Postvention: The Unknown Step in Suicide Prevention

By Karyna Sitkowski & Seth Allard

In our culture, the topic and even the mere mention of the word “suicide” is shied away from. It’s a taboo subject among many, yet suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US which averages to about 132 deaths per day – and rising. While we pay a great deal of attention to suicide prevention, our community can be at a loss when someone dies by suicide, attempts suicide, or has a crisis involving strong thoughts of suicide. When someone dies by suicide, the grief, pain, and confusion that takes place in the aftermath can cause increased mental health needs for the friends, family members, and even coworkers and fellow students of a person who has died by suicide. In some cases, there is even an increased risk that others in a community or close personal circle will also attempt suicide. This phenomenon is often referred to as a “cluster” of suicides and is a potential reaction after a death has occurred in the community. We don’t just focus our efforts on ending suicides and helping people learn about and cope with suicide in the beginning – we must also use our time, compassion, and resources to help each other after a death by suicide has occurred. This lesser known prevention plan is called “postvention”.

According to the U.S. national guidelines developed by the Survivors of Suicide Loss Task Force, Postvention is “an organized response in the aftermath of a suicide to accomplish any one or more of the following – 1)To facilitate the healing of individuals from the grief and distress of suicide loss. 2) To mitigate other negative effects of exposure to suicide. 3) To prevent suicide among people who are at high risk after exposure to suicide”.  This devastating aftermath of a suicidal death can be decreased with a well-prepared postvention plan, which is overseen by a postvention team. The shock, trauma, and grief of a suicide can ripple across a community, and that ripple can last from anywhere to a few weeks to even years, effecting people on many different levels. This is where a successful postvention team comes into play.

According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, a postvention team is responsible for providing the community with immediate and long-term support, tailoring responses and services to the unique needs of suicide loss survivors, and involving survivors of suicide loss in planning and carrying out activities that support suicide loss survivors. An additional role of a postvention team is to prepare a plan that assists people with dealing with their grief and mental health after a suicide has occurred, and to be accessible to the community as a source of support and information. At American Indian Health and Family Services we have assembled a postvention team which is constantly updating and improving our postvention plan for the community. Our Postvention team is made up of many different professionals with mixed backgrounds. Our Behavioral Health Director, Suicide Prevention Program staff, Community Wellness staff, Agency leadership, and individuals with lived experience with suicide loss are all represented in our Postvention team. At American Indian Health and Family Services we also urge the community to get involved in both preventative activities and supporting the postvention process. The idea of involving oneself in suicide prevention or postvention can be daunting and even scary at times but when we overcome this fear and look at the bigger picture, we realize that simply listening to someone or asking a question can save a life and improve the lives of those who have been touched by suicide.

If you or someone you know has been effected by a loss by suicide, or if you know of a community member who has attempted suicide and is not receiving the support that he/she needs to recover, we encourage you to reach out to American Indian Health and Family Services to ask about how we can support you, your family and friends, or your organization.

Below are some additional suicide prevention and postvention resources that we encourage the community to explore and use as needed. While everyone is struggling during these difficult times, know that American Indian Health and Family Services is here for you.

National Hotlines & Online Chat

The Trevor Project

Crisis intervention and suicide prevention for teen/young adult LGBTQ individuals.

https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Trevor Project Life/Text Line 24/7
Trevor LifeLine          1-866-488-7386
TrevorText      678678

Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-8255

Home

 

Crisis Text Line

Text “Home” to 741741

https://www.crisistextline.org/

 

Ulifeline

Free mental Health services for college students

Ulifeline.org

Text “START” to 741-741 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

 

Lifeline Crisis Chat

www.crisischat.org to chat online with crisis centers around the US

 

Disaster Distress Helpline

1-800-985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help-distress-helpline

 

American Psychiatric Association Answer Center

1-888-35-PSYCH (77924)

Available 8:30am – 6pm EST. Line refers you to local board-certified psychiatrists

 

American Psychological Association Public Education Line

1-800-964-2000

Follow automated instructions and press 1. Operator refers you to local board certified psychologists

 

National Online Resources

 

The National Council for Behavior Health

https://thenationalcouncil.org/providers/?region=

Search for organizations that are committed to providing mental health services to anyone in the community who needs it regardless of their ability to pay.

 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help

SAMHSA provides information on mental health services and treatment centers through an online service locator. You can search by location, whether or not they provide services for youth, payment options, language spoken, etc.

 

National Empowerment Center

www.power2u.org

This site provides information and advocacy resources specifically about mental health recovery.

 

American Association of Suicidology

www.suicidology.org

The AAS promotes research, public awareness programs, public education, and training for professionals and volunteers.

 

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Afsp.org

AFSP provides information on suicide, support for survivors, prevention, research, and more.

 

Local Resources:

 

Six Feet Over

Suicide education and advocacy group in Michigan.

https://www.sixftover.org/about/

Local State Help Lines

 

State of Michigan, Suicide Prevention Coalitions and Crisis Lines, County Map with Contacts.

https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/0,5885,7-339-71548_54879_54882_91271_91689—,00.html

 

NAMI Michigan

https://namimi.org/

(517) 485-4049

 

 

 

Not Alone – A Story of Depression, Suicide, and Hope

by Seth Allard, Zero Suicide Project Manager

Below is a true-life story from a member of our community who is also a suicide attempt survivor. This story is given to us by a compassionate person who wants our community to know, that while this experience may not relate to everyone, feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon. Depression, suicidal thoughts, and experiences with suicide can touch us all. Depression does not segregate and isn’t biased – It effects everyone. If, during or after reading this story, you feel anxiety or feel that you need support, please seek help from our Behavioral Health Department at (313) 846-6030 or contact your current mental health provider. If you or anyone around you are having suicidal thoughts, call the Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text 741-741. Please continue to read below the story for more information on mental health and the power that you and your community have to recognize and help each other seek and receive the support that you need.

We all have difficult times in our lives. At that given moment it is hard to cope with the situation with no bright side of a conclusion. In that moment your heart is racing, having confusing thoughts and even trying to come up with an escape. Escape you may ask. What type? Are you meaning suicide? While suicide and mental illness to some may be taboo, or even something that should be a hushed topic it shouldn’t be at all. While writing this real case scenario that happened as long as 21 years ago, still lingers in thoughts but also serves as a purpose that I am truly a suicide survivor.

Recalling back, being a youthful high school teenage student, I wasn’t so popular with my classmates but had a small circle of friends. I was living in the mental reality that things weren’t so truly normal. You had your typical cliques, bullies and what you would call outcasts. Yes, I was one of those outcasts. It wasn’t truly as I was hoping to land in but it was fine by me.

Growing up at home was a different story. I went to school like nothing bothered me putting on this fake smile. The home front was what I was scared of more than school. Having individuals who never really supported you and also bashing you never helped. There was no encouragement or praise. Praise was a sin. Always bashing you for your faults was truly a common inspirational hymn around home. That was where the depression grew and I sank. I sank into a deep hole burying myself alive and trying to climb out. It was the quicksand to my mental reality. I knew I had to seek help. It’s truly remarkable when your child (myself) comes and asks for help knowing something is wrong to only be brushed away with, “oh you will get over it and it will go away.” With no help in sight, it grew worse and worse until the day that I began harming myself. I hurt myself more and more, which eventually led to me having physical and emotional scarring.

You are probably wondering what the reasoning was behind this? Depression has no reasons, it could be from happy and bad times or even both. Looking back at this and growing into the adult I am now, I am not ashamed to talk about this as it made me stronger and appreciative that I have living to do. Being a survivor gave me the compassion to talk about this and advocate for helping those who seek help and that mental illness shouldn’t be a stereotype, a stigmata, or even taboo. As human beings we all have feelings, we have compassion and we all have ways to help someone even if it’s a quick phone call, a shoulder for someone to cry on, or even little nice gestures like telling someone hello. We truly do not know what anyone is going through.

It is extremely important to listen to and understand the stories of fellow community members who have experiences with depression, anxiety, and suicide. From this powerful and open story, we take away many lessons, thoughts, and areas of further guidance – guidance for ourselves as we navigate our own mental health, as we help those around us. We also receive insight on how we can think about and discuss mental health, depression, and suicide in our families and communities. By sharing our experiences, we learn that we are not alone – or as alone as we may believe – when it comes to challenges to our mental health and wellness. Depression and anxiety are commonly linked and the most common mental health issues faced by Americans.

We must not be judgmental when those near us come to us for support. Instead of being dismissive when someone shows signs of depression or talks about their emotional difficulties, try to listen and be supportive. It is very important to not talk over someone, or begin “solving” their problems, while someone is sharing their story. Recognizing a person’s pain and experiences can be an affirmation of their experiences, and is one of the most important steps in gaining trust and helping somebody who is coming to you for support.

It is easy to dismiss signs or symptoms of depression – he/she is just tired, irritated, having a bad day. It can be easy to walk past someone or not pay attention to each other’s words, mood, and emotions, and as a result, we miss an opportunity to recognize the need for help. Sometimes a person’s crying out comes in the form of a whisper, substance or alcohol use, bent shoulders, self-isolating, or many signs that are not thought of as obvious indicators that help is needed. When we see signs or symptoms of depression, we must ask in a nonjudgmental way if the person can share his/her story. How are you feeling? Can you tell me how things are going? Do you want to share what is making you feel this way? Then we must listen to that story, and be supportive in helping our loved ones and friends receive information, resources, support, and care.

We must be especially mindful that those around us may be thinking of suicide. We cannot allow our fear of asking questions like, “Are you thinking of suicide?” to overshadow the need to ask such important questions. If you need support in approaching a person about thoughts of suicide, seek a qualified mental health provider, counselor, or someone who has received training and is experienced in discussing mental health for advice. Feel free to call the Lifeline (see number above) to ask for support or contact the Behavioral Health Department at AIHFS to receive information and support on how to approach your friend, family member, or coworker in a supportive, but direct way.  

We must believe, and help others to believe, that there is Hope – Hope that even if we are experiencing deep depression, and even if we have thoughts that the only way to escape mental suffering, that there is a possibility of healing and strength. This is not the same as simply stating, “You’ll get over it” or “you’ll be fine.” Hope is the belief that there is something to live for. There can be a better tomorrow. There is a road to recovery.    

Lastly, there are times when we, as friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, feel a sense of guilt or responsibility for the mental health challenges and anything that may have happened as a result of a person’s depression, anxiety, or mental illness. Did I do enough? What else could I have done? Where did I mess up? Is this my fault? These questions and feelings of self-blame are common after losing someone to suicide or after a loved one attempts suicide. It is very important, at that point, to seek support from a counselor or somebody with training and experience in discussing these thoughts and feelings.

To receive training in Mental Health First Aid or Suicide Prevention, please contact the Zero Suicide Project at zerosuicide@aihfs.org or call 313-846-6030.

Our Behavioral Health Clinic Is Open For Business!

For those older folks and fans of the Peanuts cartoons, you may remember Lucy’s booth advertising “psychiatric help” for a nickel. This iconic image shows Lucy, staring off into nothingness, with nobody to seek her deep and insightful advice. She has all the wisdom in the world and more than enough volume necessary to share it. Yet, there she sits, in her custom craft booth, lonely (and less a few nickels). This picture reminds me of our own wonderful therapists – Melissa, Mary Alice-Bernier, David, Michael, Mayim, and our stalwart clinical intern Ana. This image does not remind me of them because of how much they have in common, necessarily. None of our therapists would yell at you. They are counselors, not psychiatrists (though we are working on that, as are many Tribal health centers). Our offices are generally a little more highfalutin than a few pieces of wood slapped together on the side of the road.

What our therapists actually do have in common with Lucy, is that they are always here, leaning on an elbow, just waiting for another opportunity to serve you and your therapeutic and counseling needs. Okay, they also train quite extensively to improve their knowledge and skills, and do a million other tasks. But the point is that they are here for you! If any of you think that COVID has slowed down our determined team of Therapists from providing the best quality care to you, I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. In 5 points, I am going to give you the skinny on what we can do for you and how we have made our Behavioral Health services safe and accessible!

1. We provide therapy virtually using secured technology and a HIPAA approved web platform. You can use virtual meetings if you have a camera on your laptop or desktop, or even on your phone. It is simple – you receive a linked invitation to join your therapist’s digital “waiting room” through email or text, they let you in when they see you are in the waiting room, and voila, you are face to face! We only ask that you PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEEEEASE…do not turn on your camera until you are ready.

We use doxy.me, not Zoom, but you get the point.

2. We provide therapy over the phone as well, for those who are more “old school”. Mad respect to the OG, though.


3. We have purchased and placed clear barriers in our therapy offices, so that you can have in person visits, and we provide facemasks and hand sanitizer for your convenience and safety. Be sure to practice social distancing, use facemasks and hand sanitizer, and listen to all instructions for in person visits. Though some people have told me I take the social distancing and barriers too far when I am in the office…

4. We can mail or email you all intake or registration forms ahead of your visit, and will include pre-stamped envelopes for you convenience. We only ask that you pay attention to your mailbox and your emails so that the physical or electronic forms can be filled out and sent back in a timely manner…poor Dave here has been waiting for quite a while…

5. We provide traditional medicine as well! Please contact David Garcia at dgarcia@aihfs.org or call our clinic for more information. I promise he is livelier than the picture above when providing traditional medicine.

Please continue to pay attention to our announcements, and know that we are always available to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to call our Behavioral Health Clinic at (313) 846-6030 for more information on our services.

 

Sincerely,

Your Behavioral Health Team at American Indian Health and Family Services

 

P.S. – I guess one other thing the therapists have in common with Lucy – I’d never trust them to hold a football for me in a million years…

Recession Proofing Your Career

By
John Peterson
I-LEAD Program Assistant

With fears of another recession on the horizon due to the outbreak of Covid-19, I thought it would be important to provide strategies to help people survive the turmoil. Whether you’re looking, just beginning, in the midst of your career, or aren’t sure what college or employment path to take, this article is for you.

Instead of focusing on careers that are recession proof, let’s focus on skills. The reason is because while college can be good for employment prospects, the skills you learn are the reason you get hired. Not every career requires you to go to college. Even if you don’t go to college, developing certain skills will put you at an advantage. What types of skills are recession proof? According to research, skills that fall into the category of cognitive and people/social tend to be the most recession proof. But what are cognitive and people/social skills? To define this, we’ll be using O*NET’s definitions. O*NET is a database containing descriptions for jobs, salary/wage averages, and definitions for skills. According to O*NET, cognitive abilities are, “Abilities that influence the acquisition and application of knowledge in problem solving.” These include skills like, deductive reasoning, mathematical reasoning, oral comprehension, and many others. People/social skills are “Developed capacities used to work with people to achieve goals.” Included are, coordination, instructing, negotiation, persuasion, service orientation, and social perceptiveness.

Why are these skills more recession proof? Cognitive skills generate new ideas. When faced with economic downturns, organizations need new ideas to turn themselves around. Companies or organizations doing the same thing as before will likely fall into bankruptcy. Individuals that contribute new and innovate ideas will be less susceptible to layoffs or termination should those occur. This is not a guarantee but if you get laid off, you’ll have an advantage in the labor market. During a recession you must continue to be a people person. Managing conflict is a highly valuable skill many employers seek in their employees. Additionally, being able to get a group of people to work together can be tough. By learning how to be in a leadership role, you can understand how to manage teams. The cooperation you create between people may save the organization.

What careers require cognitive or people/social skill? Generally, both sets of skills go together but sometimes certain professions focus on one set of skills over another. For example, careers that require cognitive abilities are statisticians, chemical engineers, and Clinical Data managers. Next, how do you develop these skills? College is straightforward because it’s a place you can develop these skills. What about after college, or trade school? Many workplaces offer trainings for you to develop your skills. You can find webinars online, colleges and programs may be willing to pay for the training. Sites like Skillshare or Udemy have online courses you can take.

Another way to self-improvement is to read books that build skills. Are you interested in learning more about leadership? There are plenty of books on leadership out there to choose from! If you find you don’t have time to read, then think about listening to an audiobook. Check your local library to see if you have access to online audio books. Many libraries utilize the Libby App (https://libbyapp.com/welcome).  Articles can also be a great way to learn about new trends for skill development. They may not be as detailed as a book, but they can provide a general direction for where you can start looking. Some organizations also provide free materials you can use to develop skills. There are numerous sources you can use to develop your skills. Don’t be afraid to look around to see what’s available.

Some professions have associations you can join that provide training seminars. These are great ways to expand your knowledge and to meet people. Association memberships on resumes can show employers that you are serious about your profession. If interested, association memberships is good for finding a mentor. Mentorships are a great way to improve one’s skills. Their experiences can provide valuable guidance towards your own skill development. If a situation at work arises, a mentor will be able to provide advice on how to handle it. Then you can actively apply the advice given and learn from first-hand experience. A mentor may also be able to recommend certain materials for you to read or trainings to attend. They can also help you network and make employment recommendations.

What if you’re unable to do any of the above things mentioned? Volunteering with a nonprofit is a great way to build your skills! From interacting with people to making spreadsheets nonprofits can give you valuable experience. Nonprofits will train you on how to perform the needed tasks or send you to a training. Be sure to talk to the volunteer coordinator at the nonprofit of your choice to see what opportunities are available to you. It may lead to a job offer.

Even if you do all of the above, you may still be laid off. If this happens there are a few steps you can take. First, look at your employee handbook to see what your organizations policy is for layoffs and severance. You may be able to get unemployment, payment for unused vacation/sick days and other benefits. If these things aren’t clear, be sure to sit down with HR and discuss what the procedure is. Talk with your boss about your concerns if a recession does occur. Discuss what your day to day tasks are and why you’re needed. If you are laid off, ask about future collaboration projects or consulting or part time options. Ask permission to use them as a reference while you look for another job.

Overall, there isn’t a full-proof way to make sure you’re not affected by a recession. No matter the number of skills you have, sometimes things will just be out of your hands. But developing your cognitive and social/people skills will improve your bounce back time. Use every resource that is available to you in the process. You’ll be a stronger candidate for positions and employed quicker than most people who haven’t developed their cognitive skills.

For further reading:

Skills you need:

https://www.skillsyouneed.com/general/employability-skills.html

Free online courses:

https://www.edx.org/

Maintaining Mental Health during COVID-19

By Michael Carroll, LLMSW

Edited by: David Garcia, LMSW

The world has changed suddenly for many people in the past weeks. Between schools being closed, the lack of supplies at the store, and financial uncertainty, it is enough to make anyone feel stressed. Add to that, we are inundated with prophetic news coverage estimating that we may be just at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. The fear can be paralyzing at times and no one goes untouched by this current crisis. It is important to recognize that stress does play a pivotal role in life. I doubt many people would go to work if the stress of having to pay bills was not something on their minds. This is an example of healthy stress. It is necessary for humans to complete tasks, especially ones that can be redundant in our everyday lives. These every day activities can become problematic when stress and worry consume too much of one’s thoughts. This is the place where stress can develop into symptoms of anxiety or panic. While everyone responds differently to stress and worry due to their chemical makeups, we are all feeling anxious due to the current health situation. There are some simple things everyone can do to ease their burden.

It is important to take a step back and gain healthy and realistic perspectives. Human beings have made it through similarly scary situations in recent history, ex. 9/11 and school shootings. At the time, things seemed dire, but people rallied together to overcome through these crises. Human beings are resilient and have weathered difficult events throughout time. Consider how you would reflect back on your life after the COVID-19 quarantine a year or two from now. Yes, things are uncertain now and no one knows how this will turn out but we will be stronger in the end. Many people are in the same situation, doing their best to keep themselves and their families safe. While no one can predict who is going to get the virus, there are some things everyone can do to be proactive about it. These include washing hands frequently, practicing social distancing, and being active. Staying home is extremely important especially if you are starting to feel sick. Above all else, everyone should take a moment to take a deep breath and remain calm. There is a pandemic, but most of us cannot stop it. However, we can take measures to ensure it does not spread. People need to continue to living their lives, even if it is six feet away from each other.

Outside of being proactive, a good self-care routine can help tremendously. Exercise can boost your mood, promote good mental health and going for a walk is a great way to break up your routine. Getting outside and appreciating nature can be a relaxing activity for many, provided people are practicing social distancing. Additionally, be mindful of your diet which can affect your mood. So eating well is extremely important and should include fruits and vegetables. Staying home can be a stressful activity, especially for a few weeks at a time. Keep in touch with friends and family through the phone or video calls can be a source of support. Staying in regular contact with loved ones can help people feel, connected, informed and reassured of the health status of their family members. Another thing that people should do is staying available and interactive with their immediate family or other housemates. Enjoy this time together at home. Together catch up on your favorite shows, play board games, and appreciate the time you get to spend with your household. Surely, everyone has wished they could had stayed home while they were getting ready for work in the morning. Take advantage of this break from work. Find something that takes everyone’s mind off of these troubling times.

 

Lastly, it is good to stay informed, but limiting exposure to the news can help one maintain their sanity and limit their anxiety. This is not to say ignore the coverage completely, as public health announcements can be beneficial or lifesaving. Be mindful about how the news is affecting your mood or the moods of others and focus attention elsewhere if it becomes overwhelming. Take time to do those activities that are pleasurable or relaxing.

It can be intimidating to talk to children and teens about this health crisis. Their world has been equally affected and disrupted. Schools are out with some question about whether they will begin again this school year. When you talk with them, talk to them at a level they will understand, have actual facts and listen to what they say and how they say it. Ask how they are feeling and emphasize that it is okay to feel upset, anxious, depressed or afraid. Be ready to share your own feelings. Help them understand that the orders to stay home are to keep everyone safe, it’s not a punishment. Remember, moods can be contagious. If a parent is calm, that will reverberate throughout the home and it can be reassuring to kids.

Uncertainty can be scary during this time. Use techniques such as taking some deep breaths when feeling stressed or burned out. There is a breathing exercise called 4-4 breathing. Slowly inhale while counting to four and exhale while counting to four. Doing this a few times while concentrating on your breath can help one stay in the moment and relax. When you are washing your hands, staying home, etc…, think of the fact that you are doing the utmost possible that you can, to help yourself and your immediate household be safe and healthy. The world will continue to turn despite this pandemic. While this specific event is new to mankind, crises and epidemics are not. I have faith that humanity will make it through this pandemic. In the meanwhile, remember to be compassionate towards others. Keep calm, wash your handsfrequently and practice social distancing. As the band, The Police said, “Don’t stand, don’t stand so, don’t stand so close to me”.

Miigwetch,

Blood Quantum


By John Marcus, Communications Specialist

What is blood quantum and why does it matter? If you are not a Native American, the question probably doesn’t carry much weight. Maybe similar to the question, “what is your zip code?” Everyone knows a zip code is used to deliver items or services. To a certain extent, that is true for why blood quantum is even a discussion. It is part of the delivery system to federally recognized American Indians.

Living here in Michigan we are right next to the Canadian border and blood quantum is also an issue there for similar reasons, some of which I will explore here. Please don’t expect this blog to be the definitive contribution to this subject, only my personal views and a contribution to a very large discussion.  In fact, I expect quite a few opinions and maybe a few corrections to come my way, but that’s fine. Important topics should have discourse.

Blood quantum is part of a system created by the U.S. government to deliver or distribute goods and/or services. This is the result of treaty obligations between the Native governments and the incoming governments. The earliest treaties were to resolve direct physical conflict. To put it in clearer terms, we will stop fighting if both governments agree to these things. Decades passed and more of the Native American resources were wanted by the American government resulting in additional treaties to enable that.

Familiarity with the weight of the phrase, blood quantum, derives from either you, your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents having been enrolled with a tribe around 1934 and it would have been peppered throughout your family discussions. On the other hand, you may have read up on this topic previously so you’re familiar with it on a certain level. It is around 1934 when congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act and this is when you really start seeing the ¼ blood quantum eligibility becoming a part of the language coming out of congress. If both sides of the previously mentioned role constructs were on it, you are 4/4 blood quantum. These days that is very rare. At least it was until the Red Lake Tribal Council made a recent resolution, but more on that later.

Nevertheless, to some the very mention of blood quantum will get their defenses up. To them, it is an attack on their spirituality. They want to follow the ways of  Native Americans because initially movies, books, or other media within american culture, introduced them to the concept. Then they start digging deeper into the native ways by finding media that has more authenticity, as in content credited to native americans. Add to this, they start researching their own family genealogy and see a glimpse of possible Native American heritage or while growing up someone in their family told them that great-grandma or great-grandpa had been married to a full-blooded indian, and now you have the makings for someone that truly believes they are Native American: they just can’t prove it.

Their next steps include interactions with like-minded people. If as a reader I am describing you, then American Indian Health & Family Services can help you end your search for spirituality. Sorry to pitch shamelessly for where I work (haha), but all our activities, even the sweat lodge, are available to you. You will be welcomed to come and share your appreciation for a way of spiritual life that has survived eons. Though our “services” from our behavioral health department and our medical clinic would not be as easily accessible to you because we do request you to bring your tribal identification card and certain rules apply to the use of it. If you don’t have a card, you can still use our medical clinic or behavioral health services, but you’ll want to talk to our billing department to find out if we accept your insurance, the associated co-pay or other options available to you, including a sliding fee scale based on your income. Ok, enough about AIHFS.

My experiences with blood quantum are as follows. I am enrolled with the Sault Ste. Maria(SSM) Tribe of Chippewa Indians of Michigan. Their approach uses descendancy instead of blood quantum. Meaning, if you can establish you are related to someone on their rolls from a designated time, then you are eligible to enroll. Since the SSM weren’t federally recognized until1972, this approach could reflect blood quantum was already an issue for Native Americans less than 40 years after congress began including it in their language.

I am eligible to enroll in Canada, but have not followed up with any paperwork. I’ve gone to the website and found it convoluted. My canadian cousin told me I should come down to the office and do it in person.

I’m not enrolled with the Taos Pueblo tribe of New Mexico even though I am ½ blood quantum. I visit my pueblo relatives at least once a year and they will casually bring up enrollment every now and then. They’ve always treated me like family, with or without a card, and that’s what I’ve valued most.

This brings up a rule that may be across the board with all American Indian tribes: you can’t be a member of more than one tribe at a time. I think I first heard this in the 90’s and unexpectedly I had a mini-identity crisis and was angry about it! While growing up my family always told me I had multiple tribal identities. I still will tell people all my tribes and then specify the one where I am enrolled.

Next, I’d like to share an experience about the tribe where I’m not “officially” enrolled.  This happened when my father passed away in 2016. As part of his funeral, I participated with the pueblo side of my family just as if I was a tribal member. No one asked me if I had my “card” or if I was enrolled at Taos Pueblo. To me that is what matters the most. Are you allowed to do the ceremony like a tribal member, if yes, then the system is working. It’s not perfect and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say it is or ever has been.

On Tuesday, October 8th, the Red Lake Tribal Council passed a resolution to change the blood degree of members. They voted, by  7-3, that every member enrolled on November 10th, 1958 would now be considered full-blood, or 4/4 blood degree. They said it was a great first step, but they need to figure out how to end the current practice of mathematical genocide. It will be interesting to see how the Department of Interior reacts to this.

http://www.redlakenation.org./events/red-lake-tribal-council-passes-new-resolution-to-change-blood-degree-of-members

Then, in Canada, there’s this example within the Fort William First Nation. In 1987 they scrapped the status requirement for membership. Subsequently, a non-native person by blood, but adopted by a member, was granted tribal membership.

https://www.cbc.ca/radio/asithappens/as-it-happens-tuesday-edition-1.4054748/how-a-non-indigenous-man-became-a-member-of-the-fort-william-first-nation-1.4054752

Taking all the preceding into account, the biggest determining factor of how you view blood quantum appears to be whether you are seeking goods and services or spirituality. In the pre-contact days, a tribe could ban someone. That person lost access to everything: goods, services, spirituality and family. That was the right of that tribe though, to decide who should and shouldn’t be a part of their people. That right still exists and is a benchmark of sovereignty. Each tribe has their own way of creating their enrollment requirements and certification. If they decide blood quantum is a determining factor then we have to respect their decision. However, if you are seeking spirituality then usually you can bypass the formal blood quantum requirement and find people willing to help you on your path.

I’d like to wrap this up with another interesting development. There is now a movie out called Blood Quantum and it is directed by Jeff Barnaby. Jeff identifies as a “rezzed out hillbilly, Mi’g Maq expatriate.” His words, not mine, although I wish I could take credit for them, (haha)!   https://twitter.com/tripgore?lang=en   The actors are mostly First Nations or Native Americans. This was just released in 2019. I watched the premier pre and post interview on YouTube.

In it the director said it is a zombie movie, but also it is meant to make you think about the idea of how blood quantum is affecting our Native communities. I’ve not been able to find it, but I look forward to watching it when I do!

Zombie movie, blood quantum info from IMDb https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7394674/

With that, I’ll leave you with a final thought to mull over. What is worse, mathematical genocide for tangible elements or a zombie-like apocalypse of our spiritual being?

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.”

 

Resources:

Guide to Acknowledging First Peoples & Traditional Territory. (n.d.). Retrieved November 23, 2018, from https://www.caut.ca/content/guide-acknowledging-first-peoples-traditional-territory

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 https://www.teenvogue.com/story/indigenous-land-acknowledgement-explained

Gurneau, J. (n.d.). Native American and Indigenous Initiatives. Retrieved November 24, 2018, from https://www.northwestern.edu/native-american-and-indigenous-peoples/about/Land Acknowledgement.html

Know the Land. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2018, from http://www.lspirg.org/knowtheland/

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 http://blog.nativepartnership.org/graduation-rates-american-indian-education/

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 (http://www.aihfs.org/staff.html)

 

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 (http://detroitagriculture.net/our-work/garden-resource-program/) 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 (http://www.cskdetroit.org/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 (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1443101.Cherokee_Women)  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” (https://www.freshpreserving.com/ball-blue-book–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)! http://www.aihfs.org/sacredroots.html

 

Read more:

Indigenous Food Systems

http://www.indigenousfoodsystems.org/food-sovereignty

Native Food Systems

http://nativefoodsystems.org/about/sovereignty

 

More about Canning

https://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/canning/home-canning

NPR story about Cherokee Purples https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/08/18/432771713/cherokee-purple-the-story-behind-one-of-our-favorite-tomatoes

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: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

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?