Simran Jeet Singh:
Thank you for watching the Religion News Service series, “Anti-Racism as a Spiritual Practice.” I’m your host, Dr. Simran Jeet Singh. And this episode is part of the second season of our series, which we filmed late in 2020. The first season, which was entitled, “Becoming Less Racist,” can be viewed on religion news.com. We thank Columbia University and Trinity University for their support in making the second season possible.
I’m so excited to introduce our guest for today, Kaitlin Curtis, who has a beautiful new book out called “Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God.” It’s a wonderful and insightful read that carries us through Kaitlin’s own journey of rediscovering more than just God, but also her sense of belonging and her own identity.
She’s an exquisite writer and thinker. And I could think of no better person to help us think about the relationship and tension between white supremacy and Indigenous experiences. Kaitlin belongs to the Potawatomi Nation and she talks a lot about race and whiteness and de-colonization throughout her book.
What’s your opinion on land acknowledgements generally? Do they feel important to you? If so, why? If not, why not?
Yeah. That’s a great question. You know, there are other places all over the world that practice land acknowledgements regularly like Canada, our neighbor, and in the U.S., this is not something that has ever been picked up by many of us. And so, there is sometimes I’ll do a speaking event and I’ll do a land acknowledgement and people will be like, that’s amazing. I’m so glad you thought of that. And I’m like, I did not think of the land acknowledgement. This is just, you’ve never heard of it. You know?
I’ve heard discussions, you know, in places like Canada, where they’re asking, you know, has this thing been happening so much that it’s, that it’s not working anymore? You know, is it, is it becoming just a flat thing that we do at an event and then you move on without actually recognizing, why are we even honoring Indigenous people?
In America, on the other hand, I think that we need it more because we haven’t gotten to the point where we’ve even really started to tell the truth about our history, you know, so much the genocide and the land theft and the continual colonization of Indigenous peoples just isn’t talked about very much. And so, when an event does begin with a land acknowledgement, it’s often really new for people.
So, for me, one of the most powerful things that I feel like I can do is point people to this website, native land.ca, and it tells you who the original peoples of the land are still if they’re still there and who they were. And I think that that’s a really powerful tool because people just, it’s not common in the U.S. And I think it’s important for us to talk about here.
So, I, yeah, so I think it’s important. And in this land of Zoom, it’s so weird because we’re all just where we are. And you know, so when, when everything went virtual, I was like, how do we do this? But we just figure it out and we keep doing it maybe.
Yeah, I appreciate that. I’ve been over the, over the past few months with, with the Black Lives Matter movement and doing programs in in Canada, I mean, virtually, but Canada, Australia, especially where it’s such a standard practice that everyone, everyone before you’re in a, on a Zoom call, and, you know, in, in our tradition in America, you introduce yourself and where you’re from. In those countries, it’s very much like ingrained within the community. One of the real differences that I felt was in those communities, as they’re reckoning with racial justice, it’s very much tied to Indigenous experiences.
The call I was on for Australia last week, they were shocked, like literally shocked, that one of the questions was what does, what does the Black Lives Matter movement look like in relation to the Indigenous people in America? And I was like, okay, we don’t talk about them. We’ve already kicked them out of our lands and it’s not something that any, like no one even thinks about it. So anyway, it was, it was just a really unexpected question for me that made me lift up some of these biases that have been deeply embedded in some way.
Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s, it’s tough for us to even admit that we’re like a settler colonial state. I had never heard of that, that term until a few years ago, like I had no idea that that was a thing.
And so, to talk about that, we have something in common with some other places that are, you know, that are trying to reckon with this, but as America, this grand nation, like we don’t want to admit our own history and not much can be done if you’re not willing to just tell that truth from the beginning.
Okay. Let me ask you, you, you throw a term at a settler colonial state.
What does that mean? And then, and then I’ll start asking about who you are and your story, but we’d like dug in a little early.
Yeah. Let me tell you what I … I was gonna say, like, I can, let me read you the definition from my book because settler colonialism is definitely like for sure, an academic term that I will butcher it if I try to tell you, but basically settler colonialism is, is where you have a group that comes in and takes over like the Indigenous peoples of a land.
So, you have them coming and taking that over and then over time it just continues to push and push and push out that group. And so, then you end up with the land of, you know, the settlers and the, you know, come and take whatever you need, there’s no one here anyway, it’s just open for everybody. And we ended up with this settler colonial state.
So, we, we are a colonized nation, but we just don’t, we don’t talk about it that way, you know? And that, that needs to become a more regular part of our vocabulary in order to begin a conversation.
Yeah. I think, I think in your book, if I remember right, I just read it again in preparation for this conversation, I was like, let me just listen to our last conversation, which we recorded.
I should read the book again because I’m a Columbia nerd. And so, I did. But I think you used the word displace as part of your definition. It was a real, a really helpful key word in terms of conceptualizing what that actually looks like. Yeah. And this point about us, our conception of America, we, we think of ourselves as having defeated the colonialists or the colonists, right?
Like we think of ourselves as the anti-British, the anti-colonizers. We don’t think we don’t like to think of ourselves as an imperial force. So anyway, I really appreciate that point. Can I, can I switch gears and get to your story? Can you, can you tell us a little bit about growing up? What was your life like?
I mean I guess the question is, and the work I’m asking you to do for us is, most of us are not Indigenous. Most of us don’t even know Indigenous people. What’s that like for you growing up?
Yeah. So, some people might say that my childhood is, is very much like a lot of Indigenous kids childhoods. But I, of course my book is, you know, from my perspective, but I grew up my, I have a white mom and then my dad is Potawatomi. So, my Potawatomi side comes from my father’s side of the family. We grew up Baptist, so, you know, my dad’s whole family was in Oklahoma. And so, my grandma who’s Potawatomi, like, was a Southern Baptist secretary.
And so, she was just like fully immersed in the Southern Baptist church in Oklahoma. And so, I grew up in those kinds of spaces. But my father was a police officer. He worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. So, I had this, like, we went to church with Mom on Sundays, but then also my father’s, you know, working with Native communities, but also, we never really talked about being Potawatomi.
Like we didn’t talk about what that might mean. We didn’t talk about, this is who you are. This is your identity. Like I didn’t grow up knowing we had our own language, our own origin stories. So, it was this weird, you know, world of being a poor Native kid, but also just being Baptist. And also, you know, like it was just … so we moved back and forth from Oklahoma to New Mexico multiple times when I was young for my dad’s job.
And then when I was eight, we moved to Missouri. And so, it was just like, completely out of context just moved over to Missouri. And when I was nine, my father left our family. So, it was a very, for me at age nine, it was a very sudden just, he was gone. And I continued to have visitations with him. He moved back to Oklahoma.
So, so then, instead of this kind of strange mixture of a world inside my home, it became this divided, like I go visit my dad, but I live with my mom and, single mom of three kids. And so just a lot of exhaustion and trauma and, you know, and then my mother remarried my stepdad, who was a Baptist pastor.
And so, I kind of, my safe place became the Baptist church even more. And so, I just immersed myself in that. And as I did that, you know, it kind of silenced the Potawatomi parts of myself. And I would say even villainized, cause that’s what colonization does. And white supremacy is like, you, you pick up, for me, Christianity, and you suppress and put away those other parts of you, right?
To assimilate into, to fit in. And so, yeah. So, I’ve been on this journey throughout my adult life too, what I, what I consider integrating all the parts of who I am and making sure that all parts of me are seen and known and understood. And so that’s just a naturally been a part of my writing and what I want to embody and the spaces that I inhabit and online, and so that’s really been important for me is to do this kind of work. So, I’m really grateful to be here tonight with all of you just kind of processing these things.
Yeah, I appreciate that. And I, you know, even, just even just sharing your story, I think in your book and in your work, I mean, it’s, it does, it does a lot of that work for a lot of us who are trying to learn how to connect, but just don’t know, how so I, it’s really powerful.
Can I ask you a question about identity? I think that to me is the major theme of our conversation for today. You, you talked a little bit about growing up, you, you weren’t really like, you didn’t really talk about being Potawatomi. Right? Like if we want to break it up into mathematical proportions, but like you’re 50%.
Right? But like, in terms of like biologically, but in terms of how you perceive yourself at that age at a young age, you weren’t like you, you saw yourself as Baptist, more than anything else. Is that right?
Maybe not when I was young. When I was young, it was kinda like, I’m just a kid and I’m here and here we are.
And then, you know, and then as identity, as you start naming it, like, I remember when I was really young being, so, kind of, one with nature. And then as I got older, that kind of got, I think a lot of us, as we get older, as children, we have this connection with the Earth and as we get older, it kind of gets pulled out of us. I think is kind of like that, that when I, when I was finally able to be like, okay, who am I asked those questions? Probably in adolescence. By that time, it was like, I’m a really good Baptist girl. And I’m a singer, I’m a worship leader because I’m a singer and that’s what you do. So yes, everything revolved around that. And then it was kind of like, Oh yeah. And I’m this thing too. But we don’t like, yeah, talk about that. And that was it.
Was it like a, we don’t talk about that because we’re ashamed? Or was it like, we don’t talk about that because it’s not important to our daily lives? Or what, what was that like?
A lot of it was kind of the shame of intergenerational trauma because our grandparents were taught to be ashamed, you know. So, we have something in America that a lot of people still don’t know about, which is boarding schools.
So, you know, throughout history, Indigenous kids have been taken from their families and forced into these boarding schools run by Christians or Catholic run boarding schools. And they’re stripped of their culture. You know, kill the Indian, save the man. That was the whole, the whole point was to strip us of our culture and assimilate us and that leaves an impact generations down the road. And so, you have families that like, we know who we are, but we’re not going to talk about it. There’s this taboo almost, you know. And I think that my father had a lot of trauma that was from his parents and their parents that we just didn’t, it kept going down the line and we didn’t talk about it, you know?
And so, for me, I want to talk about it, and I want my kids to talk about it. And, but that means that we have to dig into that cycle, and it is really painful. In high school I was not proud to be Potawatomi. I didn’t, there was nothing about it for me that meant anything. And I was not willing to have conversations about it or embrace it, even though it was a part of me. I was taught not to.
And so that makes me really sad now because like, I would never want to do that to my kids where they wouldn’t want to know who they are. But that happens with colonization. So.
Right. Exactly. I mean, I mean, I’m a dad now, I have two kids and I think about that kind of thing a lot. Like how do we instill a sense of like, of pride? And not like a weird nationalist, like hateful, pride, but just like, you know, I am who I am and I’m not ashamed of it.
And that’s so hard when you’re constantly, I mean, I think it’s harder when the, the messaging is implicit and it’s so pervasive, right? Like we talked about this briefly last time, but I didn’t think about it or talk to you about it in this way, but like, okay. So, so growing up, I mean, I could name off the top of my head things that give anti Indigenous sentiment, right? So, like Cowboys and Indians, that’s what we talked about last time. And I had some questions about that. But I’m thinking also of A lot of the Bugs Bunny, like Loony Toons stuff I watched growing up and the way Native Americans were depicted and I’m thinking about this, this book series that I don’t know if you read, that was the Indian in the Cupboard.
Like sports mascots, of course. But like that’s, that’s its own conversation at this point. There are all these things. I mean, were you, were you cognizant of those things? Like, would you see that it’d be like, oh shit, here we go again. Or was that like…
No, I didn’t. I like I grew up loving Christopher Columbus. I thought he was awesome. I, because that’s just what we were taught in public school. So, I mean, it’s not like Native, some Native kids are taught from an early age, like my kids know, my kids know about Columbus, but I didn’t, like, I thought he was a great. I loved Peter pan, like the old cartoon and it has Tiger Lily. Who’s this sexualized, quite sexualized, like, little Indian maiden, you know, like wearing her buckskin or whatever. And then you have Pocahontas the movie, which is not based on, and I had a Pocahontas Barbie doll, but to me, that Barbie doll like represented who I am. So, it was this weird, like, I don’t even know how to describe it, that I had so much pride in this Native Barbie that I had, but like she was based off a Disney movie that was really inappropriate.
And so, there were pieces where I was trying to figure this out, you know. But I don’t think I had the space to process it with anyone, you know? So, it was a really strange thing that now I look back and I’m like, Oh, that thing meant a lot to me. Or I watched that movie and it, I would never show my kids that movie now, or things like that, you know?
Yeah. It’s, it’s so complicated. And I guess what I’m hearing you say is when these ideas are so pervasive, we normalize them. Right? They’re just like your everyday life. It’s just normal. And what that means is we’re not immune. No one’s immune to that. It doesn’t matter if you’re Indigenous, you could still be susceptible to those messages. And then when you normalize it, you internalize it. And you’re just like, this is just how it is. And that’s how you think about the world going forward.
Yeah. And it’s like, I mean, there have been Indigenous scholars who have done studies on these Native mascots and what they psychologically do to children who see them over and over again and how it actually damages their emotional wellbeing and their sense of self, like, yeah, and you’re right. It’s, it’s completely implicit. And to have those things, and then the stuff I learned in the Baptist church, just about like being a woman or all the, all the different, these messages that I was getting, you know, you just, it’s just like layers of white supremacy and misogyny just stacked on top of my actual soul. So, yeah.
Yeah. Oh man. That’s so interesting. Can you, can you, okay. I haven’t asked you this ever before. I haven’t asked anybody this before. But I. I’m going to try it. And if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine. But can you talk in your book a little bit about poverty? And that’s not something that’s familiar to me personally.
Like I haven’t had that experience. What, what is that like? You know, you talk about trailer parks. You talk about government distributed food. And I know you were relatively young at that point, but, but do you have memories of that?
Yeah. Yeah. For me, like, living in poverty was just like living a really simple life. Like for me, I just thought of it as like we play in the dirt and these are our friends and I love these grasshoppers. And, you know, like it was just like that. Like, I don’t, I don’t have a lot of memories of thinking, I’m poor or I, you know, these problems that might’ve come up in our family. I think that probably my older siblings and my mom, of course, knew and my dad, but, but I was, I was young.
And so, when I think that hit me was when my parents did get divorced. And there were, there were things that had fallen through where it was very clear. Like we don’t have the money to live this way. And then, you know, when my mom got remarried, we had money for the first time. And I remember shopping at American Eagle for the first time, the, the store and buying an outfit there. And it was like mind blowing to me, like to shop at a mall and to buy clothes there. And so that was like one of the times where I was like, Oh, like somethings, something is different now, and I’ve never experienced this before. And so, I experienced life on both sides of that. And, and that, wasn’t, that’s an interesting juxtaposition for me to process, that leaving Indigenous spaces like gave me this other life, but then I lost this part of me as well.
If that makes sense. And like, you know, and so it’s like a, trade-off almost, or like, you know, you can’t have all of it. You can’t have yourself, so you’re going to get this different life, but you’re going to lose part of yourself in the process.
Yeah, no, I get that. It resonates with me in, in different ways. And I guess, I guess the question I have then is once you had access to capital, right, you’re still a kid. So, it’s, it’s, it’s like, you’re not thinking about it in the ways that we’re talking about it, but like, did you feel like you, did you feel like you now belonged more? Like, did you feel like you were moving into sort of mainstream society where you would be perceived as normal? Or was it still…
Yeah, probably, even just based on clothing alone, like being able to shop at a, at a mall regularly or whatever. Like I think that it did mentally put me in a place where it’s like, this is different than what I grew up with.
You know, maybe yeah. Maybe I can fit in differently now, but with that comes, well, if I am going to, I need to do these things, which is assimilate, and I need to say the right things and do the right things to fit in, like in the church and at school. And, you know, and then you put on these roles for yourself essentially, and those aren’t healthy either. So. Yeah.
Right. Okay. So, when was it that you, so you’ve talked about your, sort of your, your journey with your family? When was it when you started to appreciate your, your Potawatomi side of yourself or your Potawatomi identity?
It’s interesting. I studied social work in college and one of my professors, he was not Native, but he really appreciated Native communities. And I remember one day after he spoke to our class, going up to him and telling him I’m Potawatomi and he was like, oh yeah, I think your people are from New York. So that was wrong, but we’re not from New York, but it was, but still, it was, it was meaningful, and it sparked this little thing, but again, it was like, I didn’t know what to do with it.
And so, I think that seed kind of sat inside me for a while. And I think for me, what really began to kind of crack this open was having children and knowing that like, wow, like who do they, who are they going to know that they are, and how am I going to help them know who they are? And so, I realized that it was kind of just this epiphany moment for me. And I write about it in my book. But to me, I, I very clearly feel it as my ancestors, like visiting me and showing me something that I hadn’t seen and just making me aware of my own story. But it was kind of just this like light switch moment where I realized, like there’s a part of me that I have been silencing and I need to listen to it. And it’s a very spiritual part of my life and it’s a cultural part of my life. And that kind of sent me on a crazy journey of transformation and in the process decolonization as well.
Okay. You, you started talking about decolonization, not me. So, since you brought it up, okay. The tension here, right, Kaitlyn, is you have the Native side of you, and then you have the Christian side of you. And you’re, you’re like, clearly this isn’t all new for you, right? Like, you’ve been thinking about these things for a long time.
I guess the question for me, like the beginning question for me and there, I think we’ll have a nice set of follow-up questions, but like what, what does it look like for you to reconcile those two things, as someone who is faithful and identifies as Christian, but is also aware of the, the violence that has been done to your, like, your family.
Yeah. I mean, the first kind of reckoning of that was just to realize that I have to tell the truth about my own story and about like, my own trauma and, you know, the trauma that I’ve inherited from my ancestors who are, have been colonized, you know? And then what happens is you just start peeling back the layers and it’s it, it’s not fun, you know. It’s not a fun journey, but it’s part of healing, you know?
And, and so de-colonization, for me has ended up, it’s gone in stages where I’ve, you know, I was like the worship leader at a church and then I left and then we went to another church and we went there for a few years and it just got harder and harder for me to be there because I’m realizing these things, like the worship songs that we sing in the American church are violent. They have violent language, and they have like God as conqueror type of language. And I’m looking around all the white people in the room thinking like, do people know what you’re singing? Do you know how problematic it is? They were singing this, you know? So, there were just so many more questions that popped up inside of me that I couldn’t ignore anymore.
And so, for me currently, we don’t go to church, which is kind of like for many Christians, the thing that you should do. And the thing I was raised to do. And, and that’s been good to just step back from that, but it’s also known, to be on a journey of trying to figure out if Christianity can be separated out and teased out from white American Christianity, which is not who Jesus was. So, following, I mean, I literally had like a painting of white Jesus, like standing on some ocean waves in my bedroom growing up, like I, my son wanted it. And I was like, no, you know, you don’t get that. Sorry. But so that was, I mean, that was the, the man that I worshiped in my head for so many years. And to finally realize like, this is not, this is not the guy that we all think is like, is the savior or the guy that we want to follow, or this prophet, this good teacher, like, this rebel, like this is not him, this white guy. And so, I have to ask if there is something else, a different way to be a Christian than what we’re seeing right now and what we have always seen in America.
And it’s just really hard and I’m sure I’ll keep writing about it for many years to come. But Native was kind of the first place that allowed me to, to ask these questions and, and I know I’m not alone in it. I know so many people from so many different backgrounds who are asking these same questions and trying to just like figure out their ways of telling the truth and speaking the truth. And I’m, I’m really grateful. I’m not alone in it.
I want to ask you a question about, about where you’ve ended up and why, but before that talk to us a little bit more about that process of peeling back. So, I guess one of, one of my real questions is, there are so many ways that we can do that, right? Like we all have these, these processes of peeling back that we need to go through, right? The unlearning and the reframing and all that. And, and a lot of times I look at people doing it, and it seems so extraordinarily painful. Like I, I’d rather not. Like ignorance is bliss. And, and then other times I see people doing it and it is it’s, it’s like they do it in such a way that their entire world comes crashing down around them.
Like everything they thought they knew is no longer true. And so, it seems really, it’s scary.
And so how do you, how do you do it or how have you done it in a way where you’ve been able to really do that inner work while also maintaining safety for yourself?
Yeah. So, after that experience, I was talking about where I, it kind of like, things started to change in my mind and inside of me the next, it was, that was around the time that Standing Rock was happening. And so, I’m like, you know, trying to just like reckon with my own story and that I’m watching live feeds of Standing Rock, like every day. And so, I’m watching like the story of Indigenous people and America and America’s violence just like unfolding before my eyes. And, and it was very painful, and I had to take a nap like every day at like four o’clock.
I was like, my body would shut down and I don’t, I had never been aware of my body carrying trauma like that, like it, or carrying my, my heavy processing so hard that it was making my body like crash on me. And I thought something was wrong. I thought I was anemic. Like, I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
And then I had to stop and realize, like I was processing so hard. I was, you know, I’m, I’m literally like the, everything, everything that I thought about my own story was changing. And it was very painful. And so, I had to learn to do it, too, to recognize that I don’t think we talk about this enough, that like this work that we’re doing is lifelong work.
Like the anti-racism work that we’re doing, or the work of just loving each other better. Like this is lifelong work as human beings. This is what we should always be doing. And I think a lot of us like, I think that we start on this and then it lasts two years and then we’re like in a much better place than we stop, but it’s not like that.
And it’s not linear either. Like this is cyclical, this is seasons of, of learning and unlearning and all of this. And I think that we have to think about it differently for it to be sustainable, if that makes sense. And so, for me, it’s included a lot of therapy and self-care, and having conversations like this, to know that I’m not alone in it, you know, and, and in a time that we’re living in right now, just trying to like practice solidarity with one another, as much as we can and caring for each other. I write in Native, I write that our spiritual realities don’t exist in a vacuum. And I’m trying to say that, like, my wellness also depends on your wellness.
Like we have to be connected to one another in order to know what healing is. And that’s a communal thing. It’s not just an individualistic thing and that’s hard to grasp as well, but I’m committed to trying to understand that like our spiritual realities are connected to each other. And I think that that hopefully will help us as we do this work, you know, on a personal level and on a collective level. Does that make sense?
Yeah. No, it makes, it makes total sense. So, I think one of the, one of the phenomena that I’ve been watching play out over the last six months has been this, something that I thought I’d never seen in my lifetime, which is people actually saying out loud that our, like our health is interrelated, that our lives are interrelated.
Like the pandemic has made us realize that the, how interconnected we are. And I think that that sense has been not necessarily the driving force, but a driving force behind the racial justice movements. Right. Like really viscerally coming to believe that our, our wellness isn’t interconnected. So yeah, I, I totally appreciate that point and I also really love what you said about, yeah, anti-racism work being lifelong, right? Like you do this stuff in, in other contexts where people show up and they’re like, let’s do, let’s do a 90-minute session and resolve all of our company’s diversity problems. Right? Like I think people are really oversimplifying it. And usually when you have that sort of perceived remedy then what really, that, what that really tells you is the diagnosis is completely off. Right? That’s the problem. And so, I really appreciate you saying that anti-racism is a lifelong practice for all of us, no matter where you are in your journey. And I think that to me is very much the spirit of this program, that anti-racism is a spiritual practice, it has to have the inner component.
There’s something else that came up in your book that I really wanted to ask you about that that ties to what you were just saying. And that is you talk about being aware of your own positionality as someone who is, who is who’s following a legacy of those who have been oppressed and those who have done the oppressing. And I really love the way that you frame that because at least in a lot of the anti-racism conversation right now, right, Ibram Kendi talks about this in his book that like, we are all like racist and anti-racist is not a fixed identity.
We all engage in those moments at all points, like sometimes we are racist and sometimes we’re anti-racist and it just depends on where you are at that moment. And so, can you talk about, like, how did you, how did you come to recognize that positionality of your own and what, what value has that brought to you?
Yeah. You know, I didn’t, again, there’s so much language that I didn’t, that I didn’t have when I was young that I wish I would have like that you can be mixed so you can be mixed race or mixed culture is what I call myself. But that I am, I am a white passing Potawatomi woman. And so that’s important for me to know, and you’ll meet Natives that that might not as be, not, might not be like part of their conversation, it might not be as important for them. But for me in this book and in my work, I want to just be clear about how I self-identify and how I might identify within the community, that I have white privilege based on the color of my skin that Black and brown Natives do not have, and that the treatment that they receive is much different from what I receive.
And that was something I wanted to be honest about. And that, because of that, like you said, you know, I am a descendant of the oppressed and the oppressor. And so like, I want to be able to reckon with that and to be honest about it, or I’m not really telling the truth, you know? And, and I don’t, and that’s not like to, I guess, shame either side of myself. It’s Just to kind of, again, integrate all of it.
Like I have to be honest about it and I need to be able to integrate that. But it’s been really incredible to get messages and stuff from people who are mixed, mixed culture and mixed race who have said, you know, I’ve never read a book where something has been written to me. Like I write a letter in the book to people who are mixed.
And I did that because I wanted there just to be a space in there for people who are in those gray liminal spaces a lot where we don’t know, we don’t always know which group to go with or where we fit, and we want to be respectful of those spaces. I wanted to make sure that they understood that that I’m holding that space for them. And that it’s complicated. And these are conversations, my journey of decolonization has to embody all parts of who I am and all sides of my family. And that just, that has to be a part of my story.
Yeah. I appreciate it. That I think, you know, one of the, one of the, one of the things that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is this experience of, of being flattened. like having your, having your identity flattened, like that’s, I mean, that’s what happens when you’re being stereotyped, right? Like people perceive you as this one thing. And one of the things I’ve been thinking like, so, so a lot of my work has been in in defining, right, and, and bringing out the robustness and dynamism of, of communities that are essentialized. But one of the things that I’ve been working on and noticing personally is the ways in which I flatten myself and my own self-understanding.
And like, that’s been a complete, I’m trying to think of an appropriate synonym, but it’s messed with my mind. Like, it’s totally…like, we internalize these things and we’re like complicit and messing with our own psychology.
Yeah, totally. You gaslight ourselves and we do all of these things.
Yeah. Yeah. So, I, I really appreciate this idea, like, like this idea of. Identity as something that is not as rigid as we make it out to be. Right? And so, for, for different people, that can mean different things, but like, to be multiple races, right? To talk about it as mixed. To be multiple religions for some people, that’s a real thing, which our categories that our society defines doesn’t allow for. gender is another one, right? Like there’s more ways in which we just define ourselves as one thing or another, and then we lose sight of who we actually are in our own self-definition so I really, I really love what you’re saying there.
Okay. I wanna, I wanna, well, first of all, invite anyone who has questions, feel free again to drop them. I see one from Ellie. But I want to read a quote from your book and have you comment on it as, as my last act of for us here. it’s a longer quote, so, but, but I want to offer it. It’s from Kaitlin’s book, Natives.
If you haven’t read it, you should. The question, so, so the question is like, What’s the upside? What’s the upside of doing this work? And, and what do we get out of this? So, so here’s what you say. And then I’d love for you to comment on this.
You say, “The real question is this: who gains life when we deconstruct these systems of whiteness, white supremacy and toxic patriarchy? Everyone. Who loses out when we refuse to take a deep look at our own toxic systems? Everyone. For the average middle-class white person in church today, the lack of knowledge about our history of colonization within the walls of white American churches means that relationships that bring true whole transformation are not available. Without these conversations, those people, those churches, and those institutions miss out on important opportunities for transformation.
When we talk about decolonizing, we aren’t just talking about wholeness for the oppressed or for Indigenous peoples. Ideas of equity and transparency will mark the path that leads to wholeness for all. Power distorts the soul. Empire distorts. Oppression distorts. Systems of whiteness distorts, distort.
The question is how much do we want to see? Because once we see we cannot unsee. Once we know we cannot. The white church is afraid, but, oh, the liberation that waits on the other side of knowing. Oh, the wholeness that togetherness that comes with healing. This is the power of de-colonizing. This is the grace that comes with seeing.”
Okay, I’ll stop there. I could read like another five pages. It’s so good. But tell us what you mean by that. Like, what does it mean for you to say that it’s not just Indigenous or Native folks who benefit from dealing with whiteness? It’s, it’s a win for everyone.
It’s really hard. It’s hard to get that message across because it is such a, people view this work, a lot of white people view this work in such a like combative way. Like don’t, you know, don’t make me question the beautiful vision of America that I have, you know, I don’t, I don’t want that ruined, that kind of thing. You know, this kind of nostalgia that people don’t want to lose their beliefs that Columbus was amazing or that the American flag is this great symbol, all these things, you know. That’s so scary.
And so, people stay where they’re at or they dig their heels in. And I wanted to frame so much of this, and so much of this idea of decolonization, I wanted to frame it as not only a gift, but like an invitation, like, like let’s invite each other into this journey. Because it’s worth it. And it’s, it’s not just worth it for me, but like the Potawatomi parts of me and the white parts, all of me is, is getting something out of going on this journey.
Does that mean it’s easy? No, but it’s worth it. And in, I’m speaking in specifically in that part of the book about, you know, white American, especially evangelical, churches that are so scared to face the truth and if we can possibly frame it was like, you’re going to get to be more human if you enter into this and to the, the mess of it and into the, the journey of it, it’s not easy, but like what’s waiting for us on the other side, like, what are we going to get?
We’re going to see each other and know each other in a way that we haven’t, because we’ve not been speaking the truth. And to me, that’s a beautiful thing. But not everyone views it that way yet.
So that’s great. That’s great. Okay. So, let’s get to Ellie’s question here. She says, in thinking about spirituality and justice work, how do you understand or navigate the balance between contemplation and action, being and doing?
That’s good. That’s a great question. I’ve worked with Richard Rohr’s organization, the Center for action and Contemplation in New Mexico. And I think that they’re always asking this exact question. I think that there’s this idea of contemplative people as being very, like, just, we just sit and meditate all day.
Like, you know, like we don’t, we aren’t out there like fighting against injustice or whatever. And I think that if we are truly trying to pay attention to what our souls and our spirits have been speaking and the racism we hold or the, the, the white supremacy or the colonization that is rooted in us as people collectively and individually, like if we are truly kind of looking into ourselves and into that sacredness of belonging, it should always lead us like back out of ourselves again. Does that make sense? So, if something is happening and we’re doing this work, it should always lead us into community and into how can we care better for each other?
How can we pay attention to the Earth? You know, how can we do this together? I gave a talk recently, and I, I said, these are three ways that we embody hope in the world. And these are the three things I gave them. I said de-center whiteness, wherever you can, return to the Earth again and again, and practice radical self-love. And I believe that all, all three of these things, so de-centering whiteness, returning to the gifts of the Earth, returning to connecting with the Earth – and I don’t know what was the third one? Oh, practicing radical self-love and self-care -like these, I believe that these things are all spiritual practices and that in doing them, it’s going to lead us to change.
And so. I don’t know, maybe it’s the whole, like, change comes from within, but I really think it does, like if we are practicing these things inside ourselves, it’s going to lead us to what that means in our community and in our, any space that we inhabit.
Okay. The question, a question from me.
So, so you asked this question at several points in your book. Why, why are we still here? Like you’re, you’re talking about you living, your friends within the Christian, like the progressive Christian space who will come, will come to these conferences. And, and you asked this question of like, why, why do we stick with Christianity?
And so, what I would love to hear from you is what, what have you found within the tradition that keeps you grounded, maybe grounded is not the right word, but like committed in some way. Sorry, I’ll say like, I feel like you have this like, love, hate thing going on.
I do. Even just today, my like anger at the church, went up a little just for like random reasons I don’t need to talk about, but I, I am kind of at this time in my life, I’m kinda like on the edge of Christianity, just looking in observing sort of, you know, and, and just like asking these more of these questions.
And for me, I’m not ready yet to give up on asking the question of who Jesus actually is because I just now got to realize that he’s not the white guy that we’ve been saying he is. And so, if he’s not that guy, then we need to go on a serious journey of asking who Jesus actually is then. Because we have created this entire religion, this colonizing religion based on take what you want and you know, and white supremacy is the best and Jesus is white and like, let’s just assimilate and be white. And there’s gotta be more than that. And now that I know that there is more than that, I don’t want to give up yet. And so there it’s a thin thread, but it’s something like it’s still matters to me that I see people also trying to do this work, Christians that are trying to tell the truth and reckon with the complicity of American Christianity and so much genocide and hate and pain. So, yeah, so I’m, it’s, it’s a strange liminal space that I’m in right now, full of processing.
Oh, you’re muted.
Sorry. Yeah. It’s it speaks to, I think what a lot of us feel, which is like, we are, we’re parts of these systems that we, we don’t fully agree with maybe like the very light way to put it, but like some of the systems that we completely reject, and we feel like are antithetical to everything we stand for.
And yet we are, we’re a part of them, right? Like you can be an anti-capitalist and you need a job, right? Like in the States you could be anti-Trump and you are still a citizen of the U.S. Right? And pay taxes. And so like, these are real questions of like, what do you do when you’re trying to negotiate these kinds of complicated questions about like, where you belong and like wanting to be part of change within a system that you disagree with. Like that’s, that’s something that we all think about a lot. I think so. Yeah. I really appreciate you being honest about that. It’s really cool to see it in action.