Growing up on the Standing Rock reservation most people (off of the reservation) don’t expect you to get very far in life. Even though the odds rack up against you, growing up on the reservation has given me strength, a sense of pride and humility at the same time. It has never been a hindrance when it came to doing anything in my life, if anything I find appeasement in accomplishment because I represent a strong people.
I always knew that my destiny in life is to help my people so I decided that college is the only way to learn to play the game. My goals aren’t set to start a business, even though my degrees are centered on business. But to go to law school, not to be a lawyer per sei but to create change by helping to bring down political and social apartheid’s, restoring tribal sovereignty and to destroy the injustices that plague our people. My aspirations are lofty, Native people have become aware of what is happening around them and an awakening has begun where change is seeming more possible.
Most Natives that I’ve encountered in college say that they’re in college to help their people. There have been very few that have said that they’re in college for any selfish reason. We all, at some point in our life, have had to deal with some sort of injustice, some sort of hate speech, some sort of racism. Our idea is to always help others because we have always experienced some sort of hateful encounter with people that don’t have the ability to understand us.
This past weekend has put a lot into perspective for me as to how most of the non-Native world views us especially with the “Famous Dave’s incident.” To be honest, it left me frustrated, angry and determined to change how the world sees Native people. Even though my whole life I have been trying to find my place as a Lakota woman, in a society that degrades us, dehumanizes us and sees us as a savage people that were conquered by the Whites.
I’ve come to the understanding that if we want change, we have to create it ourselves. We have to overcome this idea of defeatism that is instilled in everyone’s mind and gives the non-Native people the superficial idea that they have the upper hand when it comes to life.
I live in North Dakota, and these past few years while in school, I have seen just how rampant racism is in this state and region. Albeit, I have grown up here and my first encounter with racism was here in Bismarck at the age of six, when two older white children told me and my twin sister that “this isn’t Fort Yates” because we were looking into a window at Fort Lincoln state park, we laughed about it and kept on being the curious children we were yet that event left an impression in my memory.
Several other times I can remember white men yelling “dumb Indian” at my dad while we were doing our shopping. And even more currently, a co-worker of mine asked me who pays for my education and my daycare bill while I go to school, insinuating the stereotype that all Natives get free education and money for school is valid. Needless to say that he wasn’t reprimanded for his racist comments. We live among these people, so when did it become OK to make comments that are filled with disdain for our people? Comments that come from strangers, people uneducated about Native history and culture, and sadly even from members of Congress.
I wait to see how non-Native people react toward me before I choose to communicate with them. Most of the time, I have pleasant encounters with white people and I hold no contempt against them. But there have been many other times where they are scared to talk to or even look me in the eye. It’s frustrating when people feel that they can’t communicate with you, as if you’re incapable to empathize with how they feel, or behave. Or even when we’re looked down upon when we go into a store that we’re willing to spend our money at, and we are treated as if we’re going to rob it and so we get followed like thieves. Where does it end? How will this end?
I have been told by several of my instructors that this is a “white man’s world” and that I need to “get over the racism” or I won’t be considered for employment. I don’t agree with this. I will never want to put myself into a position that wants me to be something I could never be. I will never accept the concept of defeatism, or that our people were conquered hundreds of years ago so I should just ‘get over it.’ In our world, the effects of the past certainly do plague the people of today. I don’t want to live in a world of conformity, I choose to stand up for what I believe is right, what my ancestor’s wanted for our people: equality.
We are not here for hand outs, we are not here for money, and we only want a future for our children. We want to give our future generations a chance even if the change doesn’t come in our life time, the seed of change will be planted and hopefully this world will no longer see us as the degrading Hollywood stereotype of a drunken, savage, inhuman people. I am Lakota and I am proud of who I am. My world has always been Lakota even off of the reservation, corporate American will never change that fact.