Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised
Saturday, October 11 2014
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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jpeg_pic.jpg Language is essential to our lives. It is how we define ourselves. It is how we recognize the world around us. It is how we name our individual, communal and collective journey. Language is crucial to our being.

I grew up in a home where Lakota was spoken by the adults. My parents experienced the boarding school era. They chose not to teach us our language for our safety, they didn’t want us to experience ridicule, experience disconnection or experience loss. It is as adults that we learned to understand our language.

Growing up on the Rez, I didn’t understand the nuances of languages until I was exposed to people outside of my family and my community. As an adult I came to understand these people, their notions of themselves and how different we are. Most spoke formal English that sounded different. They framed their ideas differently. Believe me, it was confusing.

Sounding Rez is a hybrid language. It is a blend of languages, traditional Native language and English. Speaking Rez intertwines ideas, weaves our natural story telling ability and there is a cadence to the sound of it.

I still hear people speaking ‘Rez’ here in the city. When I hear it, I am suddenly home. It is when another Native on the street says, “Hey Nij” or “Hey Koda” or “Hey Kola.” I recognize them, and there is a connection. We are familiar to each other. There is a history that connects us. They become an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, a sibling, a beloved relative.


I’d like to say the language we use to speak to each other is always safe, but it is not. I’ve learned over the years, we terrorize each other. We know each other’s frailties, so we know how to hurt another Native. We question how traditional someone is; if they know our tribal stories; how involved in traditional ceremonies they are, et cetera. It’s unfortunate because it divides us.

It takes a mature person to understand when lateral violence is occurring. Lateral violence is when minorities oppress one another, aka “Crab in the bucket syndrome.” Look it up on YouTube, it is a topic of conversation that needs to be spoken about more, and understood, especially if we collectively want to change our circumstances.

I’ve learned how we speak to ourselves and about ourselves is essential to our well-being. We must learn to be gentle. We must learn not to be so critical. We must learn not to judge ourselves so harshly. Unfortunately, I’ve met too many young Native kids who gravitate to other cultures because they can’t find pride within themselves. They’ve internalized Native stereotypes.

The internal voices that our children hear are what we, as adults, tell them. If we fill them up with pride, dignity, and self-esteem then when the world tries to take it away from them, there is plenty left. I’m mindful how I speak to young people because I want them to see themselves as beautiful, as wondrous gift from the Creator and an invaluable asset to the survival of our people. It is they who will teach our grandchildren, their children, their grandchildren how incredible it is to be Native.

The next time you see me walking around town, stop me, say, “Hello” then remind me of the sounds of our people: Dayeesh!! Hoh'eche. Tuwale. Quacha! Echesh. Wii-nug! Ata kili! Zee. Skads. Nan'kesh. Hohin! Hayne'do Got chip-in's? ICK. Whatthehey! Chun! Ayes, next! Ayeee! Holay! Enit. Chun! Ish, not even! Cho'snazz. Snaggin. Pure vish.

These are all the beautiful sounds of home. Our languages. It’s inspiring.

Cetanzi – Nicholas “Nick” Metcalf, MSW, a long-time community activist who has worked, lived and loved in the Twin Cities community for over 20 years. Nick is an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, South Dakota where he grew up. Nick attended the University of South Dakota for their Bachelor's in Science (Math/Psychology and received their MSW in Family Therapy at Augsburg College.

Nick has worked in non-profit management throughout most of their professional career. He currently works for the Minnesota Department of Human Services and is an active volunteer on a variety of community projects and initiatives impacting communities of color. He is active on the Board of Directors for Minnesota Two Spirit Society, Rainbow Health Initiative, South High School All Nations Program Parent Advisory Committee and Minneapolis Public Schools Indian Education Committee.

Nick is an emerging writer/poet who manages a blog entitled, “Nickizms” and shares his daily musings on his Facebook profile. Nick’s first published piece can be found in the 2014 St. Paul Almanac, “A Mother’s Hope.” Nick is a proud parent of a two active, young men.

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