Sunday, June 28, 2009

Honoring Creator

Because I have been raised off the reservation, outside of my culture, I have spent many years leaning from my family, researching, and examining how expansive the role of American Indian identity is for urban Natives.

One branch of identity is familiarity with Native Ways. Since there are over 500 federally recognized Indian tribes in the United States which means certain criteria have been met to fit tribes into a category, identity must be important to more than Native Americans.

Add Native spiritual practices into this mix, unique to each tribe because of geographical location, plants and food available such as wildlife used for sustanance, different stories of Creator (not to mention different names), and it's easy to see why identity is tantamount to understanding each other.

Such a place for understanding was the setting for the All Colors Together Gathering in Millersburg, Ohio this weekend. The gathering was a hub of dialogue and teachings on how different we are, yet we are all human. For the most part, we were a group of Native Americans or indigenous people who follow Jesus, listening and learning from each other how best to minister to our own tribes.

We spoke of and learned about historical events and how they shaped the nation we live in today. We learned the tribal history for the state of Ohio and together we considered where to forge new territory, to create new connections of support for our own people who are hurting and in need of healing.

One beautiful time of healing for myself happened on Saturday. For the first time, in my regalia, I danced my prayers to Creator. My face was turned up to the sky. The drum was beating, words of praise for Creator were sung, smudge curled in whisps, and my native brothers and sisters with non-natives as well, planted our feet on the earth and moved clockwise around the arena. The fringe on my regalia swayed with each step, each movement, and I felt alive, every nerve ending, every brain cell, every breath I took was sweeter and more authentic than any other time. I was finally whole. It only took four decades. I have been praying for this moment for many years. In my spirit I had my mother with me and all my brothers and sisters back home on the rezand in other places of the country. Talk about praising and worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth!

There are some people in the world who will lable me as non-native because I follow Jesus. It is sad the division still occurs today. I know I am Yankton Sioux, Creator fashioned me that way. He doesn't make mistakes. I have known this in my head and now for the first time, I believe it and know it in my heart.

Next week: going deeper

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Long Distance Family

I saw most of my family in January and met my sister, Paula, for the first time. Paula and I have this unique connection unlike any other realtionship I have with my brothers and sisters. We have walked in the same shoes in our life, just in different places. I think it's easier for she and I to keep in touch than it is with family on the rez.

I wish and want to go home but it's not as if I can just hop on a plane and go. The financial aspect is a barrier to travel. Instead, I will wrap myself in the star quilt and say some prayers they know how much I miss them. In a large family, things happen all the time. In my small family where I live, life is less dramatic because of our smaller numbers.

I think the pow wow on Saturday was a catalyst for me. The feeling of standing more solid in "Indianness," is difficult to explain. It's as if the years of being apart the locust has eaten are restored even when I am unaware change is happening. The connection to culture may not always be face-to-face but rather, deep within, as my spirit evolves.

I wonder if this is the way of Native American Spirituality? It must be, at times, a solitary walk on the Good Red Road. But the path I walk must benefit more than myself. Other people can only bring me along so far, there are times to walk alone.

Ecclesiates says "to everything there is a season," so this must be my season of solitude. I have learned the path of progress is through acceptance. In the Lakota language, there is no word for "goodbye." So I will just pray for my family, until we meet again.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

This Urban Native's Wanderings

Yesterday, I went to a pow wow about 30 minutes from my home. It is unusual to travel such a short distance. At the pow wow, conditions were soggy and they waited for the rain to stop. There was a sustained breeze and overcast conditions. Better this than the blast furnace of eighty plus degrees and high humidity.

When I go to pow wow, it is to meet other natives. Sometimes I feel native starved as if I am the only one in my town. There is my son, but he is at an age where heritage is not as captivating as fishing with dad is. I know there are other Native Americans, but I have recently started to purposefully seek the other nations represented where I live.

I have felt isolated from my people at times. Back on the rez, over 1,000 miles away, I am home, ankle deep in Mother Earth. I see others from the Great Sioux Nation and it feels wonderful to me. At home in Ohio, at the grocery store or any other place I feel like the only Indian in the building. I feel invisible.

It is good to talk with other Native Americans in a wide age range about historical events, regalia, opportunities, upcoming pow wows, and the meanings of the dances, or songs. I am still learning my culture. This particular pow wow was hosted by the Lenape. I saw, to me , another regalia style, the language the songs were sung were markedly different from Lakota, the entry into the arena for dance was sometimes counterclockwise. But I saw the nuances particular to the Lenape because I am more familiar now with my traditional ways. I am happy there are such markers of learning.

There is not enough time to learn all I want when I go home to visit my family. I am thankful I have family to see, a mom who teaches me the traditional ways, it's a time of resoration and renewal.

I saw a complete set of goose wings, fully extended, for sale at the pow wow yesterday. They reminded my of my mom, who raised me in Ohio, she loved Canada Geese. If she were still alive, she would frown at such use of the wings from one goose. But I saw the beauty in them because they reminded me of her gentle spirit. Those wings touched me in unknown ways yet. I didn't buy them, but I can't stop thinking of them.

Somehow, I feel more grounded in my culture. The smell of smudge transports me to another place, another time. The sound of the drumming and singing, no matter the nation helps my heart fly. I made a new friend, and it is always good to go to pow wow.