Monday, October 7, 2013

A New Direction

      I've decided to discontinue my blog and to start writing a book. Thank you all for your support and feedback.  Learning to balance my life as a mother, wife, midwife, and Navajo woman is never ending.  I look forward to all the new experiences awaiting me this upcoming year and the years to come.  Blessings to you all- 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Ceremony of Life


"I am defined by my will to live"
Juane Quick-to-see Smith

"When asked what it means to be an indigenous woman in the twenty-first century, most of the women speak of their womanhood within the context of the family, community, nation. The daily lives of traditional-oriented indigenous woman vary greatly, but most express a deep sense of responsibility for the cultural survival of their people. They define what it means to be a woman as they conduct their work and live their lives surrounded by a chaotic, materialistic culture that tries to narrowly define the roles of women.  Like women everywhere, indigenous women do not want others defining for them what it means to be a woman."

Every Day is A Good Day-Reflections by Contemporary Indigenous Woman
-Wilma Mankiller-

     This is an idea I ponder daily.  I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who had some pretty strong things to say about the relationship between men and women in our pueblo.  She pointed out that her up bringing was limited in the sense of cultural teachings, but that she see's many inequalities in the value of women in our culture.  She felt that this lateral power struggle stemmed from the men.  As that certain ceremonies were only for men and could not be shared with her daughters.  This very thought of power to me feels more like a post-colonial way of thinking, rather then an indigenous one.  What is power? What does it mean to have power? Who gave you the idea that you had none to begin with?  Powerless??  Who defines what power is?  and Why do you place yourself in a lessor important role in your relationship to the tribe and your husband?  
       All of these thoughts came to mind in our conversation.  More then anything, I could hear anger in her words.  It got me to thinking about an indigenous woman's identity.  We seem to be in a place in our lives where we wish to define our "womanhood" ourselves, rather then have others define it for us. In doing so we define our relationship to our surroundings and to our community.  I actually brought up our cultural teachings with her, which teach us what our relationship is to our surroundings, rather then wasting our time on ownership of power. We are children of the earth and not the center of the universe.  Now...respect...that is a completely different matter all together.  However, I return to the question who defines the meaning of respect?  In the past, women with European values and thinking back to the Victorian period defined our "womanhood." Today, more and more indigenous women are taking into account our cultural teachings and are redefining the worlds perceptions of our "womanhood." Obviously, part of that is regaining our rites of healing and birthing knowledge.  However, it is not easy to remove ourselves from this way of thinking that we are powerless, unimportant, not respected, not valued, emotionless.....
       As of late, I find that there are many ways to define ourselves.  We each have the opportunity to pick and choose who our teachers will be.  Will today's fast paced culture teach us that we are the center of the universe to consume everything in our path with little regard for our mother earth. Or....will we listen to our guiding spirits that teach us respect?  This is easier said then done...I know.  I am constantly wrestling with who and what will be my teacher. 
         It seems like my character has been tested all summer with different situations. I feel like I am constantly defining my "womanhood."  
         I recently decided to step away from a project that has had so much meaning for me.  I had gotten so jumbled up in business and other peoples emotional struggles, that it became clear to me that the spirit of our work had been lost.  It turned out as I took some time to regroup that I wasn't willing to risk my spiritual health for this venture.  I realized that for such a place to arise, we each have to be healthy in our mind, body, and spirit, because our relationships were becoming interdependent on each other.  Our trust was being tested.  I guess I can count this as one of my teachings...knowing when to step away.  It has taken me some time to be silent, then to listen, and now to finally appreciate what I have learned.  I am defining my womanhood.  I have decided that my teacher will not be the pursuit of power, it will not be ownership, it will not be in a place of abuse.  For now it is taking the time to be a mother to my children.  To cedar the space we live in to give way for positive thinking.  It is making time to listen to my spirit and taking the time for cultural teachings.....

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Native American's for Reproductive Rights

          I've really given this a lot of thought.  When I made the choice to become a midwife, one of the first things my mother-in-law asked me was whether or not I was allowed to do abortions.  At the time, I'd never really thought about it.  I have always been a supporter of women's rights, but suddenly I was faced with this personal question.  It also gave me insight into what little she new about midwifery.  What struck me most was..."really this is all you care about and want to know about the wonderful world of midwifery?"  I told her, "no I would not be doing abortions."  As I went through the midwifery program, she asked little about my work.  One day while sitting around the dinner table with my sister-in-law and mother-in-law, they began to discuss their disgust with Planned Parenthood and New Mexico's history of late-term abortions...I held my tongue.  Obviously, my way of thinking and support of women's rights was not going to be welcomed at this table.  However, even though I kept quite for the most part, I did add a few bits of information at times, like how women could get low cost women's health care at Planned Parenthood.
           This very conversation prompted a discussion between my husband and I.  Would I perform an abortion?   I dug deep into my Navajo teachings and came to the conclusion that my role as a midwife is here to support life. If you know anything about the Navajo way of life, we are not suppose to be around death.  Furthermore, thinking back to all the prayers done on my behalf, why would I chose to tempt what was done for me?  I also thought that those chosen to do this work of performing abortions have a role here on earth as well.  I thought of our life cycle and all the many unexplainable things that happen here.  Despite my personal beliefs, I strongly stand with women who have to make the hardest decision of their lives to terminate a pregnancy. I understand that each woman has her own set of unique unexplainable circumstances.
         Recently...I was horrified to hear that an amazing physician and birth center was made the target of an out-of-state anti-aborition organization.  This group called the "Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust" went to his home and terrorized his family.  The funny thing is, they call this "peaceful picketing"..I don't know about you, but when is it peaceful for a mop of protesters to come to your home, show pictures of dead babies, and shout "baby killer?"  They also went to a birth center in Albuquerque and did the same thing while a woman was in labor. What was suppose to be a peaceful birth, turned into something else.  I did think for a second..perhaps I could post pictures of their faces on signs and show dead Native American's and call them out in being part of thousands of deaths in Indian Country due to their pre- and post colonial ways?...I could call it "Survivors of Columbus".......Anyway, you get my point......... This organization is also pushing a 20 week Abortion ban ordinance in Albuquerque.  What most people don't know about late term abortions is this...they have a medical indication.  Meaning after the 20 week anatomy ultrasound, they found the baby could not survive outside of the womb.  Meaning they were missing vital organs for survival.  My thoughts are this, how can we even think of making a woman carry a baby to 40 weeks knowing it will not survive outside the womb? This in itself tells me, women are still not valued, we are still viewed by some just as a vessel for childbirth.
          The other issue I have with this way of getting their message across and who is supporting this ordinance is it is completely religiously motivated.  It get's me thinking back to all the things done to Native American women over the last century that have been all for the call of "RELIGION." Our wombs have been subjected to Catholicism, government dictatorship and assimilation. So even though my personal beliefs about abortion...are my personal beliefs on abortion, I am familiar with this war being waged over our wombs.  It is this very reason why we as Native American women should stand together to support a woman's right to her own body.

             I resent the scare tactics currently being used to propagate an audience, while using the faces of  respected women's health providers as targets.  While thinking about writing this blog, I even considered the ramifications for writing a HONEST response to what is going on in Albuquerque.  I think those very thoughts are what an organization like theirs hopes to instill in the women of New Mexico....FEAR... I hope that if they do decide to come protesting on my lawn because of my support of a women's right to her own body, that my Native brothers and sisters would see them for what they are, but would also meet them at the gate in numbers larger then they have ever seen.  We are not just one, we are many.  I am also aware that I may lose some readers because of this honest, post, as that my beliefs do not align with yours...and yes I make it a point to speak up about things more spiritual, however this has waded heavy on my mind all week....and if you haven't noticed, I'm terrible at being silent.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Conversations with a Native Community

           With summer drawing to an end, I'm finally feeling the spark to write again.  It's been a busy couple of months with many ups and downs.  It seems that since I've set my journey into motion a couple of years ago when I first applied to midwifery school, I've spent a lot of time in transition. I've gotten used to the constant movement of my daily life and it seems like my family as adapted to it as well.  I find myself finally working closer to home, which has been yet another transition we are all adapting to.  The positive aspects of this change are obvious, spending more time with my family and actually not having to pack for overnight work weekends anymore.  I've also taken up running again, one of my favorite activities.  I know some women exercise to lose weight and like all women this too is a wonderful motivator for myself.  However, running is an opportunity to see how strong my mind is and how far I can push myself. It's also a reminder how lucky we are to live in the country where rock formations, sunsets, and dirt roads are what accompany me on my runs.
              There are many amazing experiences I would like to write about, however the presentation I gave in Jicarilla Apache on Native American women's health is what continues to come up in my mind.     I was delighted to finally have the opportunity to discuss our health statistics with a Native American community. It was actually the first opportunity I've had since becoming a midwife to finally share what I know with an Indigenous community. Upon arrival I was greeted with unfamiliar glances and a nod.  As that I have grown up on the rez, this sort of "hello" is what I'm familiar with.  I smile and find a place to sit and listen to a friend of mines presentation on depression in Native American women.  What strikes me many women are there.  I've never seen a larger crowd of Native American women at a health conference in their own community.  This is a topic of discussion with community health workers and educators.."How do we engage the community to attend health conferences we've brought to their own communities?"  In any case, I was happy to see a wonderful turn out.
                I first started with describing the varies women's health perspectives and why it's important to understand the differences, as that it will affect how we as women access, receive, and respond to healthcare. I also compared it to an indigenous perspective

A Feminist Perspective

A feminist approach to women's health care using a health-oriented, normalizing model allows normalcy to be validated.  This paradigm enables assessment, diagnosis, and treatment that is women-centered and that values her standpoint, background, ethnicity, and culture..

An Indigenous Perspective

To live in a manner that works towards creating and maintaining balance, harmony, beauty, and order.

          I asked the women if they new what the differences were.  Of course I didn't expect a lot of participation, however I wanted to engage these women to really think about this.  I did tell them one difference was that western medicine today typically concentrates on defining and treating illness, disease, and pathology.  Our indigenous perspective takes into account our own cultural perspectives on our own health, rather then someone else telling us what our health should be.
          I focused my next topic on health disparities and I asked the women if they have ever heard this term before or new what it meant.  I can tell you no body new what it meant or has every heard it before.  This I find interesting because we as healthcare providers hear it all the time, at conferences and at University presentations on rural health.  I told these women, that this term is commonly used to describe your health.  At all the conferences I've attend on Native American women's health this is a reoccurring theme as to why our health outcomes are not as good as they should be.  I was not surprised that our communities are not aware of how we as Native Americans are being described to the larger spectrum of healthcare intellectuals.  How are we suppose to make impacts on Native American health if the community them selves are not part of this conversation?  This is the problem I see with IHS, the way it is set up is not to allow for communities to empower themselves to make positive changes, it is set up to spoon feed our communities vaccinations, screenings, and health information.  

             I then talked about the top 5 causes of death in Native American women...and surprise, surprise, they never new this information about themselves.  I also made sure to compare it from 2003 and to 2009.

Leading Causes of Death in Native American Women

Heart Disease 19.6%
Cancer 17.6%
Unintentional Injuries 8.8%
Diabetes 6.9%
Stroke 5.1%

Cancer 19.4%
Heart Disease 17.1%
Unintentional Injuries 8.5%
Diabetes 5.4%
Chronic Liver Disease 4.9%

            I emphasized that Native American women are the only ethnic group where death from chronic liver disease is in the top 10 causes of death.  All of the leading causes of death are preventable and I described why community health programs are aimed at implementing certain health initiatives. Diabetes prevention, Get Fit, early intervention programs for children, smoking cessation, and alcohol prevention education & treatment.
             The more I learn, I feel like the curtain has been lifted and I can see the strings of the puppet show.  I have many moments of realization that the odds are stacked against us and it's no wonder we are not thriving.  I wonder how little old me fit's into this equation to make an impact on the communities that need it the most, while maintaining a level of humbleness and balance.  Some one has described me as a visionary, at which I know this to be true about myself.  I find myself scavenging for the tools necessary to do the work at hand and much of the time I feel like a novus to the business of midwifery and political agendas of my cohorts.  I search for honest friendships and deep conversations. I know deep down there is not enough of me to go around and that I need to save some of it for myself. 


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Conversations with a Princess

         Now that the dust has settled for our family, I think we can finally all grasp the momentous life changing events that occurred during the Gathering of Nations Pow-Wow, in Albuquerque N.M. this past April.  My sister has always aspired to be a role model and ambassador for our tribe, the Navajo Nation, however I think being crowned Miss Indian World for 2013-2014 surpassed even her most wildest dreams.  From a young age she has always been placed in the spotlight to shine and to participate in the varies tribal competitions that displayed individual tribal integrity, cultural awareness and knowledge, preservation of our way of life, and public speaking.  I can't tell you if it was my parents dream or their belief in her that spurred her forward, because I can remember her being 3 or 4 years old and carrying around a small microphone and radio singing to herself.  Singing has always been a passion and a gift to her.  Over the years I can remember participating in many family events in support of her role as our chapter royalty or promoting her music.  
        Two years ago I had the pleasure of completing my Masters degree in Nurse Midwifery, but she also received her Bachelors degree in Native American Studies and Women's Studies. I can tell you my parents were proud to have two of their children graduate from the University together. At the time she had just been crowned Miss Indian UNM. An additional blessing that year was my younger brother Leonard getting his Associates degree and heading to UNM to work towards completing his Bachelors degree in Psychology. 
          Sufis to say, my parents have always been strong supporters of us continuing on with our education and not stopping with a high school education.  The majority of our extended family worked at coal mines all their lives and I think they wanted us, the next generation to go beyond that.  When any of us needed words of encouragement, prayers, and family support they always made it a point to come together to set up a family sweat where we could pray and talk out our problems together.  With each accomplishment, they would set up a peyote meeting to give thanks to and to ask for help for our next leg of the journey.  I whole heartedly believe that my accomplishments and my sisters accomplishments are from our families support and always through our prayer ceremonies.  
           My sister first announced that she was going to run for Miss Indian World a couple months prior to the competition in April.  She said, "this is my last chance," because in May she would be 25 years old.  What surprised me and why I was so supportive of her, was that this was the first time she had whole heartily put herself out there to do her best.  She was very motivated and with that, I saw a side of her that I haven't seen before.  I saw her commitment and determination. When the night came that they would announce who would be the next Miss Indian World, I was just as nervous for her as my parents were.  When they announced that the winner was from the Navajo Nation.  My mother and I both had tears in our eyes as we rushed down to the main arena to congratulate her. It was an amazing moment to share.
          A couple of months have passed sense that night and I was finally able to sit and have lunch with her.  I asked her about the places she has been able to go.  I think winning the title was an amazing accomplishment for her, but mostly it seems like she is learning a lot from the places she is able to travel to.  She has been able to visit varies reservation schools, programs that support teens and trying to find ways to prevent suicide in their communities, as well as a school for kids who come from homeless families in Albuquerque.  She has expressed an interest in law, which I think this experience is exposing her to all the socioeconomic disparities in our Native communities. Although, I see her being an advocate for children in one way or another.   When she travels to these places she brings her drum and wooden flute to accompany her voice, which I think is a form of medicine she will always be able to share with those around her.
          Obviously I'm a proud sister, but mostly I think it is amazing to have the ability to travel around your reservation and surrounding reservations to learn about the community and to bring joy to the young faces who look forward to your visit.  I think our young women need a hero to aspire to.  I think my sisters personal journey was one only she could walk and one only she could summon the courage and strength to be her best self for her life time goal.  This alone speaks volumes about personal perseverance and determination. That inner glow that she now has reminds me of my choice to return to school and my personal perseverance to achieve my goals.  It's the glow I was waiting to see in her and I tell her, "now what are you going to do with it?"  You now have the ability to highlight the places that you are going, perhaps they need donations to keep providing the services they are providing, shed some light on their struggle, because sometimes the places that need the most help don't get it because nobody knows their story, use your beautiful voice to help them tell their story.   We all have a story to tell..... 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

My Story

      I have thought many times how I would tell my story.  I would start to write it down, only to stop in fear of seeing it in print.  But mostly, I would stop writing it down for fear of speaking my truth and not wanting to hurt those dear to my heart in telling it.  I think it takes courage for one to tell their story.  Every now and then I get a feeling inside of me, my subconscious urging me to put pen to paper, but my inner plea's go on def ears, because deep down it is my fear that keeps me from going there.  However, as of lately that inner voice is getting stronger....speak your truth...don't hold back...don't be afraid...keep going...keep going.

      It's no secret that I have been in a state of contemplation and exhaustion, at which I feel has been rooted in a feeling of defeat for our people.  However, my body, mind, and spirit desire liberation.  It is this desire to heal and move forward by recreating the tools necessary to once again be liberated.  It is through my work as a midwife that I find inspiration and the realization that the power to change our future is within our own grasp, but the tools to do so are not.  I feel consumed in my efforts to create a path to do so.  I worry my strong desires and courageous efforts will mean nothing and that all I have sacrificed will have been for..what?

      I tell my story not for empathy or to shame those who have contributed to it, but more as a need to be understood, humanized, and to no longer be an invisible piece of which is how our indigenous histories are viewed to this day to be...invisible. As I sit in silence contemplating my reality, this quote strikes a cord in me.

"We must and will have women leaders among us.  Native women are going to raise the roof and decry the dirty house which patriarchy and racism have built on our backs"
-Lee Maracle-

      As we move forward with our birth center work, nothing is more of a reality check then to see and feel the wall we are up against.  It is disheartening to see mainstream medical systems appropriate knowledge from disenfranchised communities, then to use it in a manner that further marginalizes these communities for their own financial gain. This does not sit well with me.
      I am honored to stand with my midwife sisters as we toe the line in representing our marginalized communities, cultures, multi-cultural perspectives and world views.  We each have our stories to tell and our own healing paths to walk.  Believe it or not we each carry within ourselves scars of historical trauma that is being healed as we process each obstacle life presents to us.  The work that we have done thus far has been built on our backs, it has been drawn from what little resources we have and we are painfully aware that our savings grace is not someone else coming to save us, but rather we must do the work to save ourselves. 
     I realize my silence does nothing to help our efforts and only in speaking up about our struggles do we begin to humanize our stories.  

        A woman chooses a path following the old laws, set in todays world to free her people
Our life
Our children
Our future

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Native American Identity

Long time no hear!  I have had the pleasure of being interviewed by the daughter of a collogue of mine for a paper she was writing. After reading it, I thought it would be a great topic for this blog.  I think she does a great job of discussing the topics of White Public Space, Indexicality, and Native American Identity. At which it is the title of her paper.  Obviously you will find one "Mindy" sounding pretty close to someone you know.  I like what she has to say in this little quote 
"An individual can be both "too Indian" to function in a white space and "not Indian enough" at the same time.  Native Americans have to meet certain expectations when dealing with white people in white public spaces, but, as these expectations are primarily defined by white people, there is an entirely different set of expectations in interacting with other Native Americans."
Katie is a chemical engineering major at the Colorado School of Mines who has plans to continue on for her PhD in Archeology and this is what she had to say....

White Public Space, Indexicality, and Native American Identity
I am one eighth Absentee Shawnee. Every year, even though I am not enrolled in the school, the University of New Mexico offers me scholarship money because I am an Indian. When I was in elementary school I got to bring in authentic Indian artifacts for show and tell as a symbol of my Native American heritage. I live in New Mexico where I am exposed daily to Native American cultures. But that is the extent of my involvement with the Native American aspect of my identity. I do not feel like I can truly call myself Native American. The fact that one eighth of my ‘blood’ is Absentee Shawnee does not mean that I know anything about the culture of the Absentee Shawnee people. I have not lived with them or suffered with them. I can walk down the street without arousing even the slightest suspicion that I have Native blood. I am guilty of having what is known as ‘white privilege’ even as I, with my Certified Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card, have access to the very resources intended for those without this privilege. In searching for a job or applying to colleges I can claim to be not only a woman, which makes me a minority in the STEM fields, but a Native American as well because, according to my CDIB card, I am Absentee Shawnee. In dealing with landlords, professors, or any authority figure, I have never had to worry if I am being discriminated against due to my Native blood because I look, dress, and act white. What does it mean that I can change who I am, that I can choose which parts of my identity are emphasized, to fit the circumstances in which I find myself? This practice of changing identity is known in anthropological circles as a reframing of identity. My goal in writing this paper is to examine the ways in which reframing, in the ‘specific’ case of Native Americans, contributes to which aspects of identity are made salient during any given interaction.
            The word specific above is in single quotes because “Native American” is not very specific at all. The term “Native American” conjures up images of feathered headdresses, teepees, and medicine men dancing around a fire. The words invoke a romantic and stereotypic ideal of a downtrodden indigenous people that suffered through the destruction of their beloved homeland at the hands of the white man. But what these words definitely do not encompass is the wide range of cultures that comprise the groups of people that lived here before the Europeans arrived. Author Lila Abu-Lughod, in her article Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others”, points out the dangers of homogenizing any group of people. Even within a group of very similar individuals there is always variation in values. Categorizing all 565 federally recognized tribes in the United States using only one term is homogenization on a very large scale. In my paper I am going to analyze reframing of identity as it pertains to Native Americans. Unfortunately it is not within the scope of my work to fully analyze a single particular tribe; nor can I analyze even a fraction of all the tribes in the United States, let alone the entirety of the Americas. The tribes that are specifically included in my analysis in order to develop my argument include the Sioux Indians, the Navajo Nation, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. While I understand that my findings will not reflect any particular tribe nor can they accurately reflect the situation of the entire group of Native American people, I believe that the data I have chosen can be used to make comparisons and establish general trends. I do not intend to misrepresent a very diverse group of people by analyzing only a handful of them; however I will use the term “Native American” throughout my report because I am analyzing general patterns and because using one term is much more succinct than listing all 565 federally recognized tribes.
            In order to paint a complete picture, I am going to define several terms that will appear throughout my paper - first, identity. Identity, to borrow from Bucholtz and Hall (2005), is “the social positioning of self and other” (p.2). Identity is important only because of the impact it has on interactions with the other. It is a very fluid concept that incorporates pieces of all of the aspects of an individual’s life. The idea that identity is dynamic rather than fixed makes it essential to establish the context in which taking advantage of this feature, or reframing, becomes necessary.
This leads me to the white public space. Jane Hill develops this concept in her paper “Language, Race, and White Public Space” as “an arena in which …disorder on the part of whites is rendered invisible and normative, while the …behavior of members of [minority] populations is highly visible and the object of constant monitoring” (p.6). In other words, a white public space is an arena of interaction between two groups in which whites, with their invisible privilege, can act however they wish without any fear of social reprisal, but where members of minority groups face negative repercussions for any deviance from expected behavior. In such a space, acceptable behavior is defined by whites. In the United States most, if not all, interactions between the majority and minority take place in a white public space. This may not be a conscious decision on the part of the interactants but it tends to be inevitable because the creation of a white public space is often invisible to the white participants.
Cultural capital, as it will be used in this discourse, is what allows individuals to succeed in white public spaces. Philippe Bourgois, in his article “Workaday World – Crack Economy”, examined the motivations behind the creation of a crack economy in Harlem. He found that most of the cocaine dealers he spoke with actually preferred legal work but they felt that they could not find a place in corporate America due to their lack of the requisite cultural capital. Not only were their living conditions and educational opportunities a world apart from those of their white counterparts, but they also felt that the opportunities they did have forced them to reject some of their cultural values, especially their dignity. Gaps like these, gaps which would seem to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, have forced cocaine dealers into choosing between working outside the law or accepting demeaning positions that force them to participate in a white public space. This discrepancy between the cultural capital that a group possesses and the cultural capital required for success in white public spaces, the same discrepancy that leads to reframing, is reinforced by indexicality.
            An index, much like the index finger on the human hand, points from one object to another. The classic example is smoke as an index of fire. If there is smoke, it means that there is a fire. Indices are not the same thing as stereotypes. Stereotypes do not have to be, and rarely are, based in fact. Stereotypes index a society’s belief about another group of people. The stereotype that all New Mexicans speak Spanish or that we need green cards to travel to other states is an index of the popular belief that New Mexico is comprised mainly of illegal immigrants.
All of the anthropological definitions discussed so far do not have any purpose except where they are used in analyzing people. I am going to examine some of the ways in which these definitions impact the identities of Native Americans.
Historic Interactions
            Historically, relations between whites and Native Americans have been conducted from a platform that reflects white beliefs in their own superiority. There was a sense of duty: whites must educate the backwards Indian and save him from himself. This ‘white man’s burden’ was used to justify many of the historic interactions between the whites and the Native American tribes. These historic interactions set the stage for the development of a white public space. The wants and needs of any society are culturally defined. As put by Ruth Benedict, in her book Patterns of Culture, “Each [culture,] from the point of view of another [culture,] ignores fundamentals and exploits irrelevancies” (p.24). Thus some character trait or behavior that is highly valued by one group of people may be of next to no importance to another group of people. The institution of poll taxes is a clear example of this concept as it pertains to my research question. Native American tribes were self-sufficient and independent. They could get whatever they needed from the land that they lived on. By demanding a poll tax, the white settlers forced the tribes to change their lifestyles. Not only was the concept of money distinctly European, but the skills needed to acquire it favored European cultural capital.
The shift in focus from things that Native Americans were good at, areas where Native American cultural capital was extremely valuable, to an arena dominated and dictated by white men, an arena where the only cultural capital of import is that of the white men, led to the devaluation of Native American cultures. Poll tax is not the only instance of forced societal change in a way that privileged white skill sets. Rather than changing the demands of the white public space to appreciate the cultural capital of minority groups, Native Americans were sent to boarding schools and forced to speak English in an attempt at assimilation. The goal of such measures was to equip Native Americans for success in interacting in white public spaces by eliminating every trace of their culture.
            White public spaces operate based on behavioral expectations. In other words, an individual can only interact in a white public space if they operate within acceptable behavioral boundaries. More often than not, these acceptable boundaries are defined and reinforced by whites, although they can also be defined and reinforced by Native Americans themselves. Jessica Cattelino has written several papers on the subject of casino gaming in the Seminole nation. She has found that the Seminole nation is caught in what she calls a “double-bind”: the Seminoles have become relatively wealthy as a result of gaming, but white expectations are that Indians are supposed to be poor. Since the Seminoles have defied that expectation there has been a push to terminate their federally recognized status as a Native American tribe, the very status that allows the tribe to operate casinos in the first place.
Kelly Fayard conducted research among the Poarch Creek Indians during her examination of the role that blood quantum plays in defining Native American identity. She found that, to the Poarch Indians, “defining someone as ‘Indian’ had less to do with a Certified Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card than with the way in which they acted or looked” (p. 82). Specifically, “what draws the people together [is] discrimination” (p. 82). The Poarch Creek Band of Indians expect other Indians to be discriminated against. A lack of discrimination is indicative of a non-Indian status.
Peggy Wilson looked at the academic performance of Sioux Indian high school students. She points out the many structural and cultural barriers that prevent Sioux students from achieving the academic success of which they are capable. These barriers range from the physical layout of non-reserve classrooms to the racist remarks of white students. One Sioux student observed that attendance policies that were lax when a white student missed class were suddenly strictly reinforced when a Sioux student missed class (p. 375). These very real, but overlooked, issues create the expectation on the part of non-Native faculty members that the Sioux students are actually incapable of reaching the same educational standards expected of white students. Expectations on the part of white teaching faculty create a white public space in which Sioux students are ill-equipped for success. Rather than accounting for the difference in cultural capital, Sioux students are held to the same, or sometimes higher, standards as white students and are punished the moment they fall short of those standards. These expectations are clearly communicated to the Sioux students and, in response, many do not try to fight an unfair system: they drop out of school. This reinforces the expectation that Native Americans are not capable of obtaining a high school education, which in turn eliminates any possibility of removing cultural barriers, which means that Sioux students have to struggle to develop the correct cultural capital, which means that they have a harder time than white students, which means that faculty expect less of them and treat them as less than, which leads them to drop out, and so on. Wilson summed it up nicely: “Low expectations become a self-fulfilling prophecy” (p. 379).
Stereotypes and Indexicality
In all of this talk about expectations and white public space, I have yet to touch on stereotypes. As stated in the theory section, stereotypes index the naturalized associations that one society forms about another. In other words, stereotypes about Native Americans index white beliefs about Native Americans. They reinforce the expectations that lead to white public spaces. There was a recent controversy that reflects the power of indexicality. No Doubt recently released a music video for their song “Looking Hot”. In the video lead singer Gwen Stefani and bassist Tony Kanal are depicted as Native Americans that are captured by the other band members, who are depicted as cowboys. Many of the complaints against the video had to do with its generic nature. The clothing, behavior, and symbols used in the video did not reflect on any one particular tribe but rather represented white ideas of what Indians are, namely that they are not white. This stereotype indexes the white belief that Native Americans can be lumped together into one large group of non-whites. As discussed earlier, this view is inaccurate. Unfortunately it plays a large role in white public spaces. The uniqueness of each tribe is often overlooked in Government policies even as the differences between “Indians” and whites are emphasized.
Another example is embodied in the phrase “off the reservation”. This phrase is often used when talking about some action or thought that is viewed as completely crazy. Not only do the words themselves imply that Native Americans belong on reservations, but the concept serves as an index of white beliefs that it would be irrational for there to be a space for Native Americans in mainstream white society. The term “Indian giver” is applied to individuals or groups that give a gift and then take it back. This term could be an index of white beliefs that Native Americans are unwilling to share, which leads to ideas like those propagated by Governor Ratcliffe in Pocahontas when he refused to believe that the Natives had no gold. On the subject of Pocahontas, popular media has constantly indexed white beliefs that all Native Americans are spiritually connected with the land and, being so involved, are unwilling to fully exploit their resources.
Indexicality serves as a constant reminder of the expectations placed on Native Americans and their role in the white public space. They must be in tune with the Earth, as exemplified by Pocahontas when she teaches John Smith to “paint with all the colors of the wind”. They must be generic, as perpetuated by media like “Looking Hot”. They must accept the idea that they belong on reservations, as indicated by the catch phrase “off the reservation”. But most of all, they must not expect to find a place in white public spaces if they do not meet indexed expectations. Perhaps the concept was put best by Vine Deloria in his book Custer Died for Your Sins: “…the Sioux were presented with an authority figure who bemoaned the fact that whenever he visited the reservations the Sioux were not out dancing in the manner of their ancestors. In a real sense, they were not real [Indians]” (p. 87). White expectations were that the Sioux lived just as their ancestors did; that their culture is static. When the Sioux do not fall into that neat category, when they gather the cultural capital to make a stand in white public space, their status as Native Americans is denounced, both by whites and by other Indians. This is where reframing comes in.
            All of the previous discussion has been building towards a single idea: an individual can be both “too Indian” to function in a white public space and “not Indian enough” at the same time. Native Americans have to meet certain expectations when dealing with white people in white public spaces, but, as these expectations are primarily defined by white people, there is an entirely different set of expectations in interacting with other Native Americans. These Native American expectations were briefly touched on earlier in the discussion about Kelly Fayard’s work, but I do not feel knowledgeable enough about Native American cultures to outline them as I have done with white expectations and indices. Likewise, I do not wish to reduce my conclusion to broad assumptions based on the very indices that lead to reframing in the first place. Since I, as stated in the introduction, am not a Native American and I cannot therefore evaluate instances of reframing in my own life, I decided that the best course of action would be to interview an individual who is intimately familiar with the situation from the perspective of a Native American. In order to answer my research question I interviewed a Navajo woman to whom I was introduced through a mutual acquaintance. For the sake of anonymity I am going to refer to my interviewee as Mindy.
            I do not want to be guilty of one of the things that Vine Deloria criticizes anthropologists for: seeing what I want to see. At the same time I struggled with asking neutral and non-leading questions that would provide the answer to my research question of their own volition. Being a novice in the art of interview, I hope that I have achieved some balance between the two extremes, however I would caution the reader to remember that the following is my, probably very biased, interpretation of another complex individual’s life and that I may have taken some key response out of context in a way that negates the spirit in which it was given. If that should be the case, I apologize to my source. It is not my intention to misrepresent her in any manner; I am extremely grateful for her assistance. With that being said, after two email interview sessions I have found several instances of reframing in the context of a white public space in Mindy’s life.
            One of the things Mindy spoke about was her upbringing and her challenges in ensuring that her children are raised differently than she was while remaining appreciative of their positions in life. These challenges include instilling in her children a knowledge of their Navajo heritage. She talked about some of her difficult childhood experiences and how she simultaneously wants to “show them how lucky they are without exposing them to the pain” that she and her husband faced growing up. She pointed out that her children only see the struggles that are part of the lives of most Native Americans in the media or through their parents’ stories. Mindy also mentioned that it is difficult for her to teach her children about their Navajo heritage because they do not live near the reservation.
            Mindy is married to a man form San Ildefonso Pueblo. Being Navajo herself and working and living in a white public space, Mindy has to navigate between the expectations of three very different cultures on a daily basis. We had a brief conversation about her experiences working in a white public space and the different responses she got from the people in her life. Mindy said that her “own Navajo family has always pushed education to better us and to pursue [a] better way of life, so they have always been supportive” of her decision to find employment. On the other hand, her husband’s family “doesn’t ask about [her] work, and generally views [her] career as ‘selfish’ and not being very motherly”. This view is the exact opposite of that held in the white community, namely that it is selfish to stay at home and focus on being a parent. In order to even obtain a job in the white public space, Mindy had to get a higher education. Since she lives closer to her husband’s family, this meant that she “had to ask for them to help support [her] husband and 3 children” while she attended school. Traditionally, her husband’s Pueblo is patriarchal. His family’s disapproval of Mindy’s educational achievements is an index of the patriarchal nature of the Pueblo.
            Mindy works as a women’s health care provider. She described some of the ways in which her occupation in the white public space interacts with her Native background. She specifically mentioned the role of traditional ceremonies and dances: “When someone dies, they hold a 4 day event and they choose cooks for the event. In the Tewa or Navajo tradition, when you are asked to do something like this, even to participate in a particular dance, you can’t turn it down. So whatever outside job you have, you basically have to take time off to attend to your Native traditional doings.” In a white public space that does not recognize something even as universally necessary as maternity leave, taking time off to attend to important ceremonies is likely not encouraged, and yet this is an integral part of Mindy’s identity as a Native American. In another instance, Mindy talked about some of the ways that she combines traditional Navajo beliefs with her job. She prays “with [her] corn meal prior to going into work to have a clear mind” and she “care[s] for women in a way that aligns with …traditional [Navajo] teachings of thinking, speaking, and acting in a positive manner”. I believe that this is an instance cultural hybridization: Mindy is not hiding or diminishing her Navajo identity, nor is she hiding or diminishing her scientific education. Rather she is blending the two together to create a new public space; one in which the beliefs and expectations of Native Americans bear just as much relevance as the beliefs and expectations of whites.
            Essentially, Mindy has to maintain her identity as a Navajo woman while socializing in an environment dominated by Pueblo expectations and working in a white public space. Thus, when Mindy goes to work, although she is still a Navajo woman, she is primarily a health care provider. When she visits her husbands’ family, she is primarily a woman. When she is teaching her children about their heritage, she is primarily a Navajo. All of these are very subtle instances of reframing of identity.
            I examined reframing of Native American identity in light of the creation of white public spaces, indexicality, and expectations. In order to do this as accurately and objectively as possible, I interviewed Mindy, a Navajo woman. Through my interaction with her I learned that identity reframing does indeed occur in the daily lives of Native Americans. While the work I have done here is by no means conclusive, I have found that the reframing of Native American identities brings historical interactions, white expectations, Native American expectations, and stereotypes together in a very complex way. Simply stating that a Navajo woman acts differently at home than she does at work in a white public space does not do justice to the forces at play within Native American cultures and interactions with white public spaces. Unfortunately, I do not have the skill set to perform a more complete analysis.
1.      “Anthropologists and Other Friends”. Vine Deloria. Custer Died For Your Sins, Chapter 4, pp. 78-100.
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5.      “‘Out here we just thought everybody who was part of our family was Indian’: Race and Indian Identity in Poarch”. Kelly Fayard. Kinship and Blood Quantum, Chapter 4, pp. 82-106.
6.      “The Diversity of Cultures”. Ruth Benedict. Patterns of Culture, Chapter 2, pp. 21-44 (1934). First Mariner Books, 2005.
7.      “The Double Bind Of American Indian Need-Based Sovereignty”. Jessica Cattelino. Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 25, Issue 2 (2010), pp. 235-262. American Anthropological Association.
8.      “Trauma of Sioux Indian High School Students”. Peggy Wilson. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Dec., 1991), pp. 367-383. Published by: Wiley
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9.      “Workaday World – Crack Economy”. Philippe Bourgois. Conformity and Conflict. (2000), pp. 172-180. Published by: Boston: Allyn and Bacon.