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"Have You Always Been Native?" And Other Dumb Questions

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

A JetBlue security question fuels family drama, we learn there's a deeper meaning behind “hello” in Ojibwe, and anthropologist Alexis C. Bunten tells us how to travel to Native American sites respectfully. (And to think before asking silly questions.)

Show Notes:

First Stop:

Dang it, JetBlue! You got us all worked up with your security question, but (spoiler alert) it turned out to be a browser formatting issue that started the debate in the first place. That's really not as clever as playing on our deep-seated family drama (just in time for Thanksgiving!), but the fact that you kinda rolled with on Twitter makes us feel like there might be a snarky social media mastermind at work after all.

Interview: Alexis Celeste Bunten

Alexis Celeste Bunten is an anthropologist, manager, applied researcher and consultant who has written extensively about global indigenous tourism for more than 20 years. She is the Co-Director of Bioneers' Native-led Indigeneity Program, which promotes the leadership and knowledge of indigenous people.

Bunten worked as a tour guide for Tribal Tours, a nonprofit owned by Sitka Tribe of Alaska, while working on her doctorate. She combined that experience, her comprehensive academic work, and her Native Alaskan ancestry to create a bool called “So, How Long Have You Been Native: Life as an Alaska Native Tour Guide” that Joe devoured on a long train ride across Alaska.

You can find a ton of Native American Cultural Tourism information through AIANTA . That's the American Indian Alaska Native Tourism Association, the organization Alexis referred to in our interview. This is the guide to indigenous experiences that Alexis mentioned during our chat.

If you want to shop for modern indigenous art and clothing, Alicia really loves Beyond Buckskin, which features more than 40 Native American artists. (Really loves. Christmas gifts, anyone?)

Here's a searchable Native Lands Map to help you learn more about where you live or the places you're visiting. This map gives you a little more info about the tribal nations that reside within each U.S. state.

Her shout out to the considerate travelers of North Carolina is enough to make us interested in planning a visit. A brand new (as of November 2019) virtual museum called AncientNC makes that super easy. It details over 15,000 years of indigenous history in the state, helps you plan travel routes and allows you to learn the history of the state's residents county by county, going back thousands of years.

We also discussed Devils Tower in Wyoming during our interview. The National Park Service detailed that site's sacred significance to numerous indigenous nations. Alicia hiked this beautiful place and learned more about prayer flags when she visited a few months ago. You can check out photos of the giant rock (but not of prayer flags, because that's not cool) here.

Language Love:

Aaniin (Ojibwe)

The Ojibwe people of the U.S. and Canada use this as a casual way to say “hello,” but it actually means “I see or acknowledge your light.” We wish English had an equivalent.

Alicia found this translation in the "Let's Start Ojibwe" series produced by Sault College in Ontario. Videos like this matter because they're part of a resurgence of indigenous language learning. Until very recently, it was illegal to speak Native American languages in the U.S. There are people among us who have been punished for speaking their ancestral language. The practice was prevalent at Indian boarding schools.

And they're not even all elders. The practice was enforced well into the 1970s. The Native American Languages Act was passed in 1990.

Thanksgiving Thoughts:

This excellent essay by James Beard award-winning cookbook author and chef Sean Sherman examines our Thanksgiving myths through the lenses of food, his Oglala Lakota Sioux heritage and his Midwestern childhood. Angelina Newsom's essay about how her Northern Cheyenne community reclaimed Thanksgiving is also compelling.

If you want to be an ally to Native American folks in your life (or just want to go deeper than the storybook Thanksgiving story you learned in school), "How To Support Indigenous People on Thanksgiving" offers a solid list of causes, resources, and books to read. And if you're taking the kiddos to Frozen 2 this weekend, check out this story about how the Sámi (the indigenous people of Scandinavia) worked with Disney execs to make sure their culture was portrayed accurately and respectfully.

What about you?

What are your tips for being a better (and more respectful) traveler?

Which Native American cultural and historical sites are your favorites?

Which indigenous sites are on your must-see list?

Are there any Native American cultural experiences you particularly recommend?

And seriously, who is your favorite child? (Just kidding. Don't put it in writing. It's safer that way.)

Comment below or send us an email at

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