Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised

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jpeg_pic.jpgLove, Love, Love, Love

We live in an American society that is

obsessed with love. It’s plastered everywhere this time of year.

Valentine’s Day brings out Cupid, heart shaped chocolates, flowers,

balloons, cards and music about love. Those of us with children help

our kids fill out their Valentine’s Day cards to take to school. We

may give a gift. We may receive gifts. Everything is about love.

This month I wanted to write about

love – my understanding of love; how I came to know love; and my

experience with love. I’ve learned over the decades that I’ve

been on this journey called life that love is easy. We complicate

love with popular ideas of what it is, what love should be, how love

is manifested, who is allowed to have love, when love is given and

how love is given.

It’s important to note here before

you continue any further, what you read are my experiences. My

experiences and the experiences of other Native people are just as

diverse, unique and varied as the people in our community. Both of

our experiences are valid, not generalizable and should never be

construed as such.

My life-changing experience with love

was when my son was born, Hoksicila Cante Ma Yuha (Child of My

Heart). When I first saw him, when he took his first breath, I feel

deep into parental love. The love of a parent is all consuming, all

confusing and scary at times, but wonderful and filled with many

moments of joy. This experience profoundly shifted my notions about

what I knew about love, and what love could be. It is from this

experience that I began to explore love, my experience with it and

how I defined love.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse and

domestic assault. These experiences influenced me and I share this so

you can understand how I came to know love. These experiences are not

an excuse, nor are they a justification when I failed to return love

when it was given to me unconditionally. These experiences are what I

needed to heal from so I could experience love.

My traumatic experiences aren’t

unique. These difficult experiences, if left unresolved, would change

how I related to my family, to a friend, to a significant other, to a

lover, to community, to the environment and to the Creator, as I

define them for myself. It was through therapy and participating in

traditional ceremonies that I learned that I am loved, I am loveable,

I am deserving of love and love is abundant.

The environment I grew up in taught me

about love, most of these lessons are my interpretation and not

specifically told to me. My upbringing on a rural, South Dakota

reservation taught me about my worth. Reservations are notoriously

surrounded by blatant, insidious racism. In my opinion, these issues

form how we relate to ourselves and the world around us, at least for

me.

Mainstream media influenced my

definition of love. I adore love stories and romantic comedies. These

stories gave me an example of a life that I tried to relive or

recreate. I also grew up in an American society that didn’t reflect

back to me who I was. I didn’t see Native people in media and I

interpreted this for myself that I was invisible; therefore, I was

not worthy of love.

I grew up entrenched in my family that

taught me its values about love. These values they learned from

institutions, specifically boarding schools and churches. Part of my

family is expressive in showing their love and the other part is not.

As an adult, I learned to appreciate the range of love they express.

Many of their lessons, I’ve kept.

All of these experiences explain how

when someone gave me a little attention I believed that was enough.

Also, when someone touched me that I accepted less than what I

needed. Any attention became OK; I accepted abuse from people because

they only knew love hurt, so they expressed it to me. I craved human

connection, I didn’t know my worth and I accepted less than. I

didn’t know the difference between healthy love and harmful love.

It was through

western talk therapy and participating in ceremonies that I learned

to be a proud Native deserving of healthy love. These processes of

reconciliation were important for me to make peace with trauma and

misunderstanding. Ultimately, I’m grateful to my kids. It’s their

presence that I was urged to define love.

Giving and receiving love is a result

of many factors. For some of us, difficult experiences taught us what

love isn’t. For some of us, love has been good. For some of us, the

first breath of our children was our calling to know: love is

beautiful.

Love begins with you.