The Radical Act of Being

Mia Beverly (she/they), 22, is a member of the Sandhill Band of Cherokee and Lenape and currently works as a grant writer and manager for the First Foods Program, an Indigenous led nonprofit based in New York that was created in March of 2020. According to Beverly, the main goal of First Foods is increasing food sovereignty through education. First Foods is an educational series that features Indigenous culture bearers who hold the oldest knowledge on Turtle Island (North America), hosting remote workshops and online classes and producing the First Foods Podcast. The program’s stated goals include “preserving and sharing
Indigenous knowledge making what is often unavailable to urban Native people available; providing much needed teaching opportunities to a population of people who are valuable to preserving biodiversity; promoting alternative food preparation; and highlighting ways to build health outside industrial food systems.” It is spearheaded by Indigenous womxn with a target audience of engaging other Indigenous Peoples.


Beverly says that First Foods was founded in New York because “New York has one of the largest urban Indigenous populations. We wanted to cater to that population because when you live in an urban setting, it’s kind of hard to get access to knowledge and education on ancestral practices of raising food, or growing it or preparing it—especially [given that] Indigenous, Black, and brown people are significantly more impacted by food insecurity. And when we do have access to foods, it’s usually not really good quality, nor is it likely culturally appropriate. First Foods was something I am really passionate about because food sovereignty is a global movement, but not many people talk about it. We work with so many different [Indigenous Peoples], especially focusing on Central and South American Indigenous Peoples, because they get left out of the conversation a lot up here. So engaging all those groups has made the work very impactful. It only started last year, but it’s grown really quickly. There’s a lot of interest in it, and I’m really excited about it.”


Beverly shares that they would like to continue working in the nonprofit area and develop their grant writing skills. Additionally, they said they would like to work more to build strategic partnerships in the field. Beverly graduated from Fordham University in 2020 and took a break to develop professionally and network. “For a while I planned on going to law school, but I’m also kind of feeling it out,” Beverly said. “Hopefully law school’s in the future, but I did also want to go into Tribal law and work towards that. I definitely want to stay in a career path where I’m still working with Indigenous, Black, and brown people in any capacity where we can just
liberate.”


mia

Photo: Mia Beverly outside their home in Washington, D.C.


Beverly interned at the ACLU during their last semester at Fordham University and the following summer. On the side, they also film content on Tik Tok, which they describe as a great platform for educating others, especially on their own experience as an Afro-Indigenous individual. “Another big part of what first threw me into ‘activism’—I don’t even like to use activism, because I feel like it’s just life, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do—I grew up with the Washington NFL team mascot using the ‘R’ word,” Beverly said. “I have been going to protests since I was 14 or 15. So that also was a large part of forming my own identity and realizing how basically nobody in America gives a crap about us. But I think, again, I’m just constantly advocating against that which would also easily ostracize me, sometimes even within some parts of my own family. Half of my family are Washington NFL
team fans.”


Beverly grew up in Washington, D.C. with a mainly intertribal community and not many other individuals who were Cherokee or Lenape. Their Indigeneity has greatly impacted their life. “I’m also Black,” Beverly said. “So of course there was some identity crisis along the way to the point where I wasn’t really sure if I could even claim Indigeneity because people were always questioning me, and I was like, ‘I don’t feel like debating with you on this.’ People in a very blatant microaggression tried to use blood quantum against me. So for a good minute, I was just like, okay, I was just Black. But without me really realizing it, in a subtle way it was just
so depressing to ignore the culture I grew up with. I think definitely talking to my cousin and godfather—he’s a big influence—helped me realize I’m not even gonna say I’m a fraction Native. I’m full Native, full Black, and we’re gonna claim it, we’re gonna stick with it. Because I am not Native despite my Blackness nor Black despite my Indigeneity. There’s a history there that should be celebrated.


Ultimately that helped me deal with a lot of depression growing up, because for a while I wasn’t accepting that part of me. I think not all Indigenous people are the same, but in a way, that’s a whole different mindset from the Western idea. I feel like we’re on a different wavelength mentally, it’s just a way I can’t even explain it. And I think I only realize that by engaging more with other people, whether or not they’re Cherokee or Lenape. Living out my identity is also how I have made more impact where I am. By college, I was proud to be Native, I was claiming it; I was also going to a predominantly white institution. By the time I left I was proud to be Afro-Indigenous.”


At Fordham, Beverly worked with the Office of Multicultural Affairs on the school’s third Native American Festival. Beverly said it was a big moment for them, as more people started showing up the third year and engaging with the performances and events. “It was one of those moments that Fordham allowed Indigenous visibility,” Beverly said. “From there, that’s where I was just like, I’m gonna make this part of whatever I do in life. I just want to live Indigenously any way I can, really. So that is not just part of my identity, but also I try to make it part of my work as well. It makes whatever I’m doing really rewarding.”


Beverly started using she/they pronouns as a result of a lifelong discomfort with the binary of masculinity versus femininity, following a quarantine-designated self-reflection on how to self-identify. While they reject the binary, they still use “she” to represent their own femininity, which so often Black women/non-binary are denied because of the hypermasculinization of Blackness. “I’ve struggled, still to this day, with why or if I identify with being a woman out of social pressure, overcompensation as a femme of color, or because I genuinely feel like a woman. I identify as a Black/Indigenous femme for similar reasons I identify as a womanist, which is to deny the Eurocentricism of the gender binary and decolonize those concepts of gender and the freedom to express it,” Beverly said. Using she/they pronouns also reminded them of when they started identifying as Cherokee again. “I was nervous but had already come to terms with the fact that being myself is radical, or even inconceivable, from a colonized perspective. The first time someone referred to me as ‘they,’ I felt so validated and genuinely happy—maybe because I am separating myself from a concept of gender that centers whiteness or because I can never identify as only woman. I’m not sure, but right now, it feels right.”

 

Top photo: Mia Beverly (Sandhill Band of Cherokee and Lenape) stands outside the American Civil Liberties Union's national office in New York City where they interned.

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