I'm going to let you in on a Native secret: Families are everything. Tiyospaye. They define you. They are who create you. They hold the medicine that can heal you. They can also be your demise.
I can honestly say, I love the hell out of all my cousins. We grew up together. We have a common experience. We know each others stories. We supported each other in surviving.
I have a complicated relationship with some of my fathers family. I wish I can say I miss them but I don't. As a child, they were horrible to me and my siblings. They continue this behavior to this day. They subject my siblings to their disdain for our existence, regardless of our father's death.
I've told my father, “Once you die, don't ever expect me to talk to them again”. He was angry at my statement. He wanted me to forgive them but I remained steadfast. I reminded him of the hell they put my mother through. Also, the horrible things they did to all of us. The derogatory things they said about my mother, me, and my siblings. He just lowered his head and said, “Ah ho”. He couldn't defend their behavior anymore. He couldn't control their access to me anymore. He was sad and broken.
I didn't lash out at my father cause I was angry. I lashed out for all the years of being made fun of, the sideways comments about how we lived, the look of contempt they gave my mother, and their shame of us.
These are the things I remember. I remember small acts of kindess but they are stomped out by their laughter and statements, “you snotty nosed brats are dirty”. I remember my mother defending us. The physical fights she endured. She fought one or two of them at a time. I remember her defending us. She fought them on our behalf.
I know to this day, they aren't going to change. What I say doesn't matter. Who I am and my siblings are, they are deeply and fundamentally ashamed of. My father married the wrong women.
My father loves his family. I know that. He couldn't manage how they behaved toward us. He tried to shield us from them but they would go around him. They waited til he wasn't around.
I say all this not to hurt some of my fathers family. I say it so people can understand, when family is destructive to you then you do have a choice of associating with them or not. I have chosen not to. I encourage my siblings not to. They are not going to change. They will never understand their behavior as being reprehensible or foul. They will never apologize.
I love my cousins. If anyone knows Lakota family structure then they know first cousins are brought up as siblings. The notion of 1st / 2nd / 3rd cousins is a European construct. I've known my cousins as my siblings. They didn't engage in the behavior of their parents. We didn't understand it. We just love each other.
There are days that I have a glimmer of hope that there is a change but then I am reminded. I talk to a sibling and I hear what they are saying to them. I hear the hurt and confusion. I comfort the tears. Hope of reconcilation and understanding fades away, quickly. It makes me sad that my Father isn't here to defend us anymore. We made a choice to stay away from those people.
All families have complicated relationships. I know this. I don't have some silly childhood notion of some transformative healing is going to occur. I have learned to accept my family as it is. Weather I talk to my family or not, doesn't make them any less my family. They are still my family.
What I choose not to do is engage in destructive behavior. You are not gaining access to my son and make him feel less than. It ain't happening. That shit stops here and now. Fuck you.
So the next time you see me being cordial to some of my fathers family that's the truth. I can love them from afar. I don't have time for crazy nor do I have to deal with it...XOXO, Nick