Jenni Monet on the realities of the indigenous timeline
Jenni Monet is founder of Indigenously, a weekly newsletter designed to decolonize your newsfeed. She is a tribal citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna.
Grandma June lived by the promise of an American education; she was raised by it. Her father, my great-grandfather, James Luther, was one of thousands of Native children sent to the Carlisle Indian Boarding School where the motto was “kill the Indian, save the man.” When he returned to the Laguna Pueblo in 1909, James carried out the U.S. War Department’s agenda. He discouraged his sons and daughters from speaking Keres, our Indigenous language. He encouraged the Bible over the kiva, our traditional prayer space. And more than anything, he promoted Western education as a pathway to employment—what he told his children would “civilize” them into mainstream society. June took readily to these ideals, and over the course of four decades, she earned a business degree and helped grow the first modern elementary school on our reservation, a project of the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Western education has long been a colonizing tool in America. By design, such teachings have mostly erased the Indigenous timeline. Last year, a survey of 35 states where today’s tribal nations are situated revealed that the majority of public schools—roughly 90 percent—fail to teach curricula that mentions Native Americans after the year 1900. It’s no wonder, then, that Indigenous peoples often say they feel invisible, a condition that is no fault of the average American. How can we expect anyone to see and learn about societies when their legacies have been marginalized from the start?
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that a reeducation in this country is vital. To truly become enlightened in these surging times, we must first recognize that this nation still advances by the sacrifices of hundreds of other nations—tribal nations—and the diverse diaspora connected to them. It should not be a competition to be seen and heard. No longer do we have the luxury to tolerate a fixed, singular story, even if the throughlines are well intentioned. We now have a sacred duty to act with integrity, reorganizing systems and power dynamics, and imagining a new narrative infrastructure where all sides of the American experience are represented—an equation that is more inextricably intertwined than what we have allowed our attention spans to comprehend.
There’s no time to wait to rectify education’s malpractice. Journalists must immediately step in to fill this gap. But first, a great expansion must happen—an intentional integration of Indigenous perspective into the dominant narrative. It begins with America’s most elite newsrooms catching up with those of other colonizing nations—Australia, Canada, and Norway—in investing capital in covering the Indigenous world. And it should be led by Indigenous journalists who are less likely to mistake treaty rights for reparations or argue that American democracy began with the arrival of the first slave ship. Rather, what decolonizing our news feeds looks like is an intelligent framing of our shared histories connected by conquer and dominion while also recognizing that such colonization continues to this day.
June, my grandmother, died of dementia a few years ago. In her early stages, I had the privilege of documenting her most potent memories. There, of course, were the ones where she beamed whenever she discussed growing the Laguna Pueblo Elementary School. Others were less prideful. In fact, they’re sad—like the story about how she was bullied by fellow Puebloans for how she struggled to speak Keres. In this way, the work we have ahead of us begins with examining the deepest roots structural racism has in all of our cross-experiences. If real justice and equality are ever to be fully achieved after all we’ve witnessed in this moment, we must first take seriously the realities of the Indigenous timeline. These truths will change how we see the world.
This essay is part of CREATIVE FUTURES, a series of provocations by thinkers across the arts, documentary, and journalism on how to reimagine their sectors.