Growing up on the reservation is a privilege afforded to few. Getting all that quality time with family members, constantly surrounded by cousins, growing up playing basketball and learning about culture and experiencing a Native worldview, these are all great things to be blessed with. How hard is it, then, when one makes the transition from living on the reservation, to living in the city?
You’re culturally savvy. After all, the reservation isn’t isolated from the world. So, when you move, you figure it won’t be too bad. But then, your teacher starts making comments that don’t jive well with the things your grandmother taught you. In history class, you get stuck hearing all about the cowboys and Indians, and maybe your teacher makes some pretty racist comments without even realizing he or she is doing it. On top of that, you live in an apartment complex, or on a street where there aren’t other Native youth. The people around you don’t get Native stuff—trust me, I’ve been there. In college, I had roommates who said things like, “Oh, I thought Native Americans all wore leather, and lived in tipis, and spoke broken English.”
This sort of confusion sometimes seems almost intentional, like people just don’t care to know the truth about who Native people are. These people wear fake leather moccasins and pretend to be really in touch with “the Indian inside” of them, but really, they’re just hippies wearing chevron patterns pretending to be spiritual. And that can be frustrating.
The trick is to, as Rafiki says in The Lion King, remember who you are. You can trust yourself. Even if people around you try to say you’re someone you’re not, that your people are less than who they are, you know the truth. You know the smell of beeswax when your grandmother is beading, her fingers intricately weaving patterns in the cloth. You know the sage and the sweetgrass, the thrum-thrumming of the drums, the sweet, rhythmic pounding of the basketball against pavement, the jingling sound of your cousin’s laugh when she makes that basket. Trust yourself.
Stay connected to home. Call them. Visit as often as you can. Read Sherman Alexie, Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and other writers who understand who you are. Seek out other Native youth. Join a drum circle. Go to powwows. Find a mentor, an Elder who understands the way. Don’t let go of your traditions and beliefs. You know who you are.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at SeattlePacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) andminoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and twosisters–Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribalartist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Triballanguage. Her favorite Native writers are Leslie Marmon Silko, LouiseErdrich, and Sherman Alexie. She even met Mr. Alexie in Seattle at abook reading where she got his autograph and a picture taken together.