What does it mean to be Indigenous to a place?

What does it mean to be Indigenous to a place? In Braiding Sweetgrass, scientist and Indigenous author Robin Wall Kimmerer explains, “For all of us, becoming Indigenous to a place means living as if your children’s future mattered, to take care of the land as if our lives, both material and spiritual, depended on it” (9). She wonders if our “nation of immigrants” can “once again…become native…[and] make a home?” (ibid.) 

Building on Rachel Lwin’s post from last week, I invite us to think about: festivals, fading light, and forming a relationship to a place. 

Halloween, as Rachel discussed last week, has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which marked the end of one year (October 31) and the beginning of the next (November 1). It also represented the end of the harvest and the summer light and the return of darkness, winter, and death. The Celts suspected that the line between the living and the dead blurred on the last night of the year, so they dressed in costumes and held big bonfires to ward off the spirits. 

Lights, fire, donning special clothes—these all show up in Diwali, celebrated this year on November 4.

D+CE Committee member Shital Patel shares these thoughts about Diwali:

“While predominately a Hindu festival, Diwali is commonly celebrated by other faiths in India as well and is the biggest celebrated festival. Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali which translates to ‘row of lights.’ It is celebrated over 5 days and usually occurs in October or November of the lunar calendar and will also mark the end of the year and the start of a new year. Starting on the first day of the week, families will begin cleaning their homes, decorating with rangolis and flowers, cooking sweets, shopping for new things, and will light diyas every night. Many believe Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity) will visit the homes that are the brightest to bestow her blessings. Diwali day occurs on the third day which is the day of the new moon and coincides with the darkest night (this year November 4). Depending on the region of India, traditions and rituals vary, but Diwali is always celebrated with family and friends, good food, and fireworks. Diwali ultimately celebrates Light over Darkness and Knowledge over Ignorance.”

Lastly, I’m thinking about our next upcoming celebration: Thanksgiving and the challenges we face in sharing an accurate account of this harvest festival. Mainstream American culture asserts that Thanksgiving is about watching football, gorging ourselves on turkey, deftly avoiding our uncle’s questionable politics, and feeling grateful that the Native Americans and European settlers were so gosh darn nice to each other. 

In lieu of passively accepting this version of Thanksgiving, I’m going to challenge us instead to become Indigenous to place—both to the land we so poorly steward and to the cultural matrix of the 21st century. To do so, we need to accept our complicated and troubling history and embrace our rich array of cultures from Celtic to Hindu, European to Potawatomi. This will lead us to the light, back to home.   

Whose land do you live on?

To learn more about Diwali, Shital recommends these resources:

Children’s books about Diwali: Twinkle Twinkle Diwali Lights and Lots of Lights


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