May is Native American Month. It’s
our month to celebrate everything it is about being Native. It’s a
time to educate America about who we are. It’s a time to reconnect
those who may be disconnected. It’s a time to strengthen our
connections to the vibrancy of who we are. It’s an important time
to recognize the resiliency of our people. It’s a time to honor the
generations of people who came before us. It’s time to recognize
our strength. It’s time to recognize our ability to survive at any
I inherited shame about being Native.
Not deliberately, but as a consequence of assimilationist policies
and the environment my parents grew up in. They believed they were
helping me integrate into mainstream society. They believed they were
protecting me. They believed they were saving me from a profound
sense of loss.
Mainstream media influenced my Native
identity development. It was from TV shows, movies and stories that I
saw that Native people, alcoholism and poverty were similar. In my
effort to overcome these stereotypes I attempted to be anything, but
those images. As an adult, I came to understand these issues are a
product of centuries of assimilation and the colonization that
occurred to our people. It would be our traditional practices that
I’d find the source of pride.
Developing a sense of cultural identity
in an environment that doesn’t want to recognize you is difficult.
When blatant racism surrounds you, it makes it difficult to want to
rediscover it. I’ve been lucky to meet people who taught me pride.
It was their encouragement that I re-engaged with my cultural
identity. They taught me this was essential. They would sit patiently
listening to my struggle with internalized racism I was having about
being Native. They’d lovingly correct me. They’d remind me of the
beauty of being Native. They were there to affirm my process of
discovery, dispelling and realizing pride.
When I went to college I did it in an
attempt to become anything but who I was. I left the reservation for
a better life. Yet, it was lessons of the reservation that have
helped me thrive.
As an adult, I came to understand my
parents experiences are because they grew up in a time when American
society was focused on eliminating everything Native, Native-ness,
Indian, Indian-ness and tribally. They were taught being Native was
bad and having an American identity would help them. Yet, the
conflict was that at our core, we will always be Native.
I did come to learn that although my
parents weren’t involved in our traditional ways, they maintained
those teachings in their thinking, in their behavior and their
approach to the world. This was helpful to me when I returned to
getting involved in our way of life.
My parents spoke Lakota to one another;
it was their language. Aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives
would speak Lakota around us, but didn’t directly teach us. As an
adult, I learned to understand Lakota because many of our traditional
ceremonies were done in Lakota. It was then that my parents stepped
forward to help me.
Unconsciously we inherit pain and we
pass it along, unless we heal from it. All of the pain and loss about
hiding being Indian is still felt. We crave for a connection to a
community of people who can affirm being Indian. Generations of our
people have been traumatized and learned to survive in the best way
they knew how for centuries. Sometimes what they used to cope with
this devastation wasn’t good (alcohol and drugs). It’s been my
experience that once they reconnect with our culture then they heal
without using chemicals. They learn pride.
I met other people who had similar
experiences about being Native as I did. I also met people who were
raised in families that had a profound sense of pride about being
Native. They became my teachers and I came to understand that our
individual truths are real and as diverse as the families in our
community. We exist along a continuum.
I’m immensely proud to be from
incredible, determined people. I realize that not everyone may be
there because they are in their own place of reconnecting and
healing. It’s essential to realize that we do not all look the same
cause there are some of us who have blonde hair, blue eyes to kinky
hair, dark skin to long hair, brown skin. Even within our Native
community there is diversity.
The month of May is Native American
Month, but for me and many of you, every day we are filled with pride
about who we are. Let’s keep it up and help those along who may be
lost. Every one of us is important and essential. We always have