Thursday, July 28, 2011

I am Sicangu Oyate: Yes, I am

Measuring our Indian-ness has become a past time that I choose not to participate in. It's steeped in internalized racism and we create different class systems to assign people to. It's done socially and has manifested itself in the political arena. If you are not familiar with it then you must not be Indian.

We separate ourselves according to who practices our traditional ways. Yes, there are those who are living this way.

We separate ourselves according to enrollment. If you are an enrolled member then you are Indian.

We separate ourselves according to blood quantum. This practice of taking 50% from both your biological parents lineage to determine yours gives you a sense of your Native-ness. If you are more then you are better. If you are full blood then you are given a free pass to discriminate against everyone else and look down upon them.

We separate ourselves according to language. If you sound too white then you've given up your right to claim being Indian. You've left the pack. You've turned your back on your culture. Traditional speakers are highly valued and look down upon those who don't.

We separate ourselves according to where we live. If you live in the city then you are an Urban Indian. If you live the reservation then your just, Indian. We don't talk about those who move back and forth cause we're still trying to sort out where they belong. Until then, you claim where you're from and we'll honor that. My goodness, if you are an Urban Indian then you are not Indian enough. Give your enrollment card back.

We separate ourselves according to education. If you left the reservation to get an education. You've essential become one of them. I'm not sure yet, who “them” is but from the sounds of it, it's not very good.

We separate ourselves according to the pain we've experienced as a result of being an Indian. If you've lived a traditional life and experienced the depths of poverty as a result of it then your more Indian. If you've grown up poor then your just poor.

We separate ourselves according to how we dress and look. If you've got long hair and braid them accordingly then that's it....Your Indian. If you wear a ribbon shirt on a daily basis, your a wanna be. If you were traditional clothing, your weird. Those clothes are only brought out for a special occasion, funerals, usually.

We separate ourselves according to our attendance to Pow-wow's. If you go to pow-wows regularly then you must be Indian. If you know the songs you've gone up in your rankings.

We separate ourselves according to your work in the community. If you work in the Indian community and for the community then you're Indian. You are living out one of our values.

We separate ourselves according to our political philosophy and ideology. You've got to believe in the sovereignty of Native communities to be Indian. You better not talk outside of it nor understand that reservations survive because of Government hand outs. You better play stupid when you talk about working collaboratively or in coalition to alleviate poverty. Don't talk about Tribal governments don't work because they are not how leadership was traditionally determined cause you will be chased out of town. You heathen wanna be...

There are many other ways that we separate ourselves as being Indian. I use Native American and Indian interchangeable because they are used commonly as such. What I know is this...I'm an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. I'm Sicangu Oyate (Burnt Thigh People). I'll let you figure out where I fit cause I know where I belong and who I am. Do you cause I'm gonna do me everyday! ...XOXO, Nick

When Pride Gets In the Way....

When you've lived long enough and get enough perspective on things you begin to understand when something is a problem. With that said, Pride as I knew it as a young person got in the way.

Pride meant, I didn't ask for help. Pride meant, I didn't tell people when I was hurting or something was wrong. Pride meant, I didn't tell people about family problems. Pride meant, you behaved as though everything was fine. Pride meant, you never let anyone know you hurt and my God, don't let them see you cry. Pride meant, you knew hunger, emotional disconnection, and spiritual deprivation on your own.

I can honestly say when I was younger everything was fine. It was in my tweens that my life began to unravel. What I knew as safe and expected to be there shifted and changed daily. It was the demise of my parents relationship and ultimately, their divorce my life changed fundamentally.

Prior to 5, I spent a lot of time with my maternal Grandmother. I knew her smell, the smell of stale cigs, flour, sweet perfume. I remember her touch, kind, gentle, reassuring, and loving. I knew her.

I learned all these notions of Pride from the people I was surrounded by. My immediate family, aunts, uncles, and cousins. If you don't know the experience of growing up closely with a family around you all the time, I wish that for you. We lived together, literally. We lived close to one another. We moved about in our world with the safety of our family around us.

Needless to say, after my parents divorced I knew the depths of poverty. I learned how to cook on a wood stove. I knew how to heat water and fill a bathtub to bath daily before school. I learned to do laundry in the tub. I learned what I could cook so hunger pains would go away. I learned to live without electricity. I learned to walk everywhere we went.  I knew never to do it on the main road but walk through the countryside. I learned to do all of this without anyone knowing what was going on. I knew never to tell anyone because of the shame it would bring upon 'the family'.

In poverty, you didn't have the luxury of entertaining or tending to your emotional needs. I knew, when I could capture moments with friends to feel safe. I knew, never tell too much. I knew, keep silent throughout it all. I knew, never to tell the ugly truth about what was going on in my life. It was all steeped in shame, mine and my families.

Throughout this time, after my parents divorced, I was the one who tended to the younger ones. Growing up in a family of 8 - 4 biological siblings and 4 adopted first cousins. The biological siblings were left with my mother and the remaining 4 were ferreted out to aunts and uncles so my father could begin his new family.

It's been years since I've looked at this but today it presents itself. I'm not sure why but it is something that needs to be written and told. I don't have any of the emotional baggage that surrounds it anymore. I can appreciate it now for the life lesson it was.

I digress, throughout this time my job was to take care of my younger siblings. My older brother never did have the maternal/paternal nature of doing this job so it fell to me. I was the one who picked up caring for my younger sisters and adopted siblings when they came home between being shuffled from one place to another.

I worked at a Gas station and at school and all my money went to care for basic needs. I would buy groceries and household goods. I would give money to my siblings so they could venture off and be their young selves. This was my choice. I knew then I was different and couldn't relate to many of the people who lived on the reservation. I just stayed home, read, and dreamed of one day leaving.

Where was my mother throughout this time. She was finding her way home, figuratively and literally. What I can say about this time from my perspective was she was healing from her own stuff she experienced from my grandmother, her family, her experiences, and her life. She was a young teen mom who by the time she was 30 was left with 4 children. She did what she needed to do to survive throughout this time. Ultimately, she needed time of her own.

Needless to say, I write all this to say is that Pride can get in the way. How so?

What I know is a closed mouth doesn't get fed, there are people who want to help, even caretakers need caretaking, and kindness shouldn't be viewed as being bad. When you spend a lot of your time and energy caring for people then allow others to care for you, especially when you need it. It is only respectful to do this. Giving and loving goes around and around. You give and you take. No one keeps score. At least, those who are healthy emotionally, spiritually, and physically.

I remember for myself as an adult, I recently lost my job and I had a baby and I didn't know what to do. I turned over everything in my house to find change. I begged my ex-partner for money because he had plenty of it. I threw myself at his feet so my son could have diapers, food, and shelter. It was in that moment, I snapped.

I stood up. Realized to myself that this grown motherfucker was taking advantage of me. I realized how vulnerable I was. I knew to my core that I was capable of taking care of these things. I knew how to survive. I lived past worst. I survived then and could do it again.

I didn't spend a lot of time sorting through pride and its manifestations in my life then. What I knew was to get food. I sucked it up, I took my overeducated self to apply for welfare. I was 29. I carried the lesson into this time was this, keeping my secrets and not letting anyone know what was going on. I didn't reach out to friends for help. It would be a lesson I was to learn later.

Once I got myself and Sonny situated. I did more sucking it up and began to learn to ask for what I needed. It was then I learned to personally maneuver social services. Everything I had done for my clients, I had first hand knowledge of. I knew people and asked lots of questions.

I'm grateful that I was still in therapy during this time. I was able to sort out what was happening emotionally. I had someone I could talk to for an hour a week. I had my own safety net. I could explore what was going on without making myself feel vulnerable everywhere and all the time.

No one tells you how to live your life. Yes, they give you advice but when you get to the nitty gritty of living your own life then it is a lot of trial and error. You figure things out for yourself. You try things on. You keep what works. You discard what doesn't. Throughout this all, you live your life in accordance to how your parents did it whether it worked good or not.  They are your role models.  

What I know about Pride is this, it is a double edged sword. It's great to have self worth and self esteem. It's wonderful to stand tall in the world and carry yourself with Pride. Pride is horrible when you silence yourself when you are hurting. Pride is horrible when you need help and are suffering, needlessly. Pride can lead to your own demise and you learn how to cope with things both with good and bad things.  That's what I know...XOXO, Nick

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

She's No Different Than Me: The Whore and I

You know her. She walks the streets glancing at cars. She looks haggard. She looks like she needs to rest awhile. She has an air of desperation about her. She's dressed in clothes that are too tight, hair pulled back, way to much make-up on for an early morning walk, and heels. There is a hardness to her. Life hasn't been good to her.

You know if she doesn't make her money there are consequences. Her pimp will beat her. Will threaten her. Force her to have sex for money. Ultimately, humiliate her. Another day in the seedy parts of America.

I think about her journey and mine. How are they related? How with different decisions and choices, I could be her. How when sex has no value because it was taken so often without your consent you learn- it's just another person. You hope for it to pass.  You want it to be over, quickly.

I know the desperation of having someone to connect with. Someone to ease the pain. Someone to shield you from your guilt. Someone who understands the confusion.  Someone to show you salvation. Someone to save you when you don't know how to save yourself.

Sex for a survivor of sexual abuse and sexual assault is different. Sex has a different meaning. Sex is complicated.  

In the trauma of sexual abuse - You learn to disconnect from your body. You let your mind wander into a sacred space as your body is being taken. You turn off the pleasurable notions of it. You wait for it to pass.

You have to relearn the beauty of sex.

Trust and value is something that has to be regained. Trust in people you are intimate with. Value for yourself. It's an arduous process of reclamation. You falter at times. You pray for guidance. You know there is someone who will not violate you in those ways. You believe.  Believe when there isn't anything to believe in.

When your intimate partner gets to close, you reel. You push them away. Physically and emotionally, you need distance from them. It's a smell, a movement, a touch that has you flashing back to those darker moments and times. Unless you know what is going on, you run away from them as quickly as possible. I know, I've destroyed relationships when I didn't know what was happening.

I'm grateful for the people who helped me.  They supported me with love and affirmations when I was coming to terms with these experiences in my life.  They loved me unconditionally.  I'm grateful they supported me along this journey. They were kind to me. They treated me special when I was so broken. They believed in me when I was confused.

They treated me like I had value when I gave myself willingly because years of abuse.  Through discovery I figured out you only know how to re-victimize yourself.  It's familiar.  You know it.  You have to find your way out of the darkness.  You can hear those affirming voices and they lead you out of the depths of your own despair. 

Healing is a life long process. I know this. Memories come and go, unexpectedly. I'm learning to manage them, all the time. I can't say they've all gone away. They are still there. I've let go. I've forgiven myself. I've forgiven them.

What's the difference between me and her. Nothing. I could have been her.  It is because of the people who surrounded me and loved me. The countless hours in therapy. The tears from pain.  The hurt from trying to sort things out.  Ultimately, it was these people who taught me to love myself.

Sex had value. Love doesn't always equal pain. The innate knowing, I am somebody.

We both know of the sacred place in our minds. The place we commune with God. The place we knew to escape to because a human being was reaching in to take our soul. We knew God was there to save us.  We knew God was there with us.  

When I see her, I say a prayer. I wish her well. I hope she finds her way.

With all this said, I know the whore and my life is no different from one another. We made different choices. I could be her. She could be me. I'm thoughtful about this.

I treat people how I'd like to be treated. Kindness. Respect. Value. Integrity. Honestly. I expect the same in return....XOXO, Nick

Choose to Experience Life Fully: Bitterness, Childhood Dreams, and Forgiveness

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like." Lao-Tzu

When bitterness blackens your soul, are you truly living? When you fail to free yourself from the binds of your childhood dreams, does it mean your life is less? When you fail to forgive those who harmed you, does this mean you do not deserve love?

I've met many people who are trapped by the reality of their life. They are unwilling to let go of childhood notions of themselves. They keep wanting to restart their life. Start again. Life has long left that harbor. What becomes of their life?

They become consumed by rage and bitterness. They become cold and unfeeling. They believe people are out to destroy them and get them. They look out into their own future with a broken spirit. Shoulders slumped, angry words, and damned. Damned by themselves.

I've seen some who find solace in alcohol or drugs. They use it at first to dull the pain. They tell themselves that it is only for a moment. It's fun. They dance seductively with it but it seeps further and further into their bodies and minds. Ultimately, it renders them useless without its presence. They've stopped living.

It is my hope that they will forgive, let go, and experience what is happening around them. First forgive themselves. Forgive others. Let go of those dreams. Look around themselves and let joy in. Life happens.

I don't believe in a God who has us suffer needlessly. I believe in a God who gives us what we need. I believe in a God who wants us to know joy.

In suffering comes understanding. When we plead in prayer for understanding and fail to listen for the answers, who is to blame? We know at our core when there is a whisper. When there is the answer. We chose to hear it or not.

I'm learning everyday to let go and allow my life to happen. I don't understand what is happening often but I know, I am not alone. I laugh a lot. I experience joy. I pray often. Not always prayers of resolution or understanding but prayers of thanksgiving.

I do not allow bitter or jaded people to unduly influence my life. They are caught up in a past that they are unwilling to let go of. Yes, you should have been loved by that person who you heaped everything upon. Yes, you should have been a successful athlete. Yes, you should have experienced life as you wanted it.

But – you are here. Look around you.

What are you lacking? Food, clothing, shelter, love, courage, and respect? They are there or the possibility of them. You have lived your life in a way so you do not see them anymore. Your mind justifies or makes excuses for your bitterness. 

I implore you to let it go. No one is hurting more than you. Let it go. Pain can not be measured or compared.

I've lived through a lot of crap in my life and am not living my childhood dreams but I've come to know, I am where I need to be. I state this not for pity but for understanding.  Our journeys are not different.  

Pain and hurt are universally felt. How I deal with them has been a profound process of trial and error. They still show up when I least expect it.  I've learned to yield to them.  Understand their presentation and integrate my new lesson.

My human understanding of my life is at times in direct conflict of what is going on spiritually.   My affair with God has been long and I've been saved many times.  I trust that.  I'm learning more and more everyday what it means to be human.  A human being fully living and loving life. 

When an uncovered emotional ache comes rushing forward, I allow it to happen. I enter into silence.  I spend time alone.  I allow the lesson to unveil itself. I heed God's whispers and understanding now. They are what carried me through the darkness and pain. Why would I doubt them now?

For those who live in bitterness, in the past, and not forgiving, I only hope that one day you will know love and joy. Our lives everyday are a choice. We can choose to focus on these things or stop and recognize what is around us. I know I am...XOXO, Nick

Finding Refuge in a Strangers Land

I wish I can say, I’m accepted by all my communities unconditionally, but this isn’t true. I'd be lying. There is a level of truth each of my communities can deal with. I’m not enough in their eyes to lay claim to that identity, wholly. Just not enough. Their judgement.

I’m given the meek, uh-huh. The look of contempt when I speak out of turn or don't sound like them. I’m given a disapproving look when I don’t agree unconditionally to all the politics and ideas of each of my communities.

What happens to me then?

I learn to silence my voice. I don’t talk openly about what I think and believe. I take my fractured self about in the world and find respite when I can. Some part of me finds company. The part of me that meets the conditions of the people I surround myself with at a given moment.

There are times when my many selves fights amongst each other. Different ideas at war. Different ideologies converge. Different value systems want recognition. Each nomenclature dissected and discerned.

I yield to what is most salient at that moment and time. Which one of my identities will afford me a moment of respite and fulfillment? Which can be affirmed? Which can know completion? Shifting and changing identities that are sorted by my physical nature, psychological well being, structural manifestation, spiritual embodiment...

That’s what I know…

I’m a complicated human being living a complicated life. Weaving together the tapestry of my identities. Each identity telling a story about my life-I lived, the life-I live, the life-I hope to live.

Am I lying?

Not at all. I bring to the table the part of me that people can relate to. I hold back the differences so I can be safe. I hold onto them to keep my fear at bay.

What people relate to is this...I'm no different than them.

I yearn to be loved. I yearn to be accepted. I hurt. I feel pain. I know disappointment. I am hopeful to find a place and time when I do not have to edit myself accordingly. A place where I can be fully me.

Until then, I’ve learned to live in a strangers land. I enjoy the company of strangers. I can bear witness to their journey. I can savor the moments of joy when they come. I laugh until my side hurts. I have learned to live amongst strangers.

At least, that’s what I know…

Poetry: "Wasted Moments"

Wasted Moments

No one owes me a living

Time spent and squandered
Are NO One’s concern but MINE

Moments wasted on
                Misery and sadness

Moments pondering all the
                Would’ve, Could’ve, and Should’ve
No One Else’s

I’ll tell the truth and shame the devil
I’ve wasted moments of my life

A man left – boo hoo
I lost a job – wah!
Yes, life can get fucked up
It ain’t even fair at times
I still rage at the injustice – uh huh

I can only manage my mind
Waste my moments
My moments

I’m where I need to be
I choose to allow those lessons to wash over me

Bathe in my truth
Stand tall

No one else’s…

I choose to 
Listen for God in the wind!

July 26, 2011