Amy Greene, First Day School and Youth Programs Coordinator, reflects on her conquistador family history and shares ideas about ways we can be agents of change and healing as part of honoring indigenous people’s day, Monday, October 11, 2021.
A few years ago, I was gifted a 3-part written history of my mother’s mother’s family. The first two parts described my maternal great-grandmother’s life, and how her ancestors came from New Mexico and experienced the “border crossing over them” as territory passed from Mexico to the US.
But the third part stopped my breath. My ancestors came from Spain, established Mexico City, and went on to establish New Mexico. “I’m descended from conquistadors.” I thought with admiration of the determination, hard work, and courage needed to travel such distances and establish a new society in unknown lands.
A heartbeat later, I thought of the massacres I knew of, the devastation wreaked by colonial diseases like smallpox, the enslavement and mistreatment of indigenous people. “I’m descended from conquistadors.” I felt a dark weight growing in my belly.
It’s the same feeling that I had nearly two decades earlier when, reading accounts of how many German citizens had felt uncomfortable with the escalating persecution of their Jewish neighbors but had felt powerless to do anything about it, I realized that had I been born in that time and place, I likely would have been just as complicit as the Germans citizens.
At the beginning of September, I was participating in a virtual retreat in place of the weeklong camp held by Vermont Wilderness School that Clara and I look forward to every year. As part of our introductions, we were invited to include either the names of the places we were Zooming from, or the names of the Indigenous people who had stewarded the land prior to European colonialization. And I completely blanked. I knew the name started with a W, but wasn’t Abenaki or Wabanaki.
I was embarrassed to not even know.
So after the call, I went on an internet hunt. Turns out that the people I was thinking of were the Wampanoag, who were not even the people of our area, but who inhabited southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
I know so little. I feel so much.
October 11 is Indigenous People’s Day, at least here in Cambridge. While it is impossible to erase the ugly scars of colonialism, there are ways that we can be agents of healing and change.
- Learn the names and some of the history of the Indigenous people where you live, work, and vacation.
- Urge your local, state, and federal representatives to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.
- Get involved with the anti-mascot movement. (Shout out to Beth Fuller, who helped rename Medford’s Colombus Elementary to Missituk.)
- March on the Boston Common Saturday, Oct 9 at 11:30 to push for Massachusetts to make Indigenous People’s Day official.
- Explore works by Native artists, make corn husk weavings, and take home picture books with free admission to the MFA on Saturday, Oct, 9 from 10am – 5pm.
- Make traditional corn husk dolls or watch the films Dawnland and Dear Georgina (virtually or in person) at the Peabody Essex Museum.
- Check out the in-person and virtual offerings of Indigenous People’s Day in Marblehead.
- Read books by Indigenous authors.
This is tender work. It bumps up against hundreds of years of privilege, oppression, complex histories, and some of the ugliest parts of humanity. But like so many painful topics, it is in delving in with open hearts and open minds, sensitive to the messages of Spirit, with a willingness to speak up and to change, that we find healing for ourselves and make space for even greater healing in our world.
With love and Light,