Celebrating Indigenous People’s Day

Celebrating Indigenous People’s Day
On October 10, Govs English teacher Ruth Koenigsbauer shared her personal story to help celebrate and honor Indigenous People's Day with the Govs community. Please enjoy Mrs. Koenigsbauer’s remarks:

According to the National Museum of the American Indian, “Many students learn the phrase, "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue". But Columbus was not the first foreign explorer to land in the Americas. Neither he nor those that came before him discovered America—because Indigenous Peoples have populated the Western Hemisphere for tens of thousands of years. European contact resulted in devastating loss of life, disruption of tradition, and enormous loss of lands for Indigenous Peoples in the Americas. It is estimated that in the 130 years following first contact, Native America lost 95 percent of its population.”

I consider today to be a special day as I am a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

My grandfather, Sidney Carney was a full-blooded Choctaw man. His mother passed away when he was 3 and his stepmother sent him to an Indian boarding school at the age of 4. Grandpa attended Jones Academy where he was set to become a cobbler but decided instead that he wanted to learn accounting. Grandpa went on to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs across the United States, helping advocate for different Indian tribes and nations. He was a determined and hardworking man who stood up for what he believed in until the day he died. He worked hard to understand the world, learn how to fit into the culture when needed, and to support his family no matter what. 

My father attended Dartmouth Medical School. Dartmouth is one of the few universities that offer scholarships to native people through the government. As part of the scholarship, he had to work on a reservation for 3 years to pay back his debt. We stayed for 7 years. 

As a child, I grew up on the Seneca Nation Reservation in Salamanca, NY. My early life was surrounded by strong Seneca women who ruled their families and stood up for their beliefs. Ultimately, my parents decided that we needed to move from the town for greater opportunities and exposure to the world when my younger sister stated that, “when she grew up she wanted to work at a gas station and smoke.” It was only fitting that the women who worked in the daycare also worked at the gas station to make ends meet and this was the example of the life she wanted to live. 

I could continue on for hours if you let me. I would happily share about my Uncle Lance’s funeral which took place at a Ponca Reservation in northern Oklahoma where I learned about the burial process. Or the number of powwows I’ve attended, once even meeting the woman who modeled as Pocahontas for the Disney film. And I would love to tell you about my virtual trail of tears walk I completed in June of this year, learning about the Choctaw people in the 512 miles traveled in the month…but I won’t. Instead, I’d like to share some food for thought. 

  • Powwows are sacred ceremonies. Please consider using another phrase when you’re planning an informal chat. 
  • The low man on the totem pole can often be the person or object with greater significance. 
  • While I love Disney’s Pocahontas, especially the music, it is not an accurate portrayal of history. If you’d like a show that might be relatable and more true to actual reservation life, check out Reservation Dogs.
  • Finally, Do not use the S word. It hurts. If you aren’t sure what it is - I’ll spell it without the A’s and you can add them in. S - blank - V - blank - G - E. 
  • As you know, I’m new this year. I’ve just moved the 2.5 hours across the state of Massachusetts and I’m on new land. I think it’s good to know who occupied the land before you and to find out as much history as possible. It’s also good to remember that many ancestors of the people who lived here might still be here. 
  • Native Americans, American Indians, and Indigenous peoples are all still here. Alive and well. Let’s celebrate them today and always. 

Thank you.