Friday, June 27, 2014

Identifying


Art cropped from "I Am Peace In You"

I should probably say something important: One thing I want to try to be careful about is how I identify myself with Native Americans.

I'm of Native ancestry, of Native descent. There's a very real and central part of my heart that came alive when the Spirit awoke this heritage in me. And so sometimes I talk about beginning to understand that I am a Native, that the Creator sees me as Native.

But that is not the same as growing up as a Native. I didn't grow up with the culture, with Native relatives, ceremonies or the stories of the people. And I think that those things are some of the most important parts of "being Native." It's not merely being a descendant of Natives, but being a part of the community and group identity.

Chase Iron Eyes, Lakota lawyer, activist, and a founder of LastRealIndians.com and the Lakota People's Law Project, said in one of his "Rez Roundup" videos:
"When you think about blood quantum it really has no place in who we are. There should be a cultural competency component that goes along with any sort of 'descendancy' or blood quantum mechanics. We should concentrate on language development, song, ceremony, land base, economy, currency the real things that make us who we are and allow us to express our God-given right to inherent sovereignty. That's what we should focus on, not who's full-blood, who's more full-blooded than the next person. We've got to get back to treating each other as relatives." (link)
I don't know these things. My ancestors were somehow sundered from the people many generations ago. Though my heart received their heart and some 'blood memory', I'm still a hopeful-"returnee", so to speak; I'm still outside and wanting to reconnect with my people.

And that is basically all I want. I'm not after public recognition, tribal citizenship or whatever. I long for reunion, to know them, and to learn from them. I can't pretend to understand half of what it feels like to "be Native" (this is all new to me!) and grow up as a Native in the United States. I look white and don't "look Indian" at all. I don't know half of how they feel, and I am certainly no spokesperson for Natives in any degree.

I do care about justice, and will speak sometimes about issues of injustice, continuing colonialism, marginalization of Natives, the sports "mascot" controversy, etc. And sometimes I may relate what other friends closer to Native communities and culture have shared with me. But personally, I feel just the way a new friend of Creek heritage feels:
"I have enough Creek Indian blood in me to fill up my hand! Although proud wouldn’t begin to tell how I feel about that blood...I have not lived the life of an American Indian. I have not been singled out in the world of white America. Not lived on a Rez, in government housing, or seen first hand the continuing atrocities dealt to a proud people all in the name of “more”. Have not had my culture stripped and stolen away. I have not been the OTHER."
I am still just someone who is on a journey of learning and growing in relationship with the people. I'm just someone "coming home." I'm on the road, the path Creator laid for me to walk home on. But I haven't gotten there yet, and I will always be someone who "came home" instead of someone who was *raised* in that home.

And that's okay with me. I'm more grateful than I can ever express! I hope that's okay with you, too.

(Read more here: "Do You Have Native Heritage?")

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