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Why I Write

Why I Write



Last Thursday, I was featured with three other Native writers by Passion Passport as part of Native American Heritage Month. I'm resharing it here because I think the interviewer did a great job capturing why I write. If you'd like to support my work on #GivingTuesday please do check out my Patreon. Also, support all Native journalists by donating to the Native American Journalists Association (of which I am a board member) here.


JACQUELINE KEELER (@JFKEELER)
DINÉ (NAVAJO) AND DAKOTA JOURNALIST

Who she is: “With a Diné mother and a Dakota father, my dual Indigenous cultural backgrounds have always provided me with an alternative way to view the world, both from a historical and a political standpoint. As I note in my piece ‘Thanksgiving and the Hidden Heart of Evil’: ‘As a child of a Native American family, you are part of a very select group of survivors, and I learned that my family possessed some inside knowledge of what really happened when those poor, tired masses [the Pilgrims] came to our homes.’”

What she does: “I write, think, and lecture. In 2017, I also edited a book titled ‘Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears,’ which compiles the works of Native poets, activists, teachers, writers, students, and public officials, and shares their passionate feelings about the Bears Ears.”

Why her work is important: “Writing in mainstream media allows me to put a Native perspective on newsworthy events in front of Americans who have never considered that point of view. It also allows me to intellectually address the issues Native people face and help our people process these experiences. We do not have a media that does this for us, so every article I write is putting ideas in the public sphere that would not normally be there.”

How she thinks society at large can better support Indigenous people: “Publish the writing of Native journalists and pay attention to the issue of sovereignty. Tribes are Indigenous sovereign nations within the United States; they have a federal relationship that includes treaties, which can only be entered into by sovereign nations. We are not a race or minority group — we are citizens of nations that precede and persist through the creation of the colonial state.”
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Jacqueline Keeler
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My First Newsletter 'Make America Native Again' or Happy MANA!

My First Newsletter 'Make America Native Again' or Happy MANA!


This is my first newsletter and it has been quite a learning experience. I have a lot to improve on next month!

Hope you all had a wonderful time with family and friends! Nizhónígo Tązhii Day! 🦃 #NoThankstaking Wopida!

An unusual amount of national media coverage of Native Americans surrounded the 2018 Midterms—which means it was not zero as is what we are accustomed to expect. From the North Dakota ID law to the election of the first two Native congresswomen, Native people were in the news.

Today you can read my analysis on the election in Truthout (see below). Just so you know, my working title was "In Partisan America, the Native American Vote Rules: How A Little Known Demographic Maintains the Balance of Power in Congress." I know, long. You can also hear the KBOO Wednesday Talk Radio show I co-hosted on Native American political and ethical leadership online. The show includes an interview I did with Congresswoman-elect Deb Haaland when she was in Portland. On Thanksgiving Eve, I was on a panel Art & Power: Centering the Voices of Native Artists here at Portland State University. I closed out the evening reading aloud my take on Thanksgiving (see below).

But really, for me, the theme of this month was "Make America Native Again" or MANA for short (and you can buy the hats here). And that began in October as more cities across the country gave up the ghost on Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples' Day. I examined this in a piece I wrote for Yes! Magazine: Beyond Columbus Day: Changing the Name Is Just the First Step and spoke to Klee Benally on KBOO. He helped organize protests in Flagstaff on Indigenous Peoples' Day. 13 are now facing misdemeanor charges.

In October, I also addressed Senator Elizabeth Warren's announcement of her DNA results (see below) and shared a byline for the first time with Kelly Hayes, (Menominee) for NBC News' THINK (link below). Then I did it again with Terri Hansen, (Ho-Chunk) for a post-election piece for Yes! Magazine “We Are Still Here”: Native Americans Win a Voice in Government. It was wonderful collaborating with both of these talented Native women. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

In November, Edge of Morning: Native Voices Speak for the Bears Ears, a book I edited in 2017 is also having a moment. The book is featured by Powell's City of Books for Native American Heritage Month in their store here in Portland, Oregon (see photo below) with a number of other amazing Native-authored books. The bookstore's blog published an essay I wrote "Trump vs. Bears Ears: Five Tribes Take a Stand for Their Collective Histories on the Land, and the U.S. President Dismantles It." In it, I quoted from my famous (or infamous?) Thanksgiving essay "Thanksgiving and the Hidden Heart of Evil." This bit of writing has been published all over the world in many different languages over the years and was republished in The New York Times last year. Words, it seems, have a life of their own.

I have one more piece to finish writing that is a special request from my uncle, Sam Deloria. He takes issue with the way the word 'tribal' is being used by talking heads on tv when they are discussing the political divide in this country. The working title of my response is "It’s Not Tribalism, Let’s Call It What It is: Terror." And the even longer subtitle is "The American Dream Has Always Been About White Affirmative Action and Terror for Everyone Else."

We'll see if any editor is brave enough to carry it! In any case, happy MANA!

You can read the rest of the Make America Native Again newsletter here. And sign up here.


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Jacqueline Keeler
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From Columbus to Indigenous Peoples' Day: More Than Window Dressing?

From Columbus to Indigenous Peoples' Day: More Than Window Dressing?


Credit: Junco Canché

Today, Truthout published a piece I wrote called "Beyond Columbus Day: Changing the Name Is Just the First Step." I've been writing and reporting on the movement to get rid of Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples' Day for five years. So, I thought it would be good to put some of that material in all one place.

We rightfully honor the work of so many Native activists across the country who have worked tirelessly for years to change a holiday celebrating a mass murderer, Columbus Day, to one honoring the survival of Indigenous people. But even as city after city (70-plus and counting!), changes the name and focus of the holiday, I also think it's important to listen to Indigenous people who are pushing for more and not to get complacent. In the article, I detail Diné activist Klee Benally concerns that without real change in how the Navajo Nation's largest "border town" treats Native people, Flagstaff's resolution proclaiming Indigenous Peoples' Day amounts to little more than window-dressing. The city never honored a Memo of Understanding made with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission meant to improve race relations.


I also shared part of a podcast interview I did last year with Los Angeles-based Diné activist Chrissie Castro after the L.A. city council voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. She describes in great detail the series of meetings leading up to the vote that the city mandated between the Native and Italian American community. It's fascinating stuff. I really recommend a listen.




















However, even as L.A. celebrates its first Indigenous Peoples' Day, there are protests over a Columbus Statue the city refuses to take down. I will be interviewing local leader Joel Garcia about it on the monthly KBOO talk radio show I co-host this Wednesday. Klee Benally will also be our guest.

William S. Parkerson inciting the mob. Harper's Weekly, March 28, 1891.
And if you want a thorough history of Columbus Day, I suggest checking out my article on Medium called "Goodbye Columbus." I examine Columbus' diaries and atrocities and how Italians Americans created the holiday after the largest mass lynching in American history, of Italian American immigrants. They sought to put themselves in American history to protect themselves from murder and assault.


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Elizabeth Warren and White Attachment to Native Identity

Elizabeth Warren and White Attachment to Native Identity


Elizabeth Warren at a campaign rally in 2012. Credit Tim Pierce
UPDATE 10/15/2018:
My response to recent reports that Senator Warren has released DNA results proving she has a pure Native American ancestor appears in her family tree “in the range of 6-10 generations ago.” This would make her between 1/64th and 1/512ths Native American. However, without documentation it is unclear which percentage she is. For comparison, I can prove I am 1/16th French, 1/16th English and 1/16th German. None of which I claim as my identity or "race." 

Here was my response:


And this response on Twitter really gets to the heart of the problem:
And this response from an epidemiologist about whether the DNA evidence ties her to actual documented Cherokee or Delaware citizens: 
I also edited my Facebook post (but cannot correct the tweet) because The Boston Globe corrected its math on her possible blood quantum from 1/512ths to 1/1024ths. Interesting tweet regarding this percentage:





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Star Quilts and Fire

Star Quilts and Fire




Both of my grandmothers: Diné and Dakota, a rug weaver and a star quilt maker (via @jfkeeler Instagram )
The month began with a phone call informing us our storage unit had burned down. Picking through the remnants, I found the star quilt my grandmother had made for me when I graduated from high school. I had spent hours in college, wrapped in it to protect me from the cold New England forests far from our homeland in the Great Plains. 

Star Quilt in similar colors to mine (MSU Museum)

Later, when my grandmother came to my graduation, she fretted about not being able to see the horizon And so, we climbed Bartlett Tower but when we got to the top hoping to see more, the trees still owned the vistas, and all we gained from our perch was a view of the unending canopy with an occasional white spire poking through. We said nothing. I recall a bit of a catch in her breath as we gazed, the only expression of an oddly bitter disappointment we both felt. It was then that I realized we are big sky people. People of the Plains, we have long been accustomed to sending our spirits out in all the directions almost as a prayer or even, an extension of ourselves. Hemmed in by the dark green we were only able to send our spirits up to a tiny patch of blue. It felt we like we could not breathe. 

But just as I prefer to remember my grandmother as she was then, still alive, her curiosity about the world a companion to my own, and, despite the story above, she was generally a cheerful person, I prefer my memories of the blanket as it was whole. Standing in that burned out unit, I found myself unwilling to take a brightly colored scrap of triangles smelling of smoke and blackened around the edges even as the man who worked there badgered us to take the things we wanted before they cleaned it out. 

Lakota grandmother hand quilting a star quilt. (Co-nnect.Me)
As a child, one of my earliest memories is of climbing the steep stairs to her workroom where she kept a large wooden frame she used to stretch out her quilts and hand stitch them. As a child as I emerged at the top of the stairs which smelled strongly of the hard industrial rubber that covered it to prevent slipping and combined with the smells of my grandmother's cooking wafting up from the kitchen below,  I wobbled amazed at my discovery of this magical place. A place that in my childish mind was one of mystery and power with star quilts in many colors draped and in various states of completion. 

But I know fire can be purifying and can carry our prayers. When I was executive director of the California Indian Basketweavers Association, I learned how the tribes there used to burn the forest to keep it healthy and giving the roots and shoots necessary for basketweaving a chance to grow. So, I felt inclined to give up these material possessions to the fire and hope for new shoots. 

In my heart, the blanket is with my kuŋ´ŝi now in heaven where her laughter can be heard over the camp circle of our ancestors' tipis enjoying a sly joke with her relatives. My mother used to describe her mother-in-law’s laughter sounding like the “tinkling of bells.” So I find myself when I think of the bit of star quilt left in this world, stopping and listening for her laughter and feeling fortunate to be her granddaughter.
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Jacqueline Keeler
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