Thursday, July 2, 2009

Going Deeper into the Heart

As an Urban Indian my heart has two dwelling places, with my family on the rez and my life here, 1,000 miles away. I am not alone. A friend, Diane-Tells-His-Name once wrote me, "You will know great joy and despair at the same time." I remember tilting my head to the left and wrinkling my brow in speculation. I trusted her, having read everything on her website Young Once, Indian Forever. She has walked the same path, reuniting with her family on the rez. There are more of us than you know walking the same trail, through the curves in the road and the overgrown foliage. Inside beats the heart of an Indian. Yes, it is a different heart from other races, as was intended by Creator. We humans are the ones who get so caught up by the differences in skin color.

Going deeper into the heart, our blood is the same color as anyone else's blood. It's strange, out here in the urban places no one recognizes me as an Indian, unless they are a close friend. I don't fit the stereotype. I don't have long black hair split in two braids, nor do I wear a buckskin garment. People know I am not non-native, yet they cannot guess why I am different. An entire nation of people, a race group, has been diminished by mainstream society. On one trip home from the rez, I flew out of Sioux Falls Regional Airport and sat next to a woman who lived in Sioux Falls, a mere two hours from the rez. We talked about the reservations in South Dakota. She told me she had no idea about the Yankton people and said, "To be honest, we never hear anything about the reservation, unless something bad happens." I appreciated her candor.

At home, on the rez, I am recognized as Yankton and it is comforting to feel among my own people. It is a lengthy process, getting to know all my family, learning my way around the rez, understanding how time moves at a slower pace. The addictions that plague mainstream society plague the Yankton and other tribes. Today, mainstream society is moving toward a position of greater familiarity of unemployment. Grief is a universal emotion when a loved one is taken too soon. Pain, suffering and anguish are conditions of humanness. Love, strength of character, leadership and success reside in both worlds. There is no more time to hold onto romanticized fantasies of who Native Americans are. In the simplest terms; we need each other.

I was employed at a local burger joint when I was finally able to return home. The comments of my reuniting with family were followed by questions: "You mean Indians are still alive today!?" "What kind of clothes do they wear?" "Do they know how to drive cars?" "Do they live in houses?" I was floored at the pervasive ignorance. I checked the date on the calendar, it hadn't changed, I wasn't in a time warp. I felt--strange, like a talking museum piece. I wasn't personally offended, just...well..kerflummoxed. How is this thinking consistent with the strides in the medical field, technology, satellite T.V.?

I find the more I listen to people, the more I learn. So my heart is that of an observer, a listener, a student of human behavior. I build bridges with words both here in Urban land and on the rez. I look for opportunities for natives and non-natives to have open dialogue in a safe environment so we can learn from each other. I see prejudices in both groups of people and have been challenged by Creator to change my own heart. I find myself an inhabitant of two worlds radically different from one another. At times, the only common bond is our humanness. This time around the circle of getting acquainted with each other, the desire of my heart is that we listen and love.

Rose-colored glasses? I believe any obstacle is overcome through perseverance.

I am standing on the edge of a cliff, arms outstretched, stepping off in the greatest leap of faith I've ever known and I choose to fly! Join me, won't you?

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