Facing Historical Trauma Today
I can't put it into words the pain that comes from loss, from tragedy. My optimism tells me time will heal everything, but experience forces me to hold back tears. My optimism forgets that it's even real, that he is actually gone from this earth, but harsh reality forces me to let the tears fall. I don't place blame or guilt on anyone for James "Jimmy" Frederick Shelifoe's life, but I know personally, it is directly from historical trauma. Jimmy, my very close cousin, like a brother, passed away August 27th, 2016 when traveling with the KBIC Fire Fighters to a fire out west. He and his crew never made it. Jimmy and his friend another firefighter, A.J. Swartz, passed away in the crash. Jimmy loved those fire trips. It brings a smile through my tear filled face, as I write because I can hear his voice telling those stories. I can see his handsome face now filled with excitement as he shared those journeys with us. The boys on that bus, fighting those fires needed that sense of community. Jimmy needed the friendship, mentorship, and culture that were on those trips. As did most of the people who took those pack test, went to weekly workouts, and fought those fires. He was a part of something, the sense of belonging is what he got, more than just a paycheck. I know he loved those too though!
Historical Trauma is real. Why is there drugs in our community? Why are our fathers in prison? Why is the only way out of abuse and oppression, the way we learned as children, the quick and easy way out! Why do you find stability the way we saw our grandparents cope, through substance abuse? The oppression our native community and families have faced for generations. Segregation, genocide, loss of culture, continual deprivation and forcible removal from family and communities are all unresolved and become a sort of "baggage" continuously being acted out and is recreated in contemporary native culture. The firefighters carried that extra baggage on each and every trip. It's the extra 20 pounds in their backpacks, in their boots, and carried on their shoulders. I carry mine in my purse. Those 20 pounds came from hardship my grandparents faced in boarding schools and growing up Indian in a world where they were pushed out and didn't belong. Those 20 pounds are the abuse that was passed on from my grandpa to my aunts and uncles, his kids. It's the suicide of my Grandma that left nine brothers and sisters to fend on their own. It's the heartbreak and hurt my mom's generation carried on to mine. It didn't start with my grandparents, but that's as far back as I can see, as far back as I witnessed in my lifetime. We were born heavy, carrying the weight of a village and passed on our ancestors.
The news of Jimmy broke our souls, the wedding reception was just about to start, when the cops pulled in. A medicine bundle I created just weeks before, was only a prototype, but I needed it. Those medicines hung around my neck with hope and faith. I also knew others needed it more than me that day. I gave it to my best friend, my cousin, my pretty much sister who had just lost her other half. The simple necklace one-of-a-kind, hand-harvested, hand-cut, and sealed, held the Ojibwe People’s, my cultures medicines: Tobacco, Sage, Sweetgrass, and Cedar. The tangible strength that came from that necklace was powerful. When our strength and hope was shattered and gone, it hung around my cousin's neck as a reminder that we were damaged and in pain, but we could also heal.
I want to make that sense of hope for others in need, to help with another individual’s spiritual path, and to help one’s wellbeing just as a rosary or medicine man’s scared pouch would. It is more than beauty and adornment; it’s medicinal. My process now has meaning, and I found that meaning through Jimmy, those Firefighters, my family, and community. We need this.
The baggage we carry, the added tonnage, the extra weight carried on our shoulders may add up but measure the woman I am now. My height, times width, times length and you'll discover that my strength is enough to unbalance the Earth. My size is beyond three-dimensional. The pounds of pride I now carry. You know these shoulders can manage it, and no amount of pressure can damage it. You better damn well know that I am cultural heavy. Ethnically, Fat. My pride and self are so damn hefty I wear a triple X just in being Native.
I have overcome trauma, countered racism with bravery, been the mother of invention, survived oppressors ill intentions. We will succeed against all the odds, take control and take charge. We can heal.
In Memory of James Frederick Shelifoe Junior
Fallen But Not Forgotten
Heros Live Forever
Tashina Lee Emery