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The Renames of The Day

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 12/10/2015 Nastasya Trudeaux

2015-10-12-1444680924-9240248-mepow.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-12-1444680924-9240248-mepow.jpg Boozhoo niijii!

The above phrase is how you say "Hello friend" in Ojibwe or Anishinaabemowin, or as Sarah Palin might say, "Speakin' American." Yes, believe it or not, a couple hundred years ago, a good load of Americans (and Canadians) spoke this language long before the Europeans arrived on this well-inhabited continent, and some still do!
Indigenous People, American Indians, First Nations Peoples, Aboriginal People, Native Americans... for having so many monikers, one would think the American education system would maybe give us more than a paragraph or two in the history books in addition to the cameo appearance we make every Autumn with turkeys. I say "us" for I am a registered member of an American Indian tribe. I also say "American Indian" because my great grandparents were Canadian Indians and trust me, Canadians draw the line at being polite when you call them "Americans" -- native or otherwise -- so the distinction is important. Not all First Nations People agree with being called "American Indians" (we vehemently disagree on thousands of things), but most of us refer to each other online as "NDNs" or "NDNz" for short, so that's what I run with.
Usually within minutes of other Americans finding out about this end of my heritage, they start the inevitable nod, which prefaces the "I'm part Indian too!" Cherokee. It's always Cherokee, and it's always their grandma and most of the time she was a princess. I've installed weights on my eyes to keep them from rolling just for this type of conversation -- it's that predictable. The ignorance about American Indians is eye-roll worthy, but so is the ignorance of the ignorance. Every single Columbus Day, I want to rip someone's elbows off and beat them with their forearms because I'm flabbergasted by their perpetuated stupidity. Since prison orange does nothing for my skin tone (I'm a "winter"), I refrain from doing so and remind myself that most Americans don't give a flying flippity-do about the truth on this particular subject. It's messy and unpleasant, and it's much easier to compartmentalize an entire race or people into a dining experience once a year than it is to think about the land-leasing crimes or prejudices that still affect that race today.
Donald Trump seems to hate us and takes every opportunity he can to get rid of American Indian casinos, including saying ridiculous things like "They don't look like Indians to me," in regards to the Pequot tribal owners of a Connecticut casino he wants to see shut down. He would shred me as I have blue eyes and freshly dyed blue hair. I currently look more like Japanimé Bratz doll than I do Pocahontas (my mom is white and descends from a whole other brand of hardasses that survived threats of genocide on a different continent).
2015-10-12-1444682619-7366754-mejuly2015sizeddown.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-12-1444682619-7366754-mejuly2015sizeddown.jpg
My looks did not stop a group of scary racists that tried to kill me in North Carolina though. I was alone, about 45 minutes outside of Asheville, driving to see The Trail of Tears. I was totally blonde at the time and didn't really stand out, but I had on a small choker I picked up at the big Thunderbird Pow Wow in New York a few months prior. I stopped for gas and I swear when I went in to pay, I heard a shotgun cocking as Boss Hogg behind the counter asked me if I was going to The Trail of Tears. I nodded, feeling all eyes in the building creepily examining me. He then asked if I was Cherokee. Mid-eye roll I caught myself, as this actually was real Cherokee country with real Cherokees, not people with wolf tattoos that did acid once while listening to The Doors, and whose high-cheekboned grandma had a dream catcher marked "Made in China" near her deathbed, clearly meaning she was some sort of fictitious royalty in a culture they knew zippity-shit about.
I shook my head and he pointed at my choker and his voice came fully equipped with about ten thousand needles as he said "But ya are Indian ain't ya?"
2015-10-12-1444682926-9962521-mevickitori.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-12-1444682926-9962521-mevickitori.jpg Me (closer to natural hair), my sister, and my niece, not long after my North Carolina trip.
In my best "unhand me, you cad" like tone, which is as close to Niles Crane as a female can possibly get, I sternly expressed that I belonged to the Sault Tribe of Chippewa and a bunch of good ole boys sitting off to the side busted out laughing. I snottily enquired as to what was so funny and was met with more laughter that made my skin crawl up an octave.
As I made my way towards the exit I distinctively heard "Indian trash" pierce through my mostly suburban, white middle-class upbringing to alert me that we had reached DEFCON 4 and I needed to shut up and bail before someone demanded I squeal like a farm animal. I was safely locked in my vehicle when eight of them surfaced from the building laughing and tapping their mouths mimicking the stereotypical Indian war cries. They piled into two different cars and proceeded to chase me down the two-lane highway at about 85 miles per hour. I slowed down, saw a gun emerge, then sped up, but they whipped past me and filled both lanes ahead and stopped dead. Luckily, I'm a skilled driver and didn't flip over the rented SUV that was now being forced off road to avoid hitting them. I kept my wits about me (they're usually in my purse under the Tic Tacs) and floored it across the median and back towards civilization, shots firing behind me by the dueling banjos gang. Calling the police could have led me to live out my earlier mentioned fear of having to wear prison orange (or worse), so I just vowed to never visit that part of the country again unless I'm accompanied by an entire platoon of Marines with anger issues.
That story is nothing compared to stuff my father endured and other horrific happenings I hear about at pow wows or online. This one guy told me about how he would be chained to a radiator at school and beaten if he spoke Navajo and the white kids at his school regularly called him a TROG (total reject of God). He's in his thirties so it's not like this happened way back in the Kevin Costner story line times; it's in your lifetime.
Currently, more and more Americans are gently removing their heads from their rectums and choosing to acknowledge "Indigenous Peoples Day" instead of a day celebrating a lost tourist, but don't expect the slow clap to start just yet. There's a lot that went down since 1492 that profoundly affects those living on (and off) reservations to this day that needs to be looked at without white revisionist eyes and rectified. Name changes are groovy and all, but that's like offering up a Kleenex to clean an oil spill. It's a small change, but hopefully the start of better things to come.
2015-10-12-1444680818-5014416-Dadandgrandma.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-12-1444680818-5014416-Dadandgrandma.jpg My father and my grandmother in the 60's. He was one of 9 kids and a Green Beret that fought in Vietnam.
I wish I could ask my grandparents what they think of all that and how tribal members now chat online about tribal politics or exchanging wild rice recipes and cat memes. They were both gone before I finished high school, or "walked on" as they used to say. They were both born on a reservation but moved south to Detroit for work. That's where my parents were born, and where I first inhaled oxygen too. I moved out of state but plan on having my ashes returned to Michigan to be spread up near Sugar Island, which I haven't seen since I was 14, but I still vote in a separate tribal government that affects what happens to those that remain there. My grandma didn't talk about her birthplace much, but I remember her happily braiding my hair and uttering words that I didn't understand at all but felt the emotion in the tone they were delivered in. She was speaking the language of the First Peoples of the Woodlands, one of the many different dialects of "American."

COLUMBUS DAY © A Bello via Getty Images COLUMBUS DAY

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