The greatest enemy we face as Native
people is fatalism. It defines our historic, current and future
struggles. From the moment the earliest European settlers put foot on
our shores, it was because they believed it was their right to
conquer our home. When they found us living here, millions-strong, it
was their belief that we would eventually become extinct.
Throughout five centuries of wars,
battles, plagues, relocations and government treaties, the occupation
of our home and our culture was based on the misguided belief that we
would eventually die out. But throughout all those wars, battles and
broken promises, we continued to survive, thrive and flourish, our
identity slightly altered, but ultimately intact. We hold true to our
faith, our values and our traditions even when the outside world
believes we are irrelevant.
Our current struggles are among
culture, race and politics. Whether it is Dan Snyder’s devious
attempts to buy implied support by tribal nations through misdirected
philanthropy, the government’s glacial pace at addressing land rights
for individual Indian landowners or multinational oil and gas
corporations like Enbridge and TransCanada, attempting to damage our
homelands in the guise of energy independence and monetary wealth, we
face a myriad of troubles.
But over the arc of time, we see how
we overcame our oppression and we keep the faith that we will
continue to overcome this oppression. We do this by being thankful
for everything we have – even if it’s not much to begin with – we
give thanks for every day that we live. We rediscover our family and
tribal language, histories and roots; we nurture them as best we can
by ensuring their survival.
This is evident in the Twin Cities by
the opening of the Bdote Learning Center, a dream that is six years
in the making. Immersion education in Ojibwe and Dakota are the first
steps in the journey toward understanding our historic identity.
While linguists debate the idea of whether language is formed by
culture or culture is formed by language, we know that our language
defines us as a people. Its roots hold the key toward understanding
our world perspective and forming a new path for living in
In that society, we have suffered.
After seeing the opening performance of Rhiana Yazzie’s “Native Man
The Musical, Phase I,” we understand how identity and experience
form who we are as contemporary Natives in modern America. Whether we
grew up on the reservations or in the urban setting, it has had an
impact on us. The key toward moving forward is to acknowledge our
individual and collective experiences, both good and bad, rather than
being ashamed of them. When we can acknowledge our history and learn
from it, we claim victory over our oppression.
Healing is a paramount chore for our
community. With that in mind, we’ve welcomed Nick Metcalf to The
Circle in his new column “Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised.”
Metcalf was born and raised on the Rosebud Sioux reservation in South
Dakota and came to the Twin Cities 20 years ago to grow personally.
His journey is an admirable one that he has shared over these past
few years as a member of the Minnesota Two Spirit Society, engaging
the community in trainings, workshops and consultations on identity
When we can put away the individual
and collective hurt and anger that has been our constant motivation
and replace it with the devotion to the wellbeing for ourselves and
our future generations, we will know true victory over our
On a personal note, I thank the board
of directors of The Circle, my colleague Cat Whipple,
columnists Mordecai Specktor, Ricey Wild and Nick Metcalf for their
patience and understanding this last month. My mother, Lorraine Iron
Shell-Walking Bull passed away on Aug. 24 at the age of 73, after a
three-month battle with various infections. She was the woman who
helped define my worldview, wisdom and passion to do what I do for
the Native community in the Twin Cities. She was always a source of
strength, pride and love for me and my family.
We buried her in our home community of
Upper Cut Meat on the Rosebud reservation on Aug. 30. She was a woman
who valued our tiospaye, Wolakota, faith and traditions. She was of a
generation that is slowly leaving us. My family learned everything we
could from her stories and examples during our comparatively short
lives with her. If there is anything I can impart to our community,
it is to learn our histories and traditions from our elders before
they continue the walk on which, we cannot join them.
We must make them proud.