Setting Intentions and New Year’s Resolutions, While Indigenous

Sarah Sunshine Manning · December 27, 2018

Setting Intentions and New Year’s Resolutions, While Indigenous

Reflecting on the many ways that we can better nourish our spirits and minds, heal our hearts, and strengthen ourselves and our families, these are more than just resolutions. These are also daily prayers.

As the Gregorian calendar year closes out, I, like so many others, am taking inventory of the past year and setting my sights on growth.  While some scoff at the thought of New Year’s resolutions and for a myriad of reasons, I quickly respond to the skeptics with a figurative shoulder shrug, and then I make me some resolutions. 

To be sure, I also tend to break some of said resolutions, and I’m shameless in admitting this.  According to a report in U.S. News, 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February.  Still, this seemingly grim statistic is not reason enough for me to cease in setting healthy goals whenever any semblance of newness or a clean slate presents itself, and this statistic definitely shouldn’t discourage anyone else from making those New Year’s resolutions if you are so inclined. 

There is something to be said for the growth and even healing that happens during that time of striving for goals or resolutions, even after falling short.  If you think about it, if someone makes a good faith effort at sobriety, or quitting smoking, or exercising more and then they fall off the wagon, did they not, if even temporarily, receive the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and, in effect, add days, weeks, or even years onto their lives?  Even “failed” resolutions offer up opportunities for learning and growth. 

There is something to be said for the growth and even healing that happens during that time of striving for goals or resolutions, even after falling short.

Perhaps you’ve encountered the Indigenous folks who often show up to conversations- in real life or in virtual spaces- about New Year resolutions with a retort, something to the effect of, “Our  new year is after sundance (or whichever summer or winter solstice ceremony).” And then there’s the expected, “This is the white man’s new year.”  

This sentiment points to some truths worth validation, though I choose still to make New Year’s resolutions even despite them.  

Truth is, the Gregorian calendar New Year that begins on January 1 is a colonial construct devised by the Catholic Church and implemented in the year 1582.  It’s also the most widely used calendar worldwide, and if you live in the Western hemisphere, this is likely the calendar that has largely shaped your concept of time, of birthdays, of anniversaries and of important events. 

Indigenous people have historically had our own ways of identifying cycles of renewal, like phases of the moon (months) and even years (winters).  And varying from tribe to tribe, there are many ways that we have honored a new year or a new cycle of seasons.  Moreover, there is a growing movement of Indigenous people who are on a course of decolonization where we seek deeper and more culturally appropriate meanings beyond the colonial constructs that have forever changed our lives and harmed our Nations.

Even still, we probably have made our share of New Year’s resolutions.  Increasingly, those resolutions are becoming more decolonial in nature or even just more spiritually rooted.  Using colonial constructs (like the Gregorian calendar to make New Year’s resolutions) as tools to “decolonize” or just build a better life, we will continue see this happen, and this doesn’t make our efforts to escape the perils of colonization any less legitimate. 

Decolonization is messy, often confusing and even tiresome, and yet it’s also beautiful and nourishing beyond what we are able to experience in our own lifetime.  It’s a process of unlearning and healing that happens in complex and even disjointed layers, and it only makes sense to hold space for that complicated journey, for ourselves and for each other without turning into “colonizers” ourselves with short-sighted admonishment of what we see as imperfect decolonial efforts. 

I say, any opportunity to set our minds and hearts on deep introspection, that’s where the growth lies. That’s where the healing lies. 

Resolutions are becoming more decolonial in nature or even just more spiritually rooted. 

As for this winter break, which includes the New Year, I have a solid few days at a time off of work, away from phone calls and away from the typical home-life business, like paying bills and making appointments.  During this time you can bet that I’m taking these days to reflect, to give thanks for the learnings, the opportunities and blessings of this past calendar year.  I also do this during our summer ceremonies, too.  

For my “Gregorian Calendar New Year’s resolutions,” I set my sights on both tangible and spiritual goals, and I give myself permission to be as idealistic as I want to be in my visions for the year ahead.  My resolutions range from the decolonial to the cliché.  Like, I want to drink less caffeine and I want to be more deliberate about putting healthy foods in my body, not because I want to lose weight or “tone up,” per se (but really, I want that, too), but because I want to have a healthier body and mind, so that I can show up for life and for my loved ones wholeheartedly.

I am also setting cultural and spiritual intentions, like taking more to harvest traditional foods and medicines from my homelands, and sharing those blessings with loved ones.  I also want to learn more of our history and be more courageous in my use of Numu yaduan, the Paiute language.  I want to visit relatives who I haven’t seen in years, and I want to spend more time outdoors with my son, connecting our feet, our hands and hearts to the Earth that has nourished and rooted generations of ancestors to health and wellbeing. 

Sarah’s son and brother-in-law harvesting berries in the mountains of Duck Valley ID/NV. Photo by Sarah Sunshine Manning.

And because I’m participating in this modern and complicated world that we all live in, I have resolutions that are pretty American, too, according to statistics.  I want to pay down my debt, and aggressively.  I want to declutter my home and be more conscious about my consumption habits.  I want to read more books and scroll social media less.  (According to a 2018 Statista survey, the top resolutions for Americans are to save money and lose weight or get in shape.)  

Reflecting on the many ways that we can better nourish our spirits and minds, heal our hearts, and strengthen ourselves and our families, these are more than just resolutions. These are also daily prayers for many of us- prayers that come into focus through ceremony, through our own cultural new year celebrations, in the early mornings as we set intentions with the rising sun and as we give thanks in the evenings as the sun retreats.  

Wherever, whenever and however we cultivate habits of introspection, of goal setting and accepting the imperfection of that process, our world seems to become better for it.  We become better for it. Let’s do more of that, whether in New Year’s resolutions, or in our spiritual commitments and our everyday lives.  



Sarah Sunshine Manning
by   Sarah Sunshine Manning

Sarah Sunshine Manning, NDN Collective Director of Communications, is a citizen of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes of the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Idaho and Nevada, and Chippewa-Cree of Rocky Boy, Montana. Manning directs NDN Collective’s communications strategy and impact. She also serves as producer of the NDN Podcast While Indigenous and as editor of the NDN blog. Manning has Bachelor’s degrees in American Indian Studies, Social Science-History, and licensure in Secondary Education. She has a Master’s degree in journalism and mass communication.

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