Welcome to our first post featuring a family story from the Kidizen community. November is National Native American Heritage Month so we wanted to learn more about the Indigenous culture of this month’s featured family. We spoke with Gretchen Kolden, a Kidizen seller and mama of 2 Native girls.
Tell us about your family’s cultural heritage and how it has changed the way you’ve raised your kids.
Let me begin by saying, I am NOT Native American. I struggled with whether it felt ethical to be interviewed but decided to use my voice and white privilege to speak the raw truth in hopes of inspiring others.
I am an advocate for Native American interests, a role born out of several others I play, the first and foremost being a Mama to two Native girls. I’m also a foster parent for Native kids under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA.) Lastly, I serve on the Indian Ed Parent Advisory Committee and the Equity Steering Committee for our local school district.
My husband and biological daughter are enrolled members of the Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthoud in White Shield, ND. The tribe is made up of three formerly dwindling tribes, the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara. My husband and daughter are Arikara.
When I met my husband eleven years ago, he and his family had so much historical trauma around being Native. It was rarely discussed and never celebrated. The more I found out about his tribe’s history and his grandparents’ boarding school experiences, I could understand why.
When we had our daughter, I was determined to expose her to the rich cultural heritage she was born into and do everything in my power to ensure that she was never ashamed of who she was. I read a lot and signed up for seminars to learn as much as I could about Native American history as a whole, before and since colonization. Sometimes it felt quite awkward for me. I was the only white woman to show up to a ribbon skirt-making event with my 4-year-old daughter. The 50+ Native women were so kind and welcoming to us and we created two beautiful skirts!
Attending one of these seminars at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in Minneapolis ultimately changed the makeup of our family. I became aware of the urgent need for tribally-enrolled families to foster children. After we completed our licensing, a 10-month-old Anishanaabe baby girl was placed with us. We are celebrating four years with her this month and legally adopted her this past June!
What do you wish more people knew about Indigenous cultures?
They are still here. They are relevant. They have a rich, vibrant culture and their teachings hold so much knowledge about how to respect and treat the Earth and each other. WE ARE ALL RELATED. This means people, animals, and all of nature on this planet and beyond. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to everyone, and everything.
I attended the Minnesota Indian Education Conference in April and they demonstrated what happens when you Google “Native American”. Almost every image that comes up is fictional or historical, so much so that you would think they were a relic of the past along with the dinosaurs. When you search for almost any other race, you’ll see contemporary, relevant images populating the results. The intentional elimination of a race of people was dangerously close to being successful, but through their resiliency, they’ve not only survived but are revitalizing their languages and cultures.
I would love it if non-Native people started educating themselves and their children about Native Americans. Learn about their culture, art, history, their understanding of astronomy, their respect for the Earth, and so much more. Buy books for yourself and your children from Native bookstores written by Native authors. There are so many amazing choices for readers of all ages! Find a pow-wow, drumming circle, or storytelling event to attend in your area. If being there doesn’t summon you to tears and shake you to your core, I will be surprised. It is so fun to watch kiddos respond! The drumming and dancing seem to speak to them at an instinctual level.
Another thing I wish all companies and groups that meet and gather would do when they convene is to state a Land Acknowledgement. Many of the meetings I attend start with this, which I feel is an important step in recognizing the history of the land we stand on and its original owners. Here is a link with more details and a way to search for the indigenous group of people who lived where you now meet.
When my husband, Mike, and I were married, we were wrapped in a Native pattern wool blanket on the shores of Lake Superior. We also attend Pow-Wows whenever possible. Before adopting our 4-year-old daughter, we had a sacred Anishanaabe naming ceremony for her.
Since it was recently Halloween, another “tradition” our family takes part in, I feel it is necessary to remind people that dressing up as an “Indian” is not okay. Their culture is not your costume. I saw two elementary-aged girls dressed up in generic Indian costumes this year! If a kiddo wants to be a character that happens to be Native, like Pocahontas for example, that is different. In that situation, they are portraying a character, not a generic version of a cultural group. I thought that in 2022 we all knew better.
As a family, we no longer acknowledge the holiday Thanksgiving. I think most of us now understand that what we learned in school wasn’t exactly how it was. What I have learned has been horrifying. There are truly no words. To anyone who still subscribes to “Thanksgiving” as a joyous commemoration of gratitude between colonists and Native Americans, I recommend doing a deeper dive into what you are celebrating. Two historical events took place that the colonists were actually “thankful” for and celebrating, and both were outright genocide.
That said, we still gather in our home that week and spend time together as a family. I would never advocate for people to stop gathering and expressing gratitude for their blessings in November. In our family, we try to celebrate on a different day and refer to it as Indigenous Feast Day. I am so triggered by the term “Thanksgiving” now I struggled to put the hashtag on my listings for the Hash Flash!
What does Native American Heritage Month mean to you and how do you celebrate it?
This year, Native American Heritage Month has meaning that extends beyond our family home and into our local community. My colleagues and I are re-vamping the entire Indian Education program in our school district and are focusing on outreach and connection with the 140 or so students that are federally recognized as Native Americans in our district. We are rebuilding relationships that were lost during Covid and trying to find innovative ways to engage the students and their families.
Between the time I began responding to these questions and now, as I sit to complete them, things have changed! We got a call yesterday for placement of a Native baby girl who was about to be born. Today she was born healthy. We will pick her up from the hospital on Saturday. Native American Heritage Month has again become very personal as we open our hearts to love another baby born to a woman who is suffering the effects of generations of trauma.
How can others support and celebrate Native American Heritage Month?
It is important to understand and convey to your children that Native Americans are not one ethnic group. They are made up of thousands of independent nations, communities, and cultures. They are all sovereign nations from the US government and each one is unique with its own distinct identity.
Be curious and attend Native American events in your area. Ask what you can do to support their community or what they think would be helpful. Because I am a white woman, I can not speak for any Native Americans. These are merely suggestions that have been helpful on my path. As you embark on this journey, educate yourself about the uncomfortable historical facts. Don’t expect Native Americans to do that work for you. Face the ugly truth about what many of our ancestors did to the Native Americans. Validate the pain and suffering they have endured so that they, as a whole, can start the long process of healing from generations of trauma.
If you are seeking a monetary way to help out this month you can research Native American organizations and give to one of them that speaks to you. As I mentioned, Native Americans are often a demographic that is overlooked, therefore organizations that benefit them are often overlooked as well.
Here are two of the organizations that call to me. The first is the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women Organization at https://mmiwusa.org , and the other is Every Child Matters/Orange Shirt Day organizations that advocate for the truth and restitution for children who never made it home from boarding schools in the US and Canada.
What Indigenous-owned brands or businesses do you love?
TP Mocs – Everyone loves mocs for their littles, so instead of culturally appropriated mocs you can get authentic ones that also help the community. https://www.tpmocs.com
Manitobah – My daughter has a pair of these boots and they are exquisite. https://www.manitobah.com
Heart Berry – I love all the Native-designed items from this shop. There are many great gifts for the holidays on their site! https://www.heartberry.com
NTVS The Originals – They have a wide assortment of trendy clothes with a strong message. https://www.thentvs.com
Thundervoice Hat Co. – The hats are amazing works of art! I love looking through them, but will need to sell a lot on Kidizen to treat my girls(or myself) to one of them! There are many other gorgeous products on the site as well. https://thundervoicehatco.com
Miskwaa Designs – I just ordered a lovely print of the Great Lakes and oodles of stickers for stocking stuffers from this artist! https://miskwaadesigns.com/shop
Birchbark Books – My go-to for a stunning array of books and a super helpful, knowledgeable staff. Just email them for suggestions and you will have so many great ones to choose from! They also carry lovely jewelry and other art. https://birchbarkbooks.com
Thank you to Gretchen for sharing a bit about herself and her family with us. You can find Gretchen on Kidizen at Glorious Debris | Edina Style Scout