Friday, May 8, 2015

Becoming "Native"



Yesterday as I watched a clip of some Native American students doing some traditional dancing at their high school prom (in prom dress!) a thought began to gesticulate in me. It's something I've felt for awhile but haven't felt so strongly or confidently until now.

There are two types of encouragement I've received when I've shared about having Native heritage with others who also have Native heritage.

One kind of encouragement is like what I've received from uncles like Warren Petoskey, Terry Wildman and Randy Woodley. They have told me that the "amount" of blood is not important, but it's what you *do* with your Native heritage that is most important. They recognize what Creator is doing in calling people home to their cultures and people. They urge me to follow the Spirit and get to know Native cultures and form relationships with Native people.

The other kind of encouragement comes from people who also like myself have "low blood" (note the quotation marks, please), and will say some of the same words, but will quickly urge me to recognize myself as a Native or to self-identify as Native.

I know the latter group means well, but...

There are many who quickly identify and proclaim themselves to be Natives. And it doesn't sit well with me sometimes, because I feel there needs to be a certain healthy respect for those who have been raised in their culture. If I move too quickly, it just feels wrong to me. There's no denying that there *is* a distance between people like me and people like these kids in the video who have always known who they are and who their people are.

It takes time to cover that distance.

And it requires respect.

The cultures and tribes need to be respected. I don't think it's good to just pop up and say, "I'm one of you, too!" I'm a novice and need to recognize that. That's my place at this time. It's like being a student. I can't instantly say I'm a teacher until I've spent time as a student. Does that make sense?

I'm wary of a lot of "Native" groups on Facebook that easily identify and encourage each other to self-identify without always making sure that people are proceeding in a respectful way that honors those who have been raised in tribes.

Native people have had so much taken from them, and a lot are understandably protective when they see people taking their identity through self-identification without being connected to a tribal community.

I don't know how to describe it, but I and others like me need to *own* our heritage, and somehow just rushing into self-identification to me feels like rushing into proclaiming myself the owner of a house I don't know, and which has a lot of people already living inside of it.

Owning my heritage to me means embracing the traditions, respecting elders and protocol. It means walking with honor towards the people and not quickly assuming privileges of identity or claiming to be Native.

Perhaps there is a spiritual parallel here, for those who understand Christianity: we are God's children, we are citizens of Christ's kingdom, but we are still learning. We are who we are, but we are also *becoming* His disciples and learning the ways of the kingdom.

In the same way although my blood is Native, I don't know what it means yet to be Native or to live in the traditions. In the spirit I am Native, but I am also becoming who I was created to be. I'm "becoming Native," so to speak.

I want to tell these things to others who have discovered Native heritage.

Learn your heritage.

Learn the traditions.

Honor those raised in them.

Be a student.

Be humble.

Don't rush.

Don't go around self-identifying too quickly.

Get to know the community.

Wait for them to affirm you.

It's not like you necessarily need human affirmation, but we are created as communal beings. Community is part of Creator'a design. And a community of others like me who don't know very much is not the same as a community that carries the traditions and has always known who they are.

Respect them.

Respect the community.

Don't do this on your own.

You need them.

I need them, at least. The blood of my ancestors has waited seven generations to be reunited with them, the community. It's the longing I have deep inside that my ancestors passed down to me. They separated from the community. My family was lost to the community, but their relatives prayed for their return.

But that was generations ago. Those who live today don't remember them or know of them, just like I don't know the people today. We need to get to know each other, and that takes time and respect.

It won't always be easy, and because of so many people appropriating Native identity (self-identifying as Natives based on a "Cherokee princess" grandmother, etc.), many Natives in the community are naturally wary and on guard, and some may reject you. Their feelings need to be understood and respected. They are guardians of the culture North American colonists have tried to take away from them. If you don't proceed in a respectful way, you'll only seem to be adding to that even though you may have good intentions.

Creator will make a way for you to connect with brothers and sisters on the same journey, and with those who can help you get to know your people and culture better. He will reconnect you with the community in His time. Trust that. Trust Him and His timing as you seek the reunion your ancestors prayed for.

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