Nick-izms: Rez Born, Urban Raised
Monday, May 04 2015
Written by Nick Metcalf,
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jpeg_pic.jpgNative Pride

May is Native American Month. Itís our month to celebrate everything it is about being Native. Itís a time to educate America about who we are. Itís a time to reconnect those who may be disconnected. Itís a time to strengthen our connections to the vibrancy of who we are. Itís an important time to recognize the resiliency of our people. Itís a time to honor the generations of people who came before us. Itís time to recognize our strength. Itís time to recognize our ability to survive at any costs.

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 Iíd find the source of pride.

Developing a sense of cultural identity in an environment that doesnít want to recognize you is difficult. When blatant racism surrounds you, it makes it difficult to want to rediscover it. Iíve 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. Theyíd lovingly correct me. Theyíd 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 werenít 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 didnít 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 wasnít good (alcohol and drugs). Itís 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.

Iím 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. Itís 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. Letís keep it up and help those along who may be lost. Every one of us is important and essential. We always have been.

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