Wingapo! (Hello!) I have often felt that I walk in two worlds. As my mother would aptly put it, I have had one foot on the Red road and the other planted in the trajectory of the majority culture. Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” often comes to mind when reflecting on my cultural paradigm. Either you walk the traditional path, which is often hard and fraught with resistance and turmoil, or you walk the mainstream road, which is easy yet culturally bereft. Somehow, I have managed to seesaw between the two. I have not particularly meant to create this imbalance in my life. It just seemed an easier separation. How do I honor my traditional beliefs and culture while abiding in this fast-paced cookie-cutter culture? Besides the constant bombardment of images of what is socially accepted and required beaming at the speed of light to my person via Instagram, Twitter, and other social media, I have the pull of my soul, of my very being, calling for some inner peace that only my God can provide. But here I came to another impasse. How to reconcile my cultural traditional beliefs with my Christianity? I have never really experienced a melding of the two. Any church I have been to in my almost twenty five years of existence has always asked or implied the necessity of checking my traditional spirituality at the door. “It’s okay if you’re here. In fact, we need the minority numbers, but leave the essence of your identity at the door. We don’t have room in our dogma for all that.” All that- my cultural beliefs and traditions, my ways of honoring my ancestry reduced to a two word phrase. Thus in my teen years, I figured I must have to experience this disconnect. I must dance at powwows and smudge my prayers and blessings but never include this, never bring my cultural spirituality to Sunday morning meetings.
The past year has been especially hard for me. I got married and moved away from the only place I have ever called home, away from family, away from the reservation, away from the ancestral lands my heart is bound to. I have never before felt so removed from my culture or alone in my Native identity. So when the opportunity to attend Wintertalk came up, I jumped at the opportunity. I am not sure what my preconception was precisely. I had heard rave reviews from my mother and anticipated a few wonderful days of Native fellowship. What I had not expected was that my fractured self would finally find a place of joining. To be told “Bring all of you” and that statement be meant seriously was both my breaking (in a good way) and mending point. Wintertalk provided me an opportunity to fellowship with other Native believers, all of whom practice their Christianity in conjunction with their traditional beliefs. Moreover, traditional beliefs aren’t belittled or demeaned. Instead, they are given the same respect and acknowledgement as the traditional Episcopal liturgy.
The second night of Wintertalk, after the evening service, I knew I had found what I had so blindly been searching for. The final night, as I watched the stomp dancers circle ‘round, as their songs reverberated through the room, my eyes filled with tears. Here was the answer to my soul’s cry. Here was the answer to my identity crisis of years past. Wintertalk gave me the keys, the material, the support to feel integrated with myself. Silly as this may sound, I believe this statement just might make sense to many Native peoples out there. I think of my people, of the generations drowning in the mainstream with this constant barrage of messages that you have to be traditional or modern, pick one. They need this. I needed this. I made the journey home with a joyful heart. I made the journey home re-impassioned about my faith and my traditions. I needed this time of fellowship with Native peoples. I needed this time with my God. I needed this affirmation that my Christianity and my Native culture can co-exist, can meld. Na’ways. (Thank you.)