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Finding Our Place in the Urban Sun

Getting to know the new place that we will be moving to has been part of the last few days. Having enjoyed a road trip that led us through the Indian country of the Northwest and Plateau Tribes, we are now exploring the Rocky Mountains and the foothills and plains that lie to their east. We are in semi-arid country, a mid-country version of high desert. There are lots of people here and the growth of the city of Denver and its suburbs is evident in the new houses and businesses all around us. It seems that Denver is a popular place.

I have been thinking about the geographic transitions that I have experienced over the years. They have been very few but each one profoundly affected me as a person and as a Lakota woman. When I was little girl, we moved from St. Francis to Rosebud following our Dad’s job. I can still remember, 50 years later, how disorienting it was to go from our home to a new town. We must have gone to Church of Jesus in Rosebud before then and certainly would have gone there on agency business but my sense of place was St. Francis, that was were my grandparents, relatives and friends were. My sisters took me to my first day of school in Rosebud while Mom stayed home to take care of the store. I have clear memories of playing in the sand on the road that ran through town and under the trees in our backyard. We could take a two minute walk to see aunties and grandmas. When we moved to Rosebud, it became a drive to see relatives until all of us grew up and raised our kids there. They think of themselves as from Rosebud, I still think of myself as from St. Francis.

When I went to college first briefly in New Hampshire then in Aberdeen and Vermillion, I saw those moves as forays into a world for the purpose of my education, they were temporary and in each place I sought my own connections with my fellow tribal students, I have good memories of those times and good friends, but those times were not about my work or making a life among others.

Moving to the Northwest was both geographically and culturally different. It was a very big move, leaving my mom who i lived next door to and leaving the social and cermonial relationships that formed me. I wanted the opportunity to serve as a tribal college president and felt called to join the people of coast so I gathered my courage and moved west. had been living in a town of 900 and went to live in a city of thousands. I considered it very urban, others laughed because urban to them was Seattle not Bellingham and its surrounding communities like where we recently made our home in Birch Bay. Everyday I appreciated that I worked on the Lummi Reservation which is still rural. The Coast Salish have their own ways, different from the Lakota, so I learned to live with people of another indigenous culture, it is a good experience and we have been able to make lifelong friends, one of the most gifts of any visit to another place.

I have been conscientious about what it means to live off the reservation and how that affects our knowledge of who we are as sovereign indigenous peoples. I have especially been aware of the effect of that on my grandchildren whose connection to their identity is provided by their family and rare opportunities to touch the land of their ancestors. I want to keep that alive for them. I want to keep it alive for us. I am reminded that we are taught that our kinship is one of the sources of our tribal identities, kinship is all around us, binds us to each other, we seek it out to reassure ourselves of who we are and helps us remember our connections.

As my family and I join the thousands of tribal people who do not live on the reservation, I will continue to remind us that our identity, our people, are about our homelands, our languages, and our way of living which has become rooted in our reservations. To thrive and prosper in our identity and in the places we choose to live, we must hold fast to all that ties us to our lands.

1 comment to Finding Our Place in the Urban Sun

  • Marjane Ambler

    I enjoy reading your blog about your transitions. it gets me to thinking. be sure to check out Tocabe, Indian eatery, in denver if you have not done so. this is the big city! but the Indian community is very close. they will love you and Red.

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