What is now upon us? American Indian Heritage Month. What does this mean? To many, not much. We have many (Insert race) Heritage History months.
What does it mean to me being Native American (Comanche)? Being raised by a mother who was raised on a reservation, being taught Native American culture, language and history along with the same from my fathers side or “taibo.”
I spent the better part of my early school years living a life that was similar to the lyrics of the Cher song “Half Breed.” I had longer hair than many of the girls in my elementary school and even had a bird feather left on my school desk by a wanna-be-bully.
I have always been more drawn to that part of my heritage than my “taibo” side. My mother had my naming ceremony early in my life, but I have very little memory of that day. I do, however have a deep and binding tie to that name. I don’t know how my mother knew me so well at that young age (I was 3) of what I would become as an adult. She gave me the name “Waya Ka-ni” which loosely translated means “Wolf who watches over.”
I met my spirit guide when I was a young teen after my mother passed away — a large black wolf, who has been with me my entire life since that first meeting. My life, personality and values are that of a wolf. How she knew. I’ll never know.
Native heritage, Native culture, Native beliefs. What does all that mean? How can anyone begin to understand in simply 30 days? I don’t think that anyone can. However, I do believe in the awareness brought up by the media; showing that the Native peoples of America have a deep, rich and very long culture, deeply rooted in the life force that is Mother Earth. We all come from her. All races, colors and beliefs start with Mother Earth, and it is to her we will all return. Now this is all that I have believed, what I have been taught. Every living thing has a spirit, and if you only listen, you can hear them. To this day, I can still hear my mother. Her name was “Tauni-mara” (which means North Wind).
Native American people have deep beliefs in community, “It’s not what you have, it’s what you have to give.”
I was asked once by an adorable nine year old girl, “Are Indians dirty?” Was I offended? How could one be offended by such an innocent question. Over the decades Native people have been portrayed as “savages,” “uncultured,” “barbarians”. People always fear what they do not know. In this case this sweet little girl was simply curious and asked a question probably based on some photos she had seen in school depicting Indians living in teepees. I answered her simply, “No we are not, we are as clean as you and your family.”
My second example would be driving to work. I have on occasion seen someone having a dream catcher hanging from their rear view mirrors. I can only chuckle. Why, you ask? A dream catcher should only be hung where you sleep, so I chuckle thinking that person must sleep a lot in their car. It’s not a decoration. To many Native people, it is a special tool for allowing their children to sleep soundly without nightmares. To allow them to come to the creator without fear.
I was told once by someone that they had “become Indian.” (Insert confused head tilt here.) Huh? My only guess to that is that this person was taking on the beliefs of Native people. Though, I am not sure of how one “becomes Indian.” I mention this because it is these situations that proves to me the need for a cultural awareness and education.
The Native cultures run long in history and deep in tradition. Some may seem to people silly or even ridiculous. I say to them, to many Native people the “taibo” can be just as silly and ridiculous. Just because it is different, does not make it any less important. Coming to a beginning of understanding that Native People are different – in every way. We may put on a suit and tie, or a lab coat, or a hard hat, but we are all still red men inside.
I have often suggested to, well, just about anyone that would listen, to find and attend a pow wow in their area. The beating drum is the living beating heart of the people. It is there you can gain a little more understanding of the Native people all around you. We are still here; Living our lives, raising our children, looking after our families.
I say “Thank you” for the American Heritage month. It’s a start, a start down a path of knowledge and understanding. A start to the appreciation of cultures that are long, deep and rich. We could celebrate a heritage month a little bit every day.
I am ever grateful for the teachings of my mother. Ever thankful to my ancestors for helping me.
Life is a circle. When my circle is close to completing, I will return to Mother Earth and to my ancestors and hope they accept me for trying to live my life with honor.
You have noticed that everything an Indian does is in a circle, and that is because the Power of the World always works in circles, and everything tries to be round … The Sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nest in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours…Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.
–Black Elk Oglala Sioux Holy Man