How can I be a healthy and productive Native person, when my community does not value me?

Dear Auntie, my family is unashamedly assimilated, I fall below blood quantum, and I have light skin and do not look native. I identify myself only as native, but am struggling with self-harm because my tribe will not recognize me as a tribal citizen. How can I be a healthy and productive native person, when my community does not value me? Ethan

Hey Ethan, thanks for writing in. Off the bat, I can tell you, you are not alone. Everyone at some point in their lives, especially when we are young, question our identities. Who are we? How do we want the world to see us? Plus, we have the extra layer of confusion when we are of mixed descent figuring out whether we truly belong to one group versus the other. Through my experience, it doesn’t matter whether you are full blooded, half, a quarter, or less. We all struggle with finding our place in both worlds.

So who gets to decide?

The great part about this question is that you get to decide. My advice would be to continue having this conversation with others. When I started to open up to other Natives about the struggle I had with whether I could call myself Native or White, I found that they had similar issues too. This helped me to make up my own mind where I saw myself in this world. You will have to do the same.

Try to talk to as many people as you can to help you on this journey…know that some people will be at different places in their lives when you ask this question. Meaning some people will have a good understanding of themselves and others won’t. Listen, but also think about where they are coming from and make up your own mind about how you want to use their opinions.

I’m concerned about you when you say you are struggling with self-harm. Self-harm may be used as a way to deal with problems or feelings that seem too big. But this is only a short-term solution. Here are some ideas for helping you feel better:

  • Wait 15 minutes. Choose to put off hurting yourself until you’ve talked to someone else or waited for 15 minutes. Can you wait another 15 minutes? Do it again until the bad feelings pass.
  • Exercise. Go for a run or walk in the park to use up some of your energy.
  • Relax. Practice taking long, slow breaths in and out. Do yoga or meditate, they can help lessen your anxious feelings.
  • Cry. Crying is a healthy and normal way to express your sadness or frustrations.
  • Punch a pillow or punching bag.
  • Eat a chili, or something really spicy.

And if these don’t help, then please talk to a counselor at your school or go to your local clinic.

The last thing I’d like to say to you Ethan is that the more you learn about your community, the more you will learn that we do value you, and my wish is that you discover the same thing about yourself.

Auntie Manda

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