Open Letter to Native Youth: An Indigenous perspective on the events at our nation’s capital

Dear Native Youth,

I write you this letter not just out of anger or concern, but of hope.

A week ago, as a Nation, we witnessed an attempted coup – at President Trump’s direction – by white supremacists and other equally dangerous domestic extremist groups. Like many of my colleagues, I watched as the United States Capitol, a beacon of our democracy, was attacked on live television. As an Indigenous congressional staffer who has walked through that space countless times, and an American, I was overwhelmed with emotions. 

Recently, youth from my community and I came together to discuss recent events. I wondered why this combination of emotions was so familiar to me. Then I remembered:

About a year ago, I traveled with my boss, Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva, to Organ Pipe National Monument to visit sacred sites and observe the construction of the border wall. I felt connected to my ancestors’ land and angry that the construction of a racist wall was destroying centuries of Indigenous history. When I returned to Washington, D.C., and helped lead a hearing on the border wall’s impacts, I simultaneously watched footage for the media of the Trump administration blowing up a hill that is a sacred site to my people. Before Rep. Deb Haaland left the dais during that hearing, she came over and hugged me. I broke down in tears overwhelmed with feelings of anger, frustration, deep sadness, and grief. That is exactly what I felt witnessing last week’s attempt to destroy the place where I work.

Unfortunately, I think we are all too familiar with these emotions I am describing as it has become too familiar to us as Indigenous Peoples. It’s the feeling we get when we watch our communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19; it’s the feeling we get when we see our women, girls and LGBTQ2S+ go missing or murdered; it’s the feeling we get when we continually feel invisibility of our people when politicians give speeches; it’s the feeling we get when we witness the overwhelming police brutality that follows our legal demonstrations demanding basic human rights. 

We have so much to process collectively, but let’s remember this: WE ARE STILL HERE. The people who tried to eradicate our people and ways of life, have lost. Each day that we live our lives on Mother Earth is a day that our ancestors praise. Native youth, you are our hope. You are the prayer from our ancestors. 

It is alright for us to feel overwhelmed, but let’s hold space for emotions. Most importantly, let’s not lose hope. Take time to disconnect from social media and news, and to reconnect to our teachings by listening to our ancestors in the wind, feeling your feet on our land, the sun on your face and remembering that we are still here. 

We are witnessing numerous historical moments, and processing all of this may be hard. That’s ok; we are not in normal times. Let’s not forget that collectively have the power to create change. We can create an inclusive world our culture needs by using your voices and your vote when you can do so. We can honor our ancestors by staying in the community and being good ancestors for future generations by giving back and helping each other. Together, we can establish an inclusive country that will acknowledge our resilience and the rich history we inherited.

With love, prayers, and hope,

Naomi Miguel, Ba’ag Nei’dam O’ks (Eagle Singing Woman) is a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She served as a founding board member for the Congressional Native Staff Association and is a former Native American Congressional intern for the Udall Foundation. She is very passionate about Indigenous women rights and uplifting Native youth.