This is a series exploring the theme of the month from Creative Mornings. To explore more of the series, click here.

Sam's Native shirt

I used to have a shirt that had “native” next to the shape of the state of Arkansas. It was one of my favorite shirts, and I proudly proclaimed that I was a native Arkansan even though I wasn’t sure if I was. See, I was born in New York City, but I lived in Arkansas from the age of 3 to 22.

Like a lot of people who grow up in a small town, when I lived in Arkansas, all I wanted was to get out. I dreamed of moving somewhere bigger—more metropolitan. Somewhere with museums and plays and restaurants critics wrote about. Arkansas was all I knew, and I was bored by it.

In 2010, I moved to Texas and suddenly became proud to be from Arkansas. It was a change I didn’t see coming. All I had ever wanted was to get out of Arkansas. Once I did, I appreciated things about it that Austin didn’t have: mountains, forests, green grass, affordable housing. For the first time, I saw the benefits of Arkansas.

If you know anything about Texans…

you know they’re fiercely proud of their state. They love talking about Texas. They brag about being from Texas, and they won’t even deny it. They made bumper stickers for outsiders that read, “I’m not from Texas, but I moved here as fast as I could.” Texas knows how to do state pride. And I felt left out.

In Arkansas, I didn’t really experience state pride. Arkansas is mostly proud of the fact that they aren’t absolutely last on the US’ lists of education and healthcare, Mississippi is. I admit, it’s entirely possible that I was blind to people’s Arkansas state pride, but it’s certainly not like Texas.

Texas Flag
Sam in her Arkansas Razorbacks jersey.

Once I left Arkansas and experienced Texas pride, I wanted to belong somewhere. I didn’t feel connected to Texas—I wasn’t sure I ever would. So, I leaned into my roots. I finally fell in love with my home state. And what’s the thing that brings millions of people together no matter where they reside? Sports. For the first time in my life, I cared about Razorback football. I even found an Austin Razorbacks group, and we watched the games together and called the Hogs together and asked each other if we knew so-and-so from back home. Suddenly, I was proud to be from Arkansas.

The concept of nativeness is a complicated one.

Is it where you’re born? The culture you’re born into? The neighborhood where you grew up? The first language you learn? Is it the place you live the longest? Can you be adopted into nativeness?

A person can study a foreign language and even become fluent, but it will never be their native tongue. A country can be colonized, but that doesn’t make the colonists native. Indigenous people in every country have had to fight for their rights as natives of their land.

Native: inborn, innate; belonging to a particular place by birth.
Merriam-Webster

How does nativeness apply to creativity?

1. Every person has “native creativity”.

Native creativity is the creativity everyone is born with. Humans create. Humans create dreams, goals, families, friendships, businesses, art, music, food, houses, cars, boats, spaceships, theories, arguments, rules, and the list goes on and on.

Often, society’s interpretation of creativity is too narrow. It falsely makes people believe they aren’t creative if they aren’t an artist or musician or chef, but that’s not true. If we could expand our definition of creativity, a lot more people would feel the freedom to express themselves and experiment in different ways, and they’d be more fulfilled. A society that embraces creativity is a healthier society.

“Creativity is the essence of human ingenuity. It’s the wellspring from which novel ideas, original concepts, and imaginative solutions flow. At its core, creativity is about breaking away from the ordinary and embracing the extraordinary. It’s the force that enables individuals to connect seemingly unrelated dots, unveiling fresh perspectives and sparking inspiration.” Susan A. Leys

Even though my mom studied English and loves language and reading, she has never considered herself to be creative. This is a lie she’s been told and has been telling herself. For March, I encouraged her to affirm every morning that she is a creative person and see how her thinking has changed by the end of the month. Would you try this?

2. Native creativity can also be a celebration of culture and heritage.

Throughout the ages, cultures have expressed themselves and told their stories through a variety of creative endeavors. Storytelling through visual art, music, food, the written word, plays, etc. have kept cultures alive.

This year, I came across an example of this in, of all places, the San Salvador airport.

San Salvador airport art exhibit
San Salvador airport art exhibit
San Salvador airport art exhibit

The more we can tell our stories, the more we can understand each other. But we have to listen. We have to be curious enough to pay attention to the stories that are coming from other cultures.

Here are some accounts that broaden my perspective:

IllumiNative – IllumiNative is a Native woman-led racial & social justice org building power for Native people by amplifying Native voices, stories & issues.

Liz Sohyeon Kleinrock – Korean-Adoptee-Queer-Jewish

Raquel Willis – trailblazing Black transgender activist

Check Your Privilege – a guided journey that deepens your awareness to how your actions affect the mental health of Black, Brown, Indigenous, People of Color, or BBIPoC

Equality Labs – At the intersection of organizing, community based research, socially engaged arts & digital security for South Asian religious & cultural minorities

Kelly M Hayes – Kelly M. Hayes is a queer Native author, organizer and educator. Her work focuses on transformative justice, and she has led direct action workshops for young people, social justice groups and other inter-generational audiences. Her Twitter account shares crucial information for organizers and protestors as well as historical and educational resources

Rachel Cargle – a public academic, writer and lecturer who explores the intersection of race and womanhood, guides conversations, encourages critical thinking and nurtures meaningful engagement with people all over the world

Have other resources we should know about? Leave a comment below.

It’s no secret that the US is polarized and people are feeling hopeless about how we’re ever going to come together again. I think part of the answer is in storytelling, curiosity, and listening.

Nativeness is a concept that can gather or exclude. It can highlight similarities or differences. Humans like to identify and label people, situations, beliefs, etc. in order to try and understand their experiences. Sometimes, this benefits humanity and sometimes it drives a wedge and splinters humanity. Nativeness, like most things, is complex.

In the end, I believe creativity will be the thing that saves us.

The act of creation is the opposite of destruction. The more we as individuals and societies can lean into creativity, the happier, healthier, and more unified we’ll be.