A portrait of Terri-Lynn Swain and the Vancouver skyline by photographer Nadya Kwandibens. Kwandibens' 'Concrete Indians' series of photos depicts Natives in urban settings.

What Are the Challenges of Walking in Two Worlds?

Sonny Skyhawk
4/27/12

It is the realization that, at one time, this was only one world, and that it belonged to our people. That having been said, today we find ourselves in a complicated position. The full cost of mainstream assimilation for the American Indian has yet to be determined. Today, five hundred years later, we are still in the process of assessing what has been lost.

Collectively, we have paid a very dear price. Ours has been a culture that has relied on the oral transmission of our history and values. Our languages and have suffered tremendously, and therefore our cultures have suffered tremendously, and we find ourselves struggling to hold on to as much of both of them as possible. Obviously, we have lost almost all of our lands—what is less obvious is the lingering cost of the occupation and holocaust we have experienced remain to this very day. These haunt us in a more subtle, even subliminal, way.

Yet we have evolved and are dealing with the hand we have been dealt, so to speak. We are and remain a viable, vibrant and proud people, with the same dreams and aspirations as anyone else. Today, having retained our values and beliefs, we are doctors, lawyers and every other profession that is found in mainstream society, and we are moving ahead in many constructive ways.

We are distinctly unique from other ethnicities, simply because we are the original land holders, and because of lands ceded to the present government through sovereign recognized treaties. We are proud Americans, and have shed our blood to prove and defend this land. We continue to walk in both worlds with pride, determination and hope—hope that our future generations appreciate the price that has been paid and value what has been achieved. It has been a difficult path, no doubt, but one that we walk with the belief that we can co-exist. I truly believe that our ancestors would be proud of our ability to sustain ourselves through the challenges of change we have had to undergo in the last five hundred years.

Aho.

(Special thanks to Nadya Kwandibens for the image above; to see more from her Concrete Indians series, visit Redworks.ca.)

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Two Bears Growling's picture
Two Bears Growling
Submitted by Two Bears Growling on
Through many journeys in this life I have found it better to just leave the other world of the washichus & focus on our own peoples. Get back to our old ways & you will find the power we once had before we were almost wiped out. Our old ways hold a powerful healing of mind, body & spirit. Too many of those who are not of we like-hearted peoples just cannot understand this concept. When any part of the 3 are out of balance we cannot be at the place we need to be inside. When all is in balance there is a inner peace, joy & happiness. Our ways are very spiritual. While so many who are not as we are laugh & scoff of our ways & call us pagans & heathens, we are far, far from any of that. The is an inward peace I have found when I am back among our many peoples who practice the old ways. Seek the old ways & return to the land of our ancestors as soon as you can & come back to our roots, beliefs & culture. The washichus world is not for us. It drains our spirit till we are empty inside.

Valentina's picture
Valentina
Submitted by Valentina on
Maybe it is just me but I feel like this quarantine thing is brgniing more people together than had previous events in the past. Kind of a like a reawakening after the whole ATEK stuff... maybe we can spin it into a huge community starting thing~damn my hippy intentions

Jim Dumas
Jim Dumas
Submitted by Jim Dumas on
I'd like to interject a washichus view of this. What do you do when you DON'T identify with your own race? In all of my 63 years, I've identified more with the Native American, because of their beliefs, the love of the land and animals, and the inner spirit. In the '70s I was told that all I was doing was "patronizing" the People, so instead of helping me to understand...I was looked upon as the "enemy". I agree with Two Bears, I don't see how a person can try and walk in both worlds. One or the other, is going to hate you. In my case I follow my heart, and learn from reading. Not just from the Washichus's view point, but also from the People's side also. Then decide for myself. I think those that laugh and scoff, do so because they don't understand, and worse, don't want to. Spiritually speaking, I find it strange when they can't even agree among themselves what is right and what is wrong. They take a book, and pick and choose what they want to make themselves look good. They say that they love God...so why do they hate Two Spirited People? Their women are not suppose to teach men about God, but must except what their husband tell them. But my belief is that women are the center, and should be treated with respect. I may be wrong, but will continue the way I have lived my life, and will pass it down to my grandchildren. I need for them to understand, that they need to learn from the Native American, and to learn to live with Mother Earth.

Marilyn Maracle's picture
Marilyn Maracle
Submitted by Marilyn Maracle on
I will visit Redworks.ca . I know some of the problems that are faced by today's Native Americans and I pray their paths will soon be easier to tolerate. Maybe it is time for some of the stones/boulders to be moved out of their way.

Dorothy McCormick's picture
Dorothy McCormick
Submitted by Dorothy McCormick on
Native Americans' are, I believe our country's National Treasure and deserve all rights and privileges granted to all others who call themselves "American".

Robert Swim's picture
Robert Swim
Submitted by Robert Swim on
Walking in two worlds is to enhance both by the presence of the other. How greater can we understand a single world if it is all we know, anything which can be owned, can be taken, while everything which is valued only increases by sharing with many. Perhaps it is best to find a means to share your understanding, as it is your greatest treasure.

sabrina's picture
sabrina
Submitted by sabrina on
I grew up with very traditional elders on the rez, I miss the old sounds of weaving, the kerosene lamp, and the fire crackling. I hear them singing in my dreams & long for every day. They were right with their herbal medicines/ remedies and lectures in spiritual teachings. I cling to them now fiercely. The world now feels shallow and meaningless. The earth is suffering and is out of order without our medicine men. We need to return to the old ways of our people.

laurel ferguson's picture
laurel ferguson
Submitted by laurel ferguson on
When I was 24 I went in for orthodontics to straighten my teeth. The Orthodontist asked me if i was part chinese. I do NOT look chinese, and didn't know why he asked this of me. He told me I have chinese molars, then said, "Native Americans have it too." So I asked my mother about it. Her answer was, "All of my uncles were very dark skinned, my mother was light skinned, and passed as white, we NEVER talked about it." Suddenly an experience i'd had with a female wolf made more sense, (she tied an invisible string at the back of my neck into a bow, got me thru some very tough times.) So I research what i can, and find i'm French, Scot, Italian, and Kanienkehaka. I had no idea I was 1/4 Kanienkehaka, (learning later aka "Mohawk"), until I was an adult. So my challenge is I found out some of where I come from, but all the relatives I could question about it have passed away, along with my mom. I'd love to learn the language, I'd love to connect, but how do i? People look at me like i'm insane if i tell them i'm Native American.

Redman Walking's picture
Redman Walking
Submitted by Redman Walking on
Scripture Says: you are either hot or cold. One or the other; Yet being a modern Placebo Incarnate of the assimilation process, welllllll, between the EDUCATED indians, URBAN indians, TRADISH indians, HALF BREED indians, WANNA BEES indians, REZ indians, HOLLYWOOD indians, and DIGITAL indians, JOURNALIST indians, SCHOLAR indians, MILITANT indians, the only good INDIAN is dead indians, and lastly INDIAN indians. SOoooo. B.I.A. indians. Whats an indian to DO, Just Sayin'

smiling coyote 's picture
smiling coyote
Submitted by smiling coyote on
ndn? life as one is more difficult then being one. the red skin makes you proud more or less you should be ashamed. in the world you exist in is white so be like you see it. ive always been red last to stand in the old ways but why fight my people? so i ask my self if assimilation we all have in some ways today it's called evulution we made it. be proud of it living in two worlds shoot i wish as natives of this land we live in this world it's ours take it. if look back like you all do find out the truth don't live a lie. the great people before us had a dream. it was to make it to the good hunting grounds with there people we don't own the land the land owns us. if you dance then dance, if you pray; pray for everyone remember this your past does not forget you but you forget the past. the shameful part is will the resistance live on...

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous
Submitted by Anonymous on
so i am what i am and i'm an indian. *shrug* I can live with that....I am many things, and I can be proud of them all. Here is something I wrote after reading redman walking and coyote smiling comments to Sonny Skyhawk: How does it feel to be native? How does one describe a force in the soul that drives you? Music can move me, it can lift me to another world. How does it feel to be a Mongol? A Cossack? A Greek? Legends create an envy that is not easily understood, but there is nothing wrong with the legend of my mix of peoples All are fantastic, magical, strong, and mysterious. There is the irish/scot/english with celtic mysticism shrouded in time, Viking usurpers exploring the wild world and sailing into the unknown on missions of conquest. The last Saxon king. Gallic influences with a thousand years of culture and history. Italian, explorers, artists, composers. Also the Keepers of the Eastern Door, Kanien’kehaka, a warrior people both feared and respected, People of the Flint, Mohawk. I can feel these forces inside of me. They twist and writhe, striving for attention, pulling my heart left and right, sometimes bursting out in a virulent profusion of artistic endeavor and passion. I can feel their influences in the simplest sound or sight. I am blessed by my connection to these forces, for I had nothing to do with the creation of them, yet I am benefitted by the blend of direction and purpose that radiates from the past to myself. Even if I cannot put it into words, even if the music of it is untranslatable, it pulses within me. At the end of the day, when my eyes grow heavy and I lay down to go to sleep, when there is not a sound anywhere, I hear music just at the edge of perception. When I tell that to some they explain it away, saying my mind is creating something from nothing. They may be right, it’s still beautiful, it still lifts my heart up into the clouds. Others stare blankly at me and don’t understand what I’ve tried to tell them. I can only make the assumption that their joys are similarly indescribable, and differ profoundly from my own. And yet, it is good. It is the force of spirit in our lives. Is it the spirit of the native inside all things? Is it God? If I tell you it can be both, do you want to call me a blasphemer, or to kill me? If I say that prayer and meditation are the same force, do you want to pray for my soul? I can call it God, or Jehovah, or Allah, or the Great Spirit, but just because it has a name, doesn’t make it so. What it does make is our belief, and our pain, and our joy. It is a way to reconcile the irreconcilable in our lives, the things we don’t or can’t understand. And our aspirations and thoughts and ideas propel us forward, and they propel God, or our Spirit forward as well. I wake to a new day, and I am joyous. The cloud laden sky, or the bright sunshine, are but aspects of our joy. People are amazing, and wonderous, and special, all of them. We all make a choice about how we see the world around us. It is a decision we make, of great import, and yet, just a decision, of how we see the universe. If the way I see the universe around me makes me feel bad, insecure, alone, then I simply make a decision to see it differently. That is all we are, a perception, colored by a decision on how we will perceive what we experience. Are you a person of a legend as well? Does your story also resound in the stories we tell our children? If you are not, I have one tiny bit of advice for you, decide to be, for you are.

D.'s picture
D.
Submitted by D. on
If you want an inspirational example, look up Japanese and, perhaps, Jews. Both nations made a career out of adopting what is useful from their surroundings while retaining a distinct and unique cultural core. The first step to national salvation is, of course, the language - Jews even had to reinvent their ancient language on their way to nationhood.

lovemylife's picture
lovemylife
Submitted by lovemylife on
I don't want to be offensive because I am myself a washichus because I am english and Irish but since I've fallen in love with a Native American , I have only learned more respect for the culture and the group of people I've been introduced to..Never did I carry a lack of respect. But with my education, I feel I was never taught the right way and question a lot of my education and I apologize to everyone that feels that way against "white" people. I think if ALL people are given the proper education and not the biased education this world could have the potential to be a lot different. My fiance is Native and everything he tells me, I reply " I did not learn it that way, but wow, i'm glad you explained it to me differently." I really respect Native American culture and glad I am marrying into it and learning about it and I hope I can be welcomed with somewhat happy arms.
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