I was born when my parents lived on the reservation, and lived on that land until I was a couple of years old and they made the transition back to city life, moving nine hours away from our tribal land. My heart never really left our reservation, though, because we visited every year for the fourth of July, or for our General Council meeting, or for the Tribal powwows. I was always aware of the sound of the ocean, which lapped gently against the shore just a mile away from our home, aware of the sacredness of the land, which felt so comfortable and full of life, aware of the totemic designs of whale and salmon and ravens which characterized the coastal tribe. I believed these things to be quite wonderful.
I didn’t move back to the reservation until I was seventeen, a couple months away from my high school graduation. We travelled back and forth until the school year was up, and then we packed all our bags and returned to our homeland.The move was not easy.
At first, I was overwhelmed with all that was going on, and with all that was not. But, eventually, I got into the swing of things, and as a result, formed close bonds of friendship with my cousins and other relatives, gained a greater understanding of who I am as a First Nations woman, and learned a great deal about my culture, its art forms, and its stories. Here are a few tips for making the transition.
1). Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open
Don’t go onto your reservation expecting to know how things work right away. To ease into the ebb and flow of the tide of life there, listen first, and act later. Especially be attentive to the words of the Elders. They are the most respected leaders on the reservation, because with their age, they have garnered great wisdom. Respect the Elders. Listen to your cousins. They’ll tell you the way things are on the reservation–what to watch out for, what to be involved in, and how things are done.
2). Stay Close to Your Family
Blood is thicker than water. On the reservation, where most of us are related to each other, it’s our job to protect each other, keeping a lookout so that we can all stay out of danger. On reservations, there are many spiritual forces of darkness that would seek to overtake us, like ravenous dogs that are pulling against their chains. Alcoholism is one such force, and drug addiction is another. We must fight against these things for ourselves and for our families, whether we live on or off the reservation, so that our talents and inheritance are not wasted.
3). Jump Into Things!
Once you’ve gotten the hang of how things are done, don’t be afraid to jump in! There are a lot of events held for Tribal people on the reservation. Basket-weaving classes, beadwork classes, and carving classes are just to name a few. Women’s Zumba could take place at the gym, while Men’s Gatherings are often held in the great outdoors. The best way to get close to people, and to be a part of the community, is to participate in these events, again, in a respectful way.
You’ll find that transitioning from urban life to the reservation isn’t as hard as it may, at first, seem. There’s something great about having all your cousins around, being able to share in each other’s lives, playing basketball out in the cul-de-sacs, going to each other’s houses for movie nights, to the Tribal Building for sacred gatherings, prayer meetings, or dinners. When you are on your reservation, you always have friends and family surrounding you. This is one of the great things about Tribal life.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay)