Celebrate Black History Month

First Nations Development Officer Marisa Page

Join Us as an Ally for our African-American and Afro-Indigenous Relatives 

This month (and every month) First Nations stands in solidarity with our African-American and Afro-Indigenous relatives, acknowledging their many sacrifices and celebrating their many achievements.

A reminder: First Nations’ Development Officer Marisa Page will be leading a conversation on African-American and Afro-Indigenous historical and contemporary issues. This gathering will create space to examine our knowledge and shared experiences and gain greater truth and understanding. The session will be held Tuesday, February 22, 2022, at 2 pm MT, via Zoom. Save this link to join the conversation.

Understanding the truth

When we look at the history of African-Americans in this country that is taught in public schools, we learn the same thing – black people were brought to the United States on ships and used as enslaved people or indentured servants; Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth helped enslaved people escape to freedom; President Abraham Lincoln freed enslaved people. Then we get into some basics of the Civil Rights era – Rosa Parks not giving up her seat and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his “I have a dream speech.” And then that’s about it!

The rudimentary lessons of Black history many times lack substance and meaning, but they are accepted by the masses and given a positive light, leaving much of the story untold. In many of our narratives, we don’t talk about the severing of Afro-Indigenous peoples from their homeland, how the lynching of slaves was done with impunity, or the walk done by Ruby Bridges. Black history and black narratives, like those of Indigenous peoples, have been denigrated and altered by white historians and then retold through rose-colored glasses, with half-truths and glaring fallacies.

Having the tough conversations

As an ally to African-Americans and Afro-Indigenous peoples, First Nations finds it crucial to create space for stories to be shared and discussions to be had – even when those discussions challenge the beliefs of tribal peoples and tribes themselves. This includes addressing prejudices held by many Natives against black people. Many of our close family members hold this hate inside, simultaneously denying who they really are. When my father died, I sat with my aunties who revealed to me that my grandfather was half-black. My older auntie got upset and said, “We don’t talk about that.” I was perplexed by the reaction of my elder, and often wonder how my life would be different if I knew about my ancestors.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Native peoples’ involvement in the slave trade. I am baffled by the very thought of this. As a peoples who were oppressed and flagrantly murdered for sport, I do not understand how tribes could perpetuate this heinous practice. The enslavement of another persecuted peoples in this manner was certainly a colonial construct, and there is no doubt that it was celebrated by settlers and provided a sense of civility to those who believed tribal people were “merciless savage Indians.”

But having these uncomfortable conversations and facing these truths are vital if we want to ensure that we continue to grow and evolve as people.

Welcoming transformations

As we navigate through February with Black history facts and acknowledgments, curated lists of black films and programs on our favorite streaming services, and various tributes to historical and contemporary figures, I challenge you to watch movies and tv shows directed and produced by black creators, read books by black authors, and seek out accounts of history that challenge the status quo.

This familiar dance of honoring a peoples, while supporting a system that has been constructed to erase culture, systemically deracinate generations, and create undisguised tyranny, is something that we as a country need to change. We cannot stand back by while another black relative is murdered in the street or watch while injustices are immortalized through voting policies, gerrymandering, and lawmaking.

By creating this space to recognize our shortcomings, it is important to realize that transformation is crucial and something that is easily attained if we work at it. This month, I challenge all of us to become that change we want to see in the world and help support our African-American and Afro-Indigenous relatives – just as we support our Indigenous relatives through First Nations. Watch documentaries about black heroes, read books by black authors, research the true black history of the United States, and donate to nonprofits that support black communities. And, most importantly, join us in being a true ally to our black friends and family members.

Marisa Page
First Nations Development Officer