Yulia Novik via iStock

Today marks just two days until Election Day. It also marks the beginning of Native American Heritage Month. Both of which represent the consistent erasure of Indigenous voices and our real, lived experiences. This month does not speak to the U.S. government-backed genocide of the past, or even begin to approach the reality of our present or speak of an Indigenous future.

While the fall season is a time when many people begin to look forward to the holidays, this time of year dredges up deep, generational trauma for Indigenous people. 

The cold months are when the U.S. military would unleash their most brutal attacks on our ancestors, because we were at our most vulnerable in comparably static winter camps. When our warriors would leave camp to go hunt, the U.S. military would attack. The Wounded Knee Massacre, the Bear River Massacre, the Fort Robinson outbreak, the Sand Creek Massacre, the Dakota 38 +2 hanging, and the smallpox blankets are just a few of the horrific and intentional massacres that deeply impacted the Plains Nations. This does not account for the hundreds and hundreds of massacres from the many territories on Turtle Island. 

Today, Indigenous people spend much of the winter memorializing our history and honoring the sacrifices our ancestors made by organizing runs and horseback rides tracing the displacement of our people from the land. It is a time of deep pain and sorrow for what our ancestors endured. It is also a time of coming together, healing, and the recognition of our survival as a people. We descend from those they could not kill.  

This treatment did not end in the 1800s and we continue to be met with horrifying violence. At Standing Rock just a few short years ago, many braved the cold Dakota winter to defend our land and water. Currently, there are many battles to defend land, water, and our animal relatives: Unist’ot’en, 1492 LandBack Way, Wet’suwet’en, Mi’KMaq fisherman, Line 3, Camp Mniluzahan, Hesapa, and many more. 

Now, we’re coming off the heels of Halloween, a time where we’re dehumanized by people wearing racist costumes that make a caricature out of our people and customs. We’re entering a month with a holiday created by government officials attempting to erase our history and render our people obsolete under the guise of celebration. And the relentless discussion of the election reminds us of yet another system that Indigenous people have been purposefully shut out of. 

We don’t go through election cycles in the way that others do. We don’t put all our effort into electing people who don’t understand us anyway, and then dust off our hands when the results are in. We’re in a constant state of organizing, fighting, and creating better systems to protect our people.

Just as the colonization of Indigenous people was the template for U.S. imperialism, we are also the template for healing. Our voices should be centered in the ongoing fight for justice.

Equally important to telling the truth about our past is uplifting the fact that Indigenous people are still here, with our rich traditions, language, ceremony, and collective power. 

Our way of countering colonialism and inequality is to connect back to the land. We have created sustainable food sovereignty programs where we hunt, gather berries, and tend gardens as a way to reclaim what was taken from us—and to take care of ourselves. Many Indigenous nations are working on growing hemp that’s healthy for the soil, and many more are shifting over to solar power. 

We’re reclaiming our languages, which come directly from the land. We’re running housing and community sustainability programs, creating revolving loans that help our people pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

Our artists hold vision—they’re often the first ones who can see a way forward, and their creations have been manifested out of our collective strength. 

So yes. In just a couple of days, we will have a better sense of who may hold our nation’s highest office. But to actually change our lives, we must reject the manufactured anxiety around elections and recognize that regardless of who gets in, we must collectively continue visioning, creating, and organizing towards the future we want.  

It is my hope and the hope of many Indigenous people that everyone outside our communities takes action this month. To build the world we all deserve, we ask that you center our demand for LANDBACK, so that we can reclaim what has been taken from us and return to stewarding mother earth. We ask that behind every decision you make moving forward, you ask yourself, and answer honestly: Who does this build power for?

We all deserve leaders who do not attack our most marginalized communities, who instead come from within those communities. We deserve leaders who are moved to meaningfully collaborate with the people they serve. We deserve leaders who uphold the well-being of all peoples. 

This world is possible.

I call on our Indigenous people to continue to stand proudly on our ancestors’ sacrifices and envision an Indigenous future where all people can live free of fear and oppression. I call on all of us to commit to telling the real history of this month and build toward a world where Black lives matter, no pne is illegal, and Indigenous lands return to Indigenous hands, including the Palestinian Right of Return.

Krystal Two Bull is the LANDBACK campaign director for the NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power.