I love being Indigenous. Don’t you? As we go forward, The Urban Indigenous Woman is going to be talking a lot about health disparities, lack of access to education and services needed, identity crisis issues that impact our health, sexual violence and so much more. You might get the idea that to be an Indigenous woman, much less an urban Indigenous woman, is a terrible, heartbreaking thing. I thought we should have a little conversation first about how wonderful it is to be an Indigenous woman.
My story is this: I was adopted by a white couple at two years old, along with my younger brother. My adoptive parents were originally told that my brother and I had different fathers and that his was Indigenous and mine was completely unknown. It didn’t take long, however, for that to be questioned because when people looked at me they frequently thought I was “something” other than white. Later we realized from paperwork we had both carried the last name of one man and he had signed off on his parental rights to both of us alongside our birth-mother when she turned us over to the state. He had told the adoption agency that his parents were both full-blood American Indians, but because his mother died when he was 7, he and his siblings had been scattered around the country and didn’t really reconnect much. My adoptive parents did the best they could to promote our access to diverse circles of friends. They took us to the local pow wow twice a year, every year, and they made sure to correct the typical misinformation or half-truths we learned in school. I can only speak to what it’s like to be a light-skinned Indigenous girl who wasn’t entirely sure of who she was for years, who was often mistaken for other cultures and was disconnected from her people. Any connections I could make with other Indigenous people were therefore hyper-important to me, and it has made me not take for granted what it means to be Indigenous. I have had to fight for the label and educate myself the hard way about what it means and the responsibilities that come with it.
I love being Indigenous but I don’t romanticize it. As other Indigenous women reading this will attest, being Indigenous doesn’t mean we don’t pay taxes, are getting wealthy from the casinos or have a free ride to college. It also doesn’t mean we have some mystical connection to the earth and animals. It does mean that we have a rich cultural heritage, with a long and amazing history. That history is apparent in so many of the foods and medicines taken for granted in modern contexts, as well as in many of the social justice movements and methods that exist today. Indigenous women have always been at the forefront of addressing women’s and children’s rights, environmental responsibility and natural living options. Our people were “green” long before the term was coined. Indigenous people also carry with us into the future traditional storytelling that has informed modern psychology and other art forms that continue to enrich the lives of all.
I love being Indigenous because of the diversity of Indigenous identity, thought and practice. It was amazing to me to discover that traditionally LGBTQ people were respected within my tribe and many others. It was exciting to me to find out that some of my natural tendencies to thwart Eurocentric and Christianized ideals of gender were mirrored in traditional cultures where such strict gender norms had not, in fact, been the norm at all.
I love being Indigenous because it connects me to the wisdom of ancestors who centuries ago had already formed a more egalitarian society where women were honored and children were adored. As a doula, I love being able to bring into my care for mothers traditions and knowledge from my foremothers, as well as the natural healing options that our elders have retained and lovingly shared with us.
I love being Indigenous because Indigenous doesn’t look one way and I am bound to my Black Indian friends just as I am bound to other Indigenous people, with great love for the ways our cultures have blended within us. Our spirituality is deepened by the blending of perspectives and practices.
Over the course of this column, we will be having conversations about so many of the challenges we face as urban Indigenous women. It is important we not forget the blessings of being Indigenous. It is important also for non-Indigenous people who engage in conversations with us here and elsewhere to know that we are proud of who we are, not in spite of our struggles, but because we are far more complex and have more to our stories. What do you love most about being an Indigenous woman?