10 Things I Wish I Knew 10 Years ago

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A decade ago, I was somewhere and someone completely different. If I could sit down with 15 year old me who had some form of defiant disorder and a general distaste for everything, I would impart some knowledge I know now that I wish I knew then. Maybe she would have listened.

1. Assimilation. Assimi-whaaat?! That’s a lot of syllables to swallow, but wait for the definition. To be assimilated:

  • to be or become absorbed.
  • to conform or adjust to the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group, nation, or the like: The new arrivals assimilated easily and quickly.

Alright, 15 year old me is scratching her head, wondering how this word can be spun and be applicable to her life right then and there. Assimilation was (and still is) the goal of European/Western society/governments/policies/laws. Ever since colonies were erected a new conquest set forth, the conquest to eliminate the “indian”. If one wasn’t able to eradicate the indian by physically wiping them out (makes for a guilty conscience), one had to do so by taking the indian out of the indian.

What does that look like?

Language, culture, traditions, spirituality, ways of life, being independent, children, choice, methods of exchange (bartering vs. money), ways of governing and decision making, status of women and children, community connections and closeness.

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This all had to go and methods such as residential schools, oppressive policies, and bizarre laws (i.e. Indian cannot appear in Indian dress outside of reservation without an approval from an Indian agent), became the tool to do such.

You know that feeling you get when your cheeks feel flushed and sting a little when some one makes an indian joke? You know how you cringe seeing your second cousins aunties daughter and her 3 kids in the mall when you’re with your white friends and you have to say hello? Hmm.. what about when Native history was covered in class and only a poor light was shined on the tribes and your good friend since third grade made a racist comment? Or how about when you pass the street people, intoxicated, and hope none of them recognize you today? Remember that hot lingering feeling of embarrassment and thinking that you just wanted to be like everyone else?

Sometimes, no one had to say anything in order for you to feel the difference of being different. You could observe it, when you went to eat out with your family, went shopping with your grandma, walked down the school hallways, it was heavy in white eyes. It was present even in white eyes that you grew up with, and during the time you realized you were different, they realized too and the familiarity between your gaze and theirs…faded away.

Assimilation. First the oppressors force you to adopt your ways and tell you things about yourself (dirty Indians, savages, good for nothing) until YOU yourself believe them and actually DESIRE to be just like them. Twisted huh?

2. Embrace Your Differences

All of this assimilation nonsense and being a part of the crowd is, pardon my bluntness, complete and utter bullshit darling. Embrace who you are because who you are is beautiful, trust it.

The reason why assimilation was and is so important by those who colonized this land is because our strength as a people lies in WHO WE ARE.

That drum beat, those words your grandmother speaks, that eagle feather, those medicines, all the prayers and ceremony… that is where you will find your strength.

Learn that the negatives you see around you are a result of colonial efforts and learn and incorporate what is right and strong about who you are into your life. Stand tall, once you have this strength, you need to help others find it in themselves.

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3. GRIT

What quality makes people succeed? The researchers looked at hopefuls in army training, kids in an inner city high school, and multiple others to answer this question.

The answer was GRIT. The ability to persevere no matter what the conditions were and to work hard and passionately towards a goal. It wasn’t intellectual ability, ethnic background, or whether or not you came from a wealthy background.

If you can choose a goal and work hard, not even your level of talent matters, it is GRIT.

You can do anything.

4. Hurt People Hurt People

All of those individuals from your past that you want to pummel, know that they have suffered or are still suffering on some level, to do some of the things that were done to you.

Forgive them, forgive yourself. It is the only pathway towards healing and walking in balance. Holding hate in your heart will only corrupt your path.

5. Mentors Are Out There

If you have no one to learn from, know that there is an elder or a will-be-auntie out there waiting to share some of their knowledge. Don’t be shy, start visiting, show an interest, be helpful and most of all pray that the Creator sends you teachers. They are out there waiting for a learner to pass it on for the next generation.

Don’t be afraid to ask when you need help and guidance, you’ll be surprised as to what happens when you finally do.

6. Go To The Water

When in doubt, or worry, or fear, or gratefulness… go to the water. Lay some tobacco, say a prayer and let the forest and the water heal you. It’s there to hold what you can’t hold yourself.

7. Don’t Be Afraid To Love

Look honey, I know that you’ve been dragged through the mud but there is so much to be grateful for. You’re breathing. You have food in your belly. A shelter over your head and clothes on your back. Be grateful for the small things, bird song, the wind through your hair, the stars and how they shine.. yes they shine for you.

Love greatly, even in the face of indifference and hate. First, love yourself, know that the Creator made you and sent you here with a purpose and know that you are crafted to perfection and have everything in you to blossom into who you need to be. Never let the possibility of rejection stop you from doing loving actions or speaking good words to another.

8. Aim Big & Fail Hard

Create and envision big goals and go for them. Chances are you will fail before you succeed. Shake off that dust and try again. Failure builds character and gives you knowledge if you don’t try you won’t go anywhere. Remember it’s GRIT that will take you to your dreams.

9. Learn Your Language & History

Being able to speak the language of your Grandmothers and Grandfathers is something beautiful, powerful, and necessary. I’m learning right now and still have a long, long, ways to go. The fact that I have to relay these messages to you in English is evidence of assimilation. Reclaim that part of yourself.

Knowledge is power. The more you know about your history, the history of colonization, and what is going on now, the more you can discount racist and uninformed remarks. The knowledge that you’ll gain in knowing facts will reinforce your feet and spine so that you can stand tall. We are an amazing, resilient people, and that blood is the same blood that runs in your veins.

10. Start Praying For a Husband Now, You’re Still Single

Just kidding, that isn’t my number 10, but Grandma would like it to be.

The real # 10. Ask Questions & Take Action

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Start thinking about the world you live in. If you don’t like the way something is, start asking questions and find out why it’s like that and..this is the important piece… how can you change it?

Life isn’t just something that happens to you. You as a young person have the power and voice to create meaningful change.

Don’t like the way your education doesn’t reflect who you are? Ask questions and fight for change.

Want to see more cultural stuff in your community? Ask questions and get to planning with other like minded people.

This is the key, once you know your history, who you are, you can then shed the robe of assimilation and sense of helplessness and make change. You are now responsible for getting out there and mixing shit up, not only for you, but for the next 7 generations.

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Get on with it, the ancestors are watching.

Much love,

Helen K

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6 comments

  1. This was a very well written article and hit the nail right on the head. I never got to teach my kids mine and my grand parents ways, Their mom who was white got custody because I was going to have surgery on my neck and back and the court decide let her have them because I would be laid up for a while. I had to fight to even get to see them for over a year, and we had joint custody. She did not want them to learn about our native waves, so her and her family did a smear campaign on me. I over came that, but the damage was done, so the government has 4 more that have been assimilated. The sad part in this, was I had two of them starting to dance before the divorce. Hopefully one day they will decide they want to learn from me and some of my friends, I just hope it happens before it is too late.

    1. I hope so too, for your kids and the many others that are in the same situation. I worked briefly at a gas station in the first part of my 3rd year of university. There was an old man who came in every day and bought the same thing, purchasing it from the all Native staff. One day this older man goes off on a tangent in conversation and talks about how his grand children are half native but if he has anything to do with it (which he has) they will learn nothing about it. He said this to a man, who had rung his items through daily for years and made small talk to him who was First Nations. It’s difficult for me to understand why someone would prevent individuals from allowing them to be proud of who they are and have those connections. We can only pray, maintain our efforts, and reach out to those we can. Thanks for sharing your story, Im always humbled by another persons truth.

  2. Helen, keep continuing to learn the Dune-Za language. Culture starts with speaking the language. Are there possibilities for children to learn this language or to educate them this?

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