads of loss and pain through the tapestry of life and joy, someday you will step back and see a lifetime of stories and legacies. If you are unable to move forward in grief you may find yourself missing the good parts of life, leaving your tapestry monochromatic, instead of the brilliant rainbow it should be.

As the seasons change and we prepare to shift our own gears, let us not forget the moments we have shared, the laughter, and the frustration. Keep close what is important to you, let that become a part of your bigger story. Take time to grieve, but don’t forget to live….

A New Old Friend

By Elizabeth C. Kincaid

SOC Project Director

For this year’s 25th Annual Concert of Colors, we were graced with the opportunity to host World Roots musician Martha Redbone. Rarely, if ever, have I met a celebrated personality so devoid of ego. Martha was immediately disarming. She entered our community with the grace and humility characteristic of most of my colleagues and community members. After initial introductions with staff and volunteers were made, she quickly pulled out her phone to share family photos, and began describing fond memories from her childhood in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky to “pre-gentrified” Brooklyn, New York.

“It was an inspiring, relevant & moving experience at Community Talking circle with Ms. Redbone. The depth of her wisdom, eloquence & ability to authentically connect is magical.” Eric Wilkins, AIHFS Behavioral Health Therapist

Shortly after 11:00 a.m., Chantel Henry opened our Circle with a smudge. Martha sang a traditional song, accompanied by a rattle. The tone was set for an unexpected, unrehearsed, non-scripted discussion led by Spirit. The topics covered ranged from Multi-racial identity, the infancy of DNA testing companies, Indigenous paternity claims by enslaved women of African descent (to veil the shame of rape by slave masters, which resulted in pregnancy), youth voice, and youth identity. What was most thought provoking and heart-stirring was Ms. Redbone’s charge to youth; don’t allow anyone to project their prescribed identity of you on to you.  Our youth, who were present, were told to use their voices for change, the type of change that, “does not apologize and does not ask permission” to exist, be seen, be heard.  She cleverly admonished those present to be the authors of their “phenotypes” (the physical expression or characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype {a set of genes in our DNA which is responsible for a particular trait}), rather than allowing dominant culture to ascribe it for us. She shared her own trials from her community members telling her, as an example, “You look…, but if you didn’t wear your hair in braids, then you’d look more…” She urged them to use their voices and justifiable anger to fuel a desire to be advocates for themselves. She wanted for them to be Native changers, rather than Native complainers. She spoke to each person within the circle with unwavering personalized connection and authenticity. She brought healing words during our short time together.

Martha Redbone at the Max M. Fisher with AIHFS System of Care Youth Liaisons Sierra Kincaid (L) and Nena Kincaid (R).

Ms. Redbone was once again gracious to remain with us for photos, personal conversations, and warm farewells even though her transportation had been patiently waiting for her outside. Several of us drove over to the Max M. Fisher to hear Martha Redbone’s contribution to this year’s Concert of Colors. The same woman who had just led us in an intimate talking circle, was now singing on Center Stage with a voice that reached notes that gave us chills. Her use of Southern Gospel delivery combined with Appalachian tunes is ingenious. It was reminiscent of the religious symbology that enslaved people of the Americas had used to send messages to each other on the plantations of their owners. Her music is, needless to say, powerfully moving. Ms. Redbone even gave American Indian Health & Family Services a shout-out from the stage. She is truly a delightfully charming, warm, kindred spirit. We still keep in touch, and this is why I call Martha Redbone, my new old friend.

Jessica Care Moore (Left-Poet and Executive Producer and Founder of Black Women Rock), Elizabeth C. Kincaid (Center), and Martha Redbone(Right).

*A special Miigwetch to Nickole Fox, who had pre-prepared a gift bag for our lovely guest.