Turtle Island Includes Mexico

Posted by Chantale Breceda on

In April 2024 I set up a booth at Gathering of Nations, "North America's Largest Powwow", therefore presumably, world's largest. The Gathering brings together thousands of dancers representing indigenous communities and nations from across the continent known as Turtle Island to many indigenous people, and more widely known as North America. 

I brought beadwork made by some wixárika relatives in Nayarit and Jalisco, Mexico along with some beadwork made by Maya people in Guatemala. Occasionally someone would ask where an item was made and when I responded that they were made in Mexico or Central America, they would say "Oh, so it's not Native American." 

I understand what a person means when they choose to view the provenance of these items that way, but one of our goals at LUZ Collection is to educate people about the long history of and ongoing trade amongst indigenous peoples of the Americas. 

The Americas. Native American. Indigenous American. I was born in the settler state known as Canada but I still refer to myself as Native American in some contexts, though I prefer nêhiyâw or Cree and Michif, Métis or âpihtawikosisân.

For those who aren't familiar with those words, Native American or American Indian are fine with me. The reason being, that I am American, I am a native of the Americas, and I think most non-indigenous people understand that. Why then, would a person believe that an indigenous person from Mexico or Guatemala is not also a Native American?

My wixárika friends, and in fact 90% of the people I work with in Mexico, speak their indigenous languages first and Spanish second, they remain connected to their communities and cultural practices. They also choose to identify as indigenous people, so by any definition they are Native Americans. 

Why then, does this bias persist? Not only are the people from those southern regions not considered Native American in the same way a Lakota or Navajo person is considered Native American but the work they produce is often undervalued within the art and craft markets. 

Also I notice a large number of people who are eager to label things made by indigenous artists whose lands are to the south of where the US - Mexico borders now lies, as "traditional Mexican" when in reality, they are claiming indigenous traditions as belonging to or coming from the settler state of Mexico. It's interesting to me because I would be surprised to hear someone call my beaded, fur trimmed mukluks "traditional Canadian" but not at all surprised to hear someone express ownership of indigenous people and property by declaring that something originated with "Canada's indigenous people". 

I suppose there's just no escaping the fact that everything we as indigenous people do these days is swallowed by the dominant culture's need to dominate and consume. 

I remember asking a Zapotec friend in LA one time if he identified himself as Latino. He said he did, and I asked "Why?" what does Latin have to do with Zapotec? The conversation started because he asked me what he should tell people who ask him if he's "Native American" and I answered that he should say yes, he is, that's he's Zapotec and if the person doesn't understand what that means, it's their problem. 

Turtle Island is a name for the North American continent that comes from an Haudenosaunee or Anishinaabe tradition but it's now been adopted by natives from all over. What I would like to emphasize here is just that it includes the lands now known as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and I consider the people who are indigenous to all of these areas to be my relatives and I'm proud to represent their artwork in the marketplace. 


Image by Mark Lewis Wagner © 1994 used without permission

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