Sierra Ayres

Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Lake Superior Band Ojibwe

“This time last year I was in North Dakota with the Detroit Anishinaabe Standing Rock Delegation. The No DAPL protests were amazing because, for the first time since the Red Power movement, people were actually paying attention to us. We were no longer invisible because you couldn’t go on Facebook without seeing a live video of one of us being maced or arrested. But even that visibility came with the condition that we had to be the “Noble Savage” that people could romanticize and feel sorry for. Being at Oceti Sakowin camp was so beautiful and powerful, despite the ugly reasons that brought me there. But the reality of the situation is that once Oceti was gone and the protesting stopped on the ground, we were still just these “poor Indians.” And everyone mourned the end of that occupation the same way they’ve been mourning us for hundreds of years.

I’ve been blessed to grow up on my Rez and have people in my life to teach me cultural traditions and parts of my language. That’s not a typical experience for many Natives. Which is why it’s so exhausting to constantly feel like non-Indigenous folks are ignoring and erasing your identity; like that’s not already happening when our elders are too traumatized by assimilation and removal efforts to teach us our cultures. But our existence is resistance. I’m here because of my community and those before me; because of my grandma and her passion for education (who didn’t receive her high school diploma until she was 50 years old), and because of the time my great-grandfather spent in boarding school. And everyday that we use our Indigenous knowledge to thrive in these spaces and institutions, we are defying colonization and living out our ancestors’ wildest dreams.”