I wrote this the other day, and it made me cry:
I met someone in a professional setting recently and he asked me how I felt about the Navajo Nation and it’s problems. It seemed like the beginning of a conversation but turned into a mini lecture. I thought he wanted to talk about the basics: addiction, poverty, low educational attainment. Instead he offered up modernism. According to him all the problems with the youth on the Navajo reservation are due to modernism and “being lost.”
He said modernism has overtaken the reservation and the current generation has lost its way. He told me that the elders spoke our language, but noted that the children did not. There’s a gap he said, a generation gap. Some reference to tv. Not enough time sitting under trees. He wondered if I was willing (and able) to sway the youth back to their rightful place as keepers of our culture.
I think I may have chuckled a loud both confused and surprised to find myself the middle of the conversation with the expectation that I say something clever, yet oh-so-Indian to convince him I am not in fact modern myself. (Drats, for I am.)
I think he meant it as both a challenge and an attack. He then went on to discuss how with all “our” (mine) education and “fancy” certifications that we don’t know what’s therapeutic for our children. (The Navajo children, the children on the reservation.) There was more about “us” not being able to think outside our educated box. Us being me.
I wanted to ask him about trauma and how he felt that affected these lost children. I had statistics and research at the ready. There was no pause to interject. I wanted to talk about psychotherapy and it’s benefits. I wanted to ask how he felt about doing therapy in Navajo and how he documented such exchanges. But, since the children don’t speak Navajo I realized I had an answer. I began to suspect my educated, experienced and evidenced-based version of psychotherapy was not seen as helpful because it represented the enemy. An enemy had he named but had not yet slain.
I think he wanted me to pick a side, to state my intentions, to say something: the White world is terrible! To shout, ” Navajo Nation is king!” or something equally masculine and heroic. I did not. I don’t recall how we changed subjects, but we did and we talked about play therapy. I never put my flag in the ground.
This battle is not new. I suspect many urban Indians have debated, defended, argued for and clarified modernism. We’re well aware of our unofficial status as apples (red on the outside, White on the inside) for our decision(s) to move off the reservation.
Our families on the reservation (including mine) do not let us forget we have moved and have left the ways of our people. Every holiday, every weekend spent off our ancestral home is a reminder that we have abandoned the flock. (Or so I’ve been told.)
Saving the reservation seems wonderful. It’s a dream I’ve had too. And the older I get, the more I realize maybe it is just that-a dream. There are massive barriers and little support.
When I go home I meet tribal members who are quick to judge me. Who would rather argue and try to slice me up than talk about the social issues, the high teen pregnancy rates, the high suicide rates and come up with a plan. They insinuate and tell me that I’ve led the charge of loss because I left the reservation and therefore must have left my culture there too. Fortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
I’m a different Indian having left. Yes, I’m one that likes Angry Birds and cooking Chinese food, but I’m not bad, just different.