Hold fast to traditions, culture
July 22, 2010
FORT CARSON, Colo.-As the door entrance flap of the sweatlodge closes, it becomes dark. Not a ray of light from the outside is let in. My heart starts to beat just a little faster. The feeling of loneliness creeps in my mind. Then a voice on the opposite side of the lodge speaks to begin the ceremony.
It becomes quiet again and I begin to look around for any light whatsoever. Then, a loud beat of a hand-held drum and voices start to sing! My body wasn't prepared for such noises and if I didn't have a ribcage, the heart that keeps me alive would have simply jumped out of my body. My ears and whole body perk up. I could feel the artery in my neck pulse a large amount of blood to my head.
The voices that sang in Lakota were foreign to my Northern Cheyenne language. It was as if someone grabbed my soul and shook it violently and said, "Wake up!"
A series of actions were taken before I came to be sitting in a sweat lodge with about 8-10 individuals of different heritage. I had waited patiently for the ceremony to begin and nervous the whole time. I did not know what to expect seeing how it was my first time being involved with a Native American tradition. However, not exactly that of Northern Cheyenne custom because each group, tribe, or clan has their own way to connect with the spirits of the earth, ancestors and one's self.
Growing up I never really thought about being American Indian. I never thought about what it meant to be a part of that background until I started to think for myself and entered middle school. It was a constant struggle trying to find a sense of myself in doing sport, getting involved with church/religion, relationships/friendships, and various activities.
All the way through high school was the same. I found myself more lost as I tried to grasp the busy world around me. Heading off to college, I thought would give me the skills to be successful in the workforce and live up to the standards of society. This would lead me to owning my house with a family. Soon I was right back at square one, emptiness and confusion.
Off to the military, still in search of who I am. The want to fight for a cause greater than myself seemed to give me motivation. A drive to return the favor to those who provided for me until I was 19. If I could accomplish this task, it would be a small token of my appreciation toward loved ones and perhaps find my calling.
Yet through this time, I had managed to deny the very existence of my being. Allowed myself as a Native American to be the punchline of jokes to friends and family. Never thought anything wrong with it, and cut a line right down the middle of my soul without any regard to the damage I was causing. To say, "I'm a coconut-white on the inside and brown on the outside," meant I didn't consider myself to be Native American for the simple fact I conformed to European culture.
At what point in someone's life are they responsible for their own actions' How long was it my parents' responsibility to provide a sense of culture and tradition of that ethnic background I was born from' Where was it lost or did I ever possess it to have lost it' I believe I've never had the traditions to lose, but I did have the very blood that ran through the veins that made the Cheyenne Nation what it was. I managed to numb that emotion, nerve, thought, spirit, insight with many forms of "feel good" substances. I lost myself in everyday activities and never slowed down to reflect inward. Kept myself busy with money, a nice truck, work, weekend getaways and troubling habits other than focusing on what money can't buy. The typical American lifestyle, I consumed myself in.
I am still learning that every step I took, every mistake I have made, every person that stepped in and out of my life had purpose to where I stand today. Things had to happen in accordance with this world to put me in this time. Life has reasons beyond my knowing that more things must take place, good or bad, until my spirit leaves this earth.
A few weeks ago, as if suddenly, I was put on a different direction in my life. Of course not the first time I've suddenly changed my life goals, but one that rang like a bell. A path that would lead me in a direction of understanding, not of only myself or other people, but the world in which I have lived upon for almost 25 years. The unknown of where this might lead me is the exciting part and keeps me curious. Realizing the fact that I'm in the beginning stages, I don't see a long road, but a journey that has endless possibilities.
To be more in touch with my Northern Cheyenne roots I believe I must know my ancestors' lives. The way they lived, experienced, viewed and treated what was gifted to them by this Earth. Seek out the elders of our time in search for what is missing in the culture. Education about what is going to ensure the best direction of the Cheyenne Nation and Native American people's survival. I also believe that I must not discount the knowledge I must gain from my own past and present to mold my mind frame. To relentlessly settle for nothing less than a whole mind, body and spirit. Perhaps with this I gain a mutual understanding of people around me. Awareness to what will hinder any progress of my goals and to become not a stale body, but an active member of the Cheyenne Nation.
Finding truth for myself, or anyone person, is never an easy task. This being my way of pursuing truth to a purpose not understood may not be yours or fellow Soldiers. However, it is one of many right ways to build a foundation which can't be shaken by any outside source, unless one allows it. We all long for a sense of belonging and we seek the presence of other souls. The constant thought and idea that we are not alone never ceases. Even in a dark place we look for light, it's our nature. Perhaps returning to the source that once put a star in your ancestors' eyes is where the light of truth lies to be rediscovered. A light in you that never died and cannot be put out by any one thing in the physical realm.
The rusted gears I put in motion within and stop the ones I oiled from birth, life then turns its wheels and I become a part of it.