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Amplifying Black & Indigenous Womanhood this Thanksgiving

Amplifying Black & Indigenous Womanhood this Thanksgiving

For most Thanksgiving is a time where families come together from all over the U.S to celebrate unity. Filled with baking, eating, and cooking this holiday is big on two things: food and family. But while some families are debating on matters such as sweet potato vs pumpkin pie others remember and mourn their ancestors. 

Thanksgiving has transitioned from a false narrative about Indegenious people to a way to recognize their traumatised experiences and hardships. Unacknowledged yet unapologetic, the Native American community shares a similitude with the Black community, which further creates a unique perspective around intersectional womanhood. Chenae Bullock and Radmilla Cody are two women living at that very intersection, redefining activism in their communities and beyond. 

These phenomenal women use their intersectionality to advocate for both minority communities, embodying the possibility of what it means for both Black and Indigenous people to be united. Through the spread of awareness and agency, these women are contributing to the rehabilitation and reformation of the Native American community. 

Chenae Bullock

Chenae Bullock is the owner of Moskehtu Consulting, an Indigenous owned and operated Consulting service. As an enrolled Shinnecock Indian Nation Tribal Member and descendant of the Montauk Tribe in Long Island New York, Chenea works as an Indigenous perspective historian, cultural practitioner, and preservationist.

Can you tell us about growing up Black and Indigenous? How have both cultures defined you?

As all people’s childhood experiences are unique to them, so was mine. This is mainly because I was raised by a Native American woman and grew up in a traditional Native American community. My father was African American and taught me all he could about being African American, but never from a woman’s perspective. My mother could only teach me how to be a woman but not an African American. This journey on how to balance my two identities was something I had to explore. Both parents instilled in me to respect and recognize both cultures. Growing up was a challenge because the children weren’t always the nicest. I was either too Black for the Native American Community; or the Black community would tell me everyone is Native American and I am nothing special. My first four years of education were at an international school in Camish Mache, Saudi Arabia populated with children from several different countries. As a direct result of my early education and extensive travel experiences, I learned tolerance and appreciation for different cultures. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was developing social skills and community relationships early. 

Did you struggle to find your place in both spaces? How did you combat that?

 When I would speak Shinnecock language in class or among my friends I was often laughed at and made fun of. There were many times I raised my hand to explain to the teacher that the maps being used to teach about Native Americans are paper geocoding my tribe; they would then explain to me that all of them died. This happened in every history class I ever had, even throughout college. I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office with my parents due to these experiences. In college, I often set up meetings with the Dean of Students regarding similar topics. So yes, I struggled, but my parents never let me conform. They raised me to know exactly what lineage I came from on both sides. They made sure I was surrounded by empowering people from that same lineage, who I to this day call my mentors and teachers. For me combating this was coming to the understanding that it is my inherent obligation to do so. I began walking a complete road to sobriety. In our traditions we call it the “Red Road”. I no longer allowed any toxins to take over my mind or body. This way when faced with challenges I have natural strength with a clean mind, body, and spirit to take on any challenges.  

How has your intersectionality impacted your activism?

I would say in the last 6 years being who I am and my role has been sort of like the phrase “when preparation meets opportunity”. Creator prepared me my whole life with all of the challenges, teachings, relationships, and environments to become who I am today. It wasn’t always something I could ever fully predict or help others understand, but somehow in these last 6 years I see that being from two cultures is a gift given from the creator. Therefore, my impact in my activism simply comes from being myself. It is simply existing. Our ancestors, ALL Indigenous peoples worldwide were sought out to be completely wiped out, so the fact that we are still here is activism. I tell myself this affirmation everyday. I know not all of my people have the same traditional customs, or have any knowledge of their ancestry. Though at the same time it is important to know that when we come together and respect one another we can make an impact more than we can individually.

 

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Thanksgiving is today, how do you feel about this holiday? What can we do to recognize Indigenous communities on this day?

For me it is a day to honor and remember my ancestors who died in the Pequot massacre of 1936. It’s painful to know that Governor John Winthrop wrote a proclamation declaring “…a day of publick thanksgiving…” for the riding of Pequots. Therefore, for me to see everyone celebrating this day, and use Native People as a novelty who took the brunt of genocide, is tremendously painful. My communities have always celebrated “thanksgiving”, in fact we celebrate it 13 times throughout the year. Each new moon is a day for thanksgiving. Different seasons produce different berries, fruits, and harvests that we have always celebrated. During the fall my tribe along with many of our sister tribes throughout New England celebrate the harvest we call “Nunnowa”. This in our language means harvest time. My tribe, the Shinnecock, have come to use this name for the community gathering that was also known as Shinnecock Thanksgiving and Indian Thanksgiving. Held the 3rd Thursday in November, Shinnecock family members gather to eat together celebrating the harvest time with one another. This is a tradition our people have been doing since before contact. 

What are some tips that people outside the Indigenous community can use to provide support?

In the overall perspective we all have to live on earth. Right now, it’s the earth that needs the support. Indigenous communities have never neglected that responsibility. The issue is that Indigenous communities have been exploited and forced into colonization causing them to become far removed from such a responsibility. I think if more people could understand that it takes unity and mutual respect for one another to support OUR earth, our differences will only be what helps us better understand each of our roles on the mission to save the planet. 

 As we speak, there are Indigenous communities that are camped outside of construction sites, lobbying in Governmental institutions, and teaching their communities in cultural camps. These communities are doing things from restructuring their own Tribal Governments to remove the colonized mindset from their Nations to teaching the youth about the plants that grow in their homelands. The way people can support these communities is to learn from them and how they do not neglect their responsibility. Unfortunately, during the process of colonization there was a strategic plan to divide our global Indigenous communities and put them against each other. Therefore, lateral violence is something that we all have to internally understand because it is a hindrance to the unity that we all desire. The battles we face internally are generational and require layers of healing. Conversations like this are a start, along with building relationships where we can learn from each other’s stories. I think this is the greatest support anyone can provide for one another, and it becomes reciprocal. From there we can individually figure out how to make a difference in a community.

 

Radmilla Cody 

Radmilla Cody is a GRAMMY Nominee, Indie Award Winner, multiple Native American Music Awards Nominee, former Miss Navajo Nation, and an Advocate against Domestic Abuse and Violence. Cody uses her celebrity to challenge the negative stigmas of the Black and Native American Community.

Can you tell us about growing up Black and Indigenous? How have both cultures defined you? 

Growing up as a Diné/ Navajo and Nahiłii/ Black person has had its challenges. However, my late Grandmother Dorothy Cody was and is my pillar of strength, a beautiful force in my life who reminded me to always take pride in both heritages. I grew up primarily in the Diné society with some Black influence from the community and from my Father’s side. Both cultures have taught me to be unapologetically who I am as a Black Indigenous person and to always take a stand against injustice.

Did you struggle to find your place in both spaces? How did you combat that? 

I struggled with anti-blackness from my Diné side and stereotypes from my Black side, colorism from both. Racism and Colorism ran deep in both heritages and became my daily existence in a world already filled with its own identity crisis based on whiteness, race, hate, violence, abuse, and false interpretations of who we are in the eyes of colonization.  

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Internalized and externalized oppression was clear as day in my existence as a Dine’ Nahilii and person of color. Every which way I turned, it stared me in the face making me question my identity and place in society. The racism only perpetuated and created more insecurities within myself as a teenager and into my adult years. I combated that by remaining true to myself and connected to the lifeways and teachings of my grandmother. As I got older, I would eventually learn that racism is an invention of settler colonialism, a tool to subjugate and divide the poor and dispossessed to make them easier to exploit, murder, imprison, and disappear. The violent reality of settler colonialism’s project in the name of capitalism has repurposed my work to include working class struggles. Instead of liberal ideals of self-healing, I began to understand that as long as the monsters of capitalism exist, we will never fully heal towards healthy and dignified lives.

 

 

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How has your intersectionality impacted your activism?

I learned the personal is political. As I learned and read about the symptoms and behaviors of gender based violence, I began to connect the same abusive behaviors and tactics in settler society. I learned that settler society is based on power and control over stolen land and stolen people. My intersectionality has and always has been based on the concept of K’é/ kinship. A teaching that my late Grandmother instilled in me since childhood. K’é is the foundation and identity of who we are as Diné. It is our relationship to one another, non-human relatives and the land. My activism is K’é because it involves working towards a just, free, liberated and dignified life for all oppressed people. We have witnessed the strengthening of K’é as BIPOC have joined in solidarity against the injustices we face. 

Thanksgiving is today, how do you feel about this holiday? What can we do to recognize Indigenous communities on this day?

I do not celebrate genocide. No Thanks No Giving is a colonial holiday that further reinforces the false sense of unity and harmony. Something that has never existed since colonization. It’s another example of the silencing of Indigenous people and their history. In this case, our Wampanoag relatives. What settlers can do to recognize Indigenous people on No Thanks No Giving is give us the land back. Now, that would be something to celebrate! 

What are some tips that people outside the Indigenous community can use to provide support?

Educate not only ourselves, but our families and communities on the nuances of violence, their roots and the goals of violence. Learn about the many movements by BIPOC and how to support/ donate to those movements. Our role going forward is to fight for those who continue to be oppressed, who don’t have adequate status or protection. We are all capable of creating changes needed in our families and communities. White Supremacy, Heteropatriarchy, and Capitalism must also be dismantled and destroyed in order for us to truly live as good relatives to each other and the Earth. We will always be strengthened through our kinship and honest connections to one another. There is no K’é in money or material objects. There is K’é in the land, water, air, fire, our non-human relatives and each other. 

Check out the link below if you would like to show your support for Radmilla Cody’s fundraising efforts to building an commune: http://keinfoshop.org/donate

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