Sitting in the Dissonance: On Quilts, Family History, and Settler Colonialism

Sitting in the Dissonance: On Quilts, Family History, and Settler Colonialism

The first step to repairing any textile is to examine it closely and assess its damage. One has to identify the problem in order to mend it. American history is like a worn out quilt. There are holes-- aspects of our collective history that the majority of white people don’t often think or talk about. When we remember our ancestors we ignore the ugly and ragged parts of their story where their actions caused harm to Black, Indigenous, or other people of color. If white Americans want to make amends, we have to learn the whole truth.

As I began to repair a quilt made by my ancestress, I started to ask questions. Can

I honor my ancestors while rejecting the ideals of colonialism? What roles did my ancestors play in the colonization of this continent? As I stitched, I patched over threadbare fabric with new; but how do I recover the missing pieces of my family’s history? My living ancestors claim innocence from racism. Interactions with people of color are largely withheld from my family stories, aside from family legends about a heroic ancestor or two who are held up as examples of good, respectable, non-racists. To find answers I can stitch together what I know of my ancestors with the history of the places in which they lived.

My current repair project was made by my great-great grandmother, Martie Olive Glasscock. She married Walter Lynch and was known by my mom as Grandmother Lynch. Martie was born during a time of frenzied westward expansion. Her parents moved to many different territories and states, but eventually settled on Chickasaw land in 1900. Walter and Martie farmed land that was taken in the 1901 land rush, located outside of Frederick, Oklahoma.

As I get to know my Grandmother Lynch, I can feel her love for her children. I can imagine Martie and her mother as they moved far from their loved ones and worked hard in their isolated rural homes. I think of them and their husbands as being swept up in the drive to make their own way in the world, as American individualism whispered in their ear and manifest destiny taught them that to be successful they must “go west.” But my family documents and family members do not mention the effects of these actions on Indigenous peoples. The silence is deafening.

Oklahoma’s most famous land run was on April 22, 1889. On this day settlers swarmed upon two million acres of Cheyenne & Arapaho, Iowa, Sac & Fox, Kickapoo, Pottawatomie and Shawnee land. In the 1901 land run the homelands of the Wichita, Caddo, Comanche, Kiowa and Apache people were given away via a lottery system. In her 2014 Native Times article, Joyce Oberly wrote, “My great grandmother, Nellie Tissoyo (Comanche), recalled the settlers, horses and cattle moving into the land. Being blind, she told of the earth trembling with a thunder-like sound around her. I wonder if she or other Indian people realized then that these events would drastically affect their lives.” Oberly went on to explain that not only did Native people lose their land, they were affected socially, culturally, and politically by colonization. (1)

Despite its negative effect on Native people, The Oklahoma Land Run has been celebrated for generations. As recently as 2014 there were schools that still participated in Land Run re-enactments where children pretended to be settlers, racing across playgrounds and staking their claim to stolen lands. (1) In 2020, activists from the Society To Protect Indigenous Rights & Indigenous Treaties (S.P.I.R.I.T.) met to protest at the Land Run Monument in Oklahoma City (2). They asked for the monument to be removed, or at the very least, for an equal monument to be created that shows a Native perspective. In an interview with Louis Fowler about the protest, France Danger said, “This monument is not a celebration of the “pioneer spirit” to us. It represents the Westward Expansion of the settlers that, in their fevered zeal to realize, resulted in a calculated effort to eradicate the tribes.” S.P.I.R.I.T. also advocates for the cessation of all land run re-enactments, and teaching truthful history in schools. (3)

The response to France Danger’s interview was enlightening. In the comment section, angry descendants of the land run settlers order her to “leave it the hell alone.” As for the protest? Counter protestors arrived with firearms. The illusion of the brave and honorable pioneer was so important to them that they would defend this monument with bloodshed because, as Ms. Danger said in her interview, “People would rather celebrate a lie instead of acknowledge the truth.” (3) They didn’t want to acknowledge that settlers (with the go-ahead from the United States government) stole land from Cheyenne & Arapaho, Iowa, Sac & Fox, Kickapoo, Pottawatomie and Shawnee people. The result of their settlement in so-called Oklahoma was genocide. In 2022 I searched to see what has become of the Land Run Monument. It was still featured on Oklahoma City’s tourism website and was described as depicting “heroic figures of land run participants.” (4) While the website did nothing to acknowledge this, plans are being made to create an art installation featuring Indigenous perspectives.

I have never been to Oklahoma. The closest I’ve been is when I held the jar of red dirt my great grandma (Martie’s daughter) kept in a glass case in remembrance of her childhood home. I wonder if she loved that Oklahoma soil as much as I love the forests of Western Washington where I was raised. Since she left, I don’t have to witness or even be aware of the effects that my ancestors’ actions have had, while Kiowa, Comanche, Apache, and Caddo people today are still suffering from them. But as I slowly stitch patches over the ragged fabric in Martie’s quilt, my heart is drawn to learn about her and, as a white woman, learning my family history means learning about my ancestor’s role in colonization.

Some people will avoid this kind of genealogical retrospection at all costs, but imagine if I exclaimed, “I love my great-great grandma’s quilt! The most important thing to me is that everyone likes it!” while folding the fabric so that every ragged block and worn out piece hides just out of sight. Imagine that someone tried to unfold it to get a better look, or suggested I reinforce the threadbare sections to preserve it. I responded, “How dare you?! You hate this quilt, I knew it, you MARXIST!” How ridiculous. In my view, the best way for me to honor this textile is to examine and repair it. If we truly want peace and racial equity in this country, we have to be willing to look directly at the issues and try to fix them. Yet we live in a time where parents and politicians are organizing to prevent students from learning honest history and the majority of white people do not support reparations (5).

Mending requires careful examination. I inspect Martie’s quilt for worn fabric, missing stitches, and weak points. This enables me to replace that which is broken with something new. Repairing this precious piece of my family’s past is an intimate conversation. Likewise, I carefully study the way our nation’s history intersects with my family history and listen to the stories of Native peoples so that I can more clearly see what reparations are needed. Frances Danger recently wrote, “Reparations are what happens when you're making amends for wrongdoing. It's giving in order to repair damage that has been done.” (6) I’m entering into a conversation with my beloved ancestors so that I know what wrongs need to be made right. I’m listening to Native activists to understand how. I can’t do this by continuing to distance myself from the past.

Now that I see the harmful effects of my ancestors’ actions, I believe the next step is to make reparations. I’m not qualified to say what needs to be done for this to happen, but there are MANY Native activists from nations across this continent letting us know exactly what needs to be done. Our job is to listen and uplift their voices. Some things that they’ve asked for are for us to make reparations if we’re able, donate to organizations that address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women crisis (7), advocate for the return of public lands to their original caretakers (8), call out racism and cultural appropriation, and respect Indigenous sovereignty (9).

I love my Grandmother Lynch. I cherish the quilt that she made and I marvel at her tiny, practiced stitches. I treasure her sewing shears that she used to tenderly create things. I love my ancestors, AND I can see the fallacies of settler colonialism they actively participated in. Try as I might to support Indigenous peoples, I’m also a part of a settler colonial state. Looking at the holes in our family stories to find ways that we perpetuate harm is deeply uncomfortable. E. Tuck and K.W. Yang wrote, “Decolonization offers a different perspective to human and civil rights based approaches to justice, an unsettling one” (10). Instead of looking away or striving to excuse ourselves (or our ancestors) from guilt, let’s get used to sitting in the dissonance as we hold our broken stories.


  1. April 22 marks anniversary of Oklahoma Land Run (
  2. S.P.I.R.I.T. Society to Protect Indigenous Rights & Indigenous Treaties | Facebook
  3. Monumental Monstrosity: The Oklahoma Land Run Monument – The Lost Ogle
  4. Oklahoma Land Run Monument (
  5. White Democrats Are Wary Of Big Ideas To Address Racial Inequality | FiveThirtyEight

What Is Critical Race Theory and Why Do Some People Want to Ban It? (

Why these Utah educators opposed effort to ban critical race theory - Deseret News

All 850 Books Texas Lawmaker Matt Krause Wants to Ban: An Analysis (

krausebooklist.pdf (

  1. Facebook
  2. Welcome | NIWRC
  3. LANDBACK - Building lasting Indigenous sovereignty.
  4. Interview: the experience of Wet’suwet’en land defenders in Canada | War Resisters' International (
  5. View of Decolonization is not a metaphor (
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