At this year's Pow Wow, I was approached by two women mid day after the evening grand entry. They came up to me holding tobacco, and I was already in a frantic mindset because of course, I was putting new beaded earrings in my niece's ears and happened to drop the old ones somewhere in-between the vendors and arena. These two women stood in front of me and they asked if they could speak with me and I responded with a yes, in the very populated opening of the arena, right in-front of the newly built community space. Their words instantly shattered my heart. There is an appropriate way to "give teaching" and/ or "spread knowledge" and it's not in a public setting with an audience. Teachings and traditions are not passed on or given by slandering my name first. Teachings and traditions are not shared, after you spoke to random dancers because you've heard from a few biased "community members", without getting any actual consensus from our elders to come up to me. These women took it upon themselves to shame and question the dress I wore, the visions I had, my artistic intent, my last name, my skin, color, and my identity.
I respect my elders and I took what they said with complete honor. I stood there and listened politely as they gave what they thought was a "lesson or teaching" in an approach that could have been handled better, maybe even coming to me right away, not three grand entries in, or maybe by giving me a chance to speak up for myself and share my story with them. I understand the importance of tradition and I will not take that away from anyone. I have always made sure to appropriately approach my elders and healers, have never been afraid to ask questions and acquire knowledge from my respected teachers. Before I started my business, I made sure to speak to a Medicine Man and get approval.
I would never intentionally mean to cause any disrespect. The second we parted I covered my shoulders with a wrap and kept dancing. I listened and took their tobacco with full respect. I shouldn't be the only one at fault, there is still an unbalance in my own community, a sense of withholding knowledge, a guard that is up to sharing our cultural healing that is unspoken. Our elders are still healing from traumas that forced their voices to be silenced, so I was happy for these women to try to spread their knowledge, but I was heart broken at their approach and sense of entitlement. Their unawareness to the power that they held as they belittle me in front of a crowd. As they shamed me behind my back to the other dancers, because I decided to push some boundaries and adapt to a new world. We are people who have been pushed around enough and oppressed by others for so long that even my own people think that they need to contribute to colonization, taking it into their own hands of what is right or wrong, what the rules are. I took their words with respect and I alternated my regalia right then and there, which I was more than happy to do so. I appreciated the knowledge and I respect them for sharing, but if we all conformed to societal norms or the progression of the contemporary world: there wouldn't be shiny fabrics, there wouldn't be fans held in our hands, we wouldn't lift our feet as high from the ground while dancing, we wouldn't have modern materials adorning our dresses, and we wouldn't be spinning or allowed to dance backwards. We would not be the sovereign nations that we are today. I am not the first to break the molds or push the limits and I will not be the last. I may or may not have been called out because I was the one to dye her hair. I may or may not have been the light skinned native cosmopolitan to push the standards we limit ourselves at. But these two women didn't let me explain or justify my actions or even hear my intent. They took my voice from me. I will reclaim it.
Why do I dance? I dance to lift the emotional, mental, and physical weight that is constantly pushing me down, burying my people in hate and sickness to the point where they would want to hurt others and make someone feel like less than what they truly are. I dance to empower myself and those around me. I spin, I put each foot to the ground to maintain the strength of those who fought to give me what I am privileged to have today.
Why do I make and why do I create? Because I am an artist second to my culture and my heritage. My passion is fueled by the woodlands, by my backyard. My home is my first inspiration and the second is the privilege of getting to face Lake Superior every day. I work so hard for endless days, even months to prepare for such a sacred occasion. I grew up right on the reservation, listening carefully to the stories and traditions. Following the footstep of my mother and dancing along side her. Watching how she moved fluidity through this new world and having the awareness of her strength to try to give me one that was better than hers.
Spending countless late nights sewing and beading, to reclaim and gain back what was taken from us and our people. The baggage that doesn’t go away. 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 all types of abuse? The oppression that our native community and families have faced for generations. Segregation, genocide, loss of culture, continual deprivation and forcible removal from our family and our communities.. all unresolved and has become a sort of "baggage" continuously being acted out and is recreated in contemporary native culture.
What you don’t see, is that I carry mine in my purse, which is 20 pounds of baggage: The abuse that was passed on from my grandfather to my aunts and uncles, his kids. It's the suicide of my Grandma that left six brothers and sisters to fend for themselves and try to take on this world on their own. It is the blunt force of tragedy that doesn’t just strike once, but over and over. It's the heartbreak and the hurt that 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. 20 pounds that came from hardship my grandparents faced in boarding schools. What it’s like growing up "Indian" in a world where they were pushed around and made to feel like they didn't belong. We were born heavy, carrying the weight of a village that's been passed on through our ancestors. We are all in this together. We are all of one people. That is why I will never question anyone else’s “Indian” heritage, nor will I ever question your "quantum”.
What I do see is an oppressor. Oppressors are those who try to take your voice away. Oppression starts right when you feel like your voice or opinion is no longer valid. What breaks my heart is that it is coming from my own people. People who are taking away my identity, my values, and my self-expression. It's even more saddening that there is now a word for it, "Intra - Group Marginalization". Intra-group marginalization is defined as the interpersonal distancing that occurs when an acculturating individual is believed to exhibit behaviors, values, and beliefs that are outside of the heritage/ culture's group norms. Intra-group marginalization is based on social identity theory that asserts that groups maintain their identity by the distinctive behaviors of it's members. When an acculturating individual displays behaviors or attitudes that differ from the heritage/ culture group's norms, the group may respond to the threat with the social alienation of the transgressor. Why are we deciding to alienate our own people in the first place? Why do we need to feel proud to distinguish who is more Native than the other? Why is there an English term for feeling like an outsider in our own culture? Because we let oppressors give us the standards, to once again be in control.
Guess what, I am Native American and I will preserve that because that's one unspoken teaching taught to all of those who have ever faced an adversity. I am Native in my hair no matter what the color, I am Native in my skin no matter what the shade, I am Native no matter what dress adorns my body. I will continue to fight for progression, not regression. I am not your Pocahontas, I will continue to the break the molds you build, the stereotypical ideologies that construct unrealistic visions that keep us trapped in reservations, a society built to sever us from ever moving forward and growing as a people. My Native niece who carries the redhead genes of her grandmother before her and my other Native niece who happens to be half-black will be in our arena. Their genes not defining their "Nativeness". We will teach them to be bold, that they are beautiful no matter what. I will empower all those who surround me. I will celebrate and support my community members for their intentions, not their lack of. I will continue to give and help those find their voices, the ones who may feel lost at times. I will continue to create platforms for my people that we deserve to share, giving them a place at the table of equity that we're often not invited too. Our medicine comes from the people that were placed in our lives, our community giving us strength from their journeys that they will then share with us. You don't have to go to a university or take a class, or get it from a pharmacy or the doctor's office. Sharing those stories is the medicine that our people need and appreciating other's stories that they are meant to tell, that is the power that essential to our souls.
I will continue sharing mine, intentionally and unobstructedly. I work my mind, my body, and my soul tired for my community, for my culture and for my family. I will not be your stereotype. I will always ask for more and I will fight for what I deserve and empower others to do the same, on or off the reservation.