In my attempt to bring awareness to Indigenous events, traditions, and ways, I want to share that November is Native American Heritage Month. This is particularly important to me as an enrolled tribal member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma and also the Choctaw and Mvskoke tribes of Oklahoma.
Growing up as a Native woman with a fair complexion has presented me with identity challenges. Yet I have always been welcomed with love and acceptance within my own Nation, and more broadly within the Bay Area intertribal native community. With my mother’s passing last December, I have spent significant time considering my Native American identity and how I can be of service to the broader community.
I have long understood the consequences of displacement from a homeland. My family was forcibly removed from our land in Florida during the death marches known as the Trail of Tears. We were relocated to poor allotment lands in Oklahoma where my family remains today. My grandmother (German and Choctaw) immigrated to California in the 1940s with my Seminole and Mvskoke (Creek) grandfather. My mother was a tenured professor of ethnic studies at Mills College in Oakland, California and focused her research and teaching on Native American studies and was a fierce culture keeper.
She traced our genealogy back many generations and inculcated a strong sense of historical stewardship in me. I remember going to my first green corn ceremony and feeling in a deep, visceral way that I was finally home. As a result of my mom’s field of scholarship, my brother and I spent much of our formative years traveling the midwest with my mother. She had us join her when interviewing elders and attending stomp dances, sundance ceremonies, traditional Seminole funerals, and other indigenous events.
While I’ve always been deeply connected to my indigenous roots, I was reluctant to share it outwardly. The fascination and fetishization of Native culture made me want to hold my identity close and only share it with family. Following my mother’s return to the sky world last December, I recognize my responsibility in both carrying forth traditions, teaching my children, and also being a public voice for indigenous causes. I am on a healing path often referred to as the ‘Red Road’ to gain a greater understanding of the history of my people as well as to assume the mantle of a culture keeper for future generations.
One of the important ways I am preserving the culture of my ancestors is learning how to speak the Muscogee language. This ancient language, as with many other indigenous languages, is spoken by fewer than 5,000 people and is facing possible extinction if it is not passed along to a new generation of Seminole and Creek people. Living in Berkeley, far from my ancestral homelands, makes it difficult to find people who are familiar with the language. However, I’ve been pleasantly (un)surprised to find rich language resources online and have recently enrolled in a language course. I have also discovered a wonderful online community to help me study and to encourage me to keep up my efforts.
I taught myself to speak French in my early twenties and have a natural facility for languages. That said, I’m finding that learning Muscogee is a completely new challenge. I’m not only learning a new alphabet (which is based on the English alphabet, but has fewer characters and different pronunciations) but a new language structure which does not use verb conjugations in the way that latin-based languages do. In short, learning this tongue is proving to be challenging, but the more deeply I immerse myself in the language, the more closely connected I feel to my ancestors.
The Myth of Thanksgiving
November is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the month when the holiday of Thanksgiving takes place. I have always approached Thanksgiving with trepidation. While I acknowledge it is a largely secular holiday in the United States and that nearly every human culture throughout history has engaged in a harvest celebration in late fall, the genesis of the American version of this celebration is fraught with a history of violence against indigenous peoples.
Many Native Americans view Thanksgiving as a national day of mourning for the injustices levied against us when Europeans invaded North America. I certainly don’t discourage people from gathering with family and friends to enjoy delicious food and to engage in gratitude, but it is equally important to acknowledge the Myth of Thanksgiving and the displacement and decimation of indigenous people across the unceded lands we live on. I plan to include this Thanksgiving address in our tradition this year.
Another important indigenous concept that I’ve been contemplating more deeply recently is the Haudenosaunee notion of the Seventh Generation Principle. This ancient idea states that people should consider the impact of their decisions for seven generations and also to remember the seven generations that came before. As I was reflecting on this notion, I realized that while it’s common in popular Western culture to speak of our ancestors, future generations are seldom considered. This principle is not only a recognition that all things in our world are interconnected but that we must consider the effects of our actions on not only our descendants, but on the natural world as well. Modern Western culture does a very poor job of considering our impacts on our far future descendants, and this long-term perspective is critical for maintaining healthy cultures and ecosystems.
I have also been reflecting on how all of these indigenous cultural values inform my day-to-day activities as a Realtor. It’s one thing to intellectually acknowledge ones cultural heritage, and an entirely different thing to put the values of this history into regular practice. While I’ve done my best to practice what I preach for quite some time, I’m taking a more deliberate approach to applying Seventh Generation Principles in my real estate practice.
I’m really taking a long-view on my real estate practice and my goal is build lifelong relationships with my clients. For example, when I represent a buyer, I’m always considering how that particular property will appreciate and how easy it will be to help my client sell their home in 10, 20, or 30 years from now. I haven’t chosen to work in real estate just to complete a financial transaction, but rather to help my clients for the duration of their investing and home ownership lifetimes.
This refers to property features that improve natural resource efficiency and contribute to greater health, comfort, and safety for home occupants. To prepare myself to put these concepts into practice, I recently completed the National Association of Realtors Green Designation. I advise home buyers and sellers on things they can do to reduce their environmental footprint while improving the value of their properties. Most of the improvements I recommend will also reduce the cost of operating a home over the long-term.
I am passionate about architecture and preserving old homes. I aim to represent unique and historic properties and provide my clients with resources to maintain and update their properties while retaining the essential characteristics of the design that made the homes so beautiful to begin with. This includes rehabilitation rather than replacement whenever possible, documenting the history of a home as it passes from family to family, and contributing to the historical record by sharing property information with organizations such as the Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association and the El Cerrito Historical Society.
Generational Wealth Building
Property ownership is one of the most reliable paths to wealth creation and purchasing a home can change the trajectory of family wealth and fulfillment for generations. Again, I focus on the long-term benefits of home ownership and try to find ways to help clients build a portfolio of investments that they can leave to their children, grandchildren, and beyond.
Shuumi Land Tax
In Berkeley we live on unceded lands that were originally the province of the Lisjan (Ohlone) people in Huichin. I pay a voluntary Shuumi Land Tax to help rematriate tribal lands to their original protectors. Shuumi means “gift” in the Ohlone language of Chochenyo and I consider it a gift to live in such a beautiful part of the world. It is my wish that we continue to protect these lands for all future generations and I do my part to acknowledge my success by giving back.
As I continue along this path, my door remains open. If you have any questions, please reach out to me! Our strength depends on widespread and sustained engagement. If anything I have shared has inspired you, please consider a donation to one of the following organizations. When we travel as a family, we always leave a generous charitable donation to the local indigenous people to bolster culture keeping. I encourage you to adopt this tradition as well.
List of indigenous organizations to donate to:
- American Indian Child Resource Center
- American Indian College Fund
- Indigenous Climate Network
- Native American Rights Fund
- Native Women Lead
- Sogorea Te’ Land Trust
Mvto (thank you),