A few nights ago, among a group of Indigenous friends in Flagstaff, a recent incident came up in conversation: the Salt River High School Eagles volleyball team walked off the court during a match with the Caurus Academy volleyball team in Phoenix.
According to the Washington Post, Caurus Academy fans and cheerleaders mocked the all-Indigenous Eagles team with faux war cries, tomahawk chops, and a group of boys yelling the traumatic slur, “Savages!”
Tension rose, and the referee dismissed the hostility as “boys will be boys.” The Salt River coach ended the match for safety reasons.
This episode is dishearteningly familiar within the American cultural landscape. In our own community and throughout the country, Indigenous people are frequently told by angry settlers to “go home” or “go back to the Rez.” These statements carry the surreal flavor of revisionist history, upholding a widely accepted narrative that barely conceals its baked-in genocide.
Much of this continent is now called the United States of America, and those of us who benefit most from dominant historical narratives seem to have forgotten that all of this land is the original, ancestral homelands of Indigenous Peoples.
This video map states, “Between 1776 and 1887, the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from America’s indigenous people, by treaty and executive order.” Watching the land theft that occurred in just over a century, condensed into a 90 second film, is a powerful and disturbing experience.
As my Diné friend Darrell Marks pointed out the other night, “We are already home. This has always been our home.”
As a 9th generation, European-descended settler, this begs the question: “If Native Americans are already “home,” then where am I? Suddenly, my relationship with this land of Flagstaff, Arizona, which I have thought of as “home” for more than 25 years, becomes much more complicated.
Universally, humans long for home: a place to be cared for, seen, loved, and fed. Humans need inclusion, amongst family, friends, and community. How are our identities and sense of safety threatened when we become aware that the place we call home, the place where we have built comfort and stability, sometimes for generations, was in fact, stolen, long ago?
Our nation is experiencing the growing pains of evolving cultural narratives. The rising voices of Indigenous leaders, activists, and artists expose realities many of us have had the privilege to ignore – the painfully serious, ongoing consequences of this American settler colonial project.
The discomfort of feeling our “home” ground shifting beneath our feet can easily lead groups of settlers to adopt the types of hateful, frightening behavior displayed at the volleyball game in Phoenix. On the flip side, however, this discomfort can become an opening to the deeply healing work of excavating painful truths, acknowledging and examining our own identities as settlers.
November is, Native American Heritage Month, and I call upon fellow settlers, (especially those of European descent) to go beyond appreciation for the diverse, beauty-filled artistic and cultural traditions of Native America. I call upon settlers to live into challenging questions: how did our ancestors come to this land, and why? How do we benefit from this land today? How can we play a role in making this land a home that is safe, welcoming, and loving for all?