I write to you from my window seat 35k feet above land aboard Alaska Airlines flight 355. I don’t know why, but it’s always easier to write to you from these seats.
I’m heading to the Oakland airport, where I’ll catch the Bart to UC Berkeley. Tomorrow morning I’ll connect with students and encourage the paradigm shift we so desperately need. I’ll discuss native identity with them, I’ll share about my adventures and setbacks, and I’ll encourage them to be brave, and maybe, hopefully, be inspired. That’s the goal of tomorrow morning’s presentation. As of late, there have been so many presentations. I gave a keynote at the National Indian Education Association, at a highly secretive government agency, and at more universities than I can name. 2015 was so grand…. I moved into the “Big Girl” and learned how to live inside a 22-foot home that requires the dumping of #1’s & 2’s once a week, has a tiny-tiny shower, and has the capacity to make coffee while cruising down some straight-away. I received invitations to the White House and countless Rez houses. I made the best of friends; sojourned below the sea in Hawaii, climbed trees in Akwesasne, rode airboats in the Everglades, and crisscrossed the country (twice).
The beginning of 2016 was spent with my family, especially Treyton, my extraordinarily hilarious, brilliant, and thoughtful thirteen year old nephew (shoutout to you fam). The power of people who love you and whom you love is inestimable. Life for a few weeks has been basketball tournaments and trampoline play lands, my mother’s cooking in her home along the Swinomish Channel, and conversation and prayer. When he brought me to the airport tonight we both cried a little– he didn’t understand why I needed to leave and be gone again for months. It’s hard to explain. I wanted to say, “one day you will understand that I am doing this for you, and for your children, so that they can have a different experience, so that you don’t have to experience the same oppression and racism that Grandma experienced, or that I experienced, to ensure that our homelands will remain somewhat, if only elusively, sovereign–so that hopefully, should you choose to stay home and seek a traditional stahobes lifestyle, the air will be clean enough, the tide plentiful, and the freedoms to be Indian will be in place. Or maybe, at the very least, to change the curricula and raise awareness so that you don’t encounter scores of patronizing “ignorants” that want each of us seeking higher education to be a cultural ambassador on campus; so that you don’t feel like you have to live in two worlds, but rather, can create a world that embraces your intelligent indigeneity”. But instead, I just kissed him and told him that I loved him and that one day, he will understand why this had to be done.
Each time I board a flight my heart breaks just a little. I’ve never talked to you about it. I’ve always left my own personal feelings out of these blog posts and newsletters because I’ve wanted to be a good messenger. I’d decided that a good messenger doesn’t weigh down the receiver with her own struggle in the journey; she tries her best to transmit the transcendent love, beauty, wisdom, soulfulness and promise of this subject, rather than promote “poverty porn” and sensationalized struggle. That being said, I want you to know that while I’ve attempted to “change the way we see Native America,” I’ve been changed. This road life is a labor of love. It’s ripped everything from me that I knew. It took the love of my life. It took all of my belief systems. It took my comfort. But the truth is, I gave it freely. I welcomed the opportunity to feel alive– to feel all of it– the struggle– the sadness– the joy– and as a result, I feel blessed. My faith in humanity, and the goodness in our relatives, at times, overwhelms me. My God has gotten bigger. I’m stronger. I feel as though this experience has been one of the greatest blessings I’ve known.
When I started this project in November of 2012, I calculated that I would visit 3 tribes a week, ending in 3.6 years. That would be now. I’m supposed to be done. That is why it’s so hard to keep moving forward. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been sluffing. I’ve been putting in work. Long hours. Hundreds of thousands of miles. I’ve visited over 250 tribes. Thousands of photos have been taken. But there’s still a long way to go, and I want you to know that I still intend to finish…
I’m off to visit tribes in Oregon this week, then down to Central California, over to Oklahoma, up to the Great Lakes, back across to the Dakotas and then up to Alaska. That’s the general plan for the next year. In between, there will be Project 562 exhibitions at Harvard, The Silva Gallery in New Jersey and the Fenimore Art Museum in Upstate New York, with a key note at The National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in San Francisco, and The American Indian/Alaska Native Education Summit in Reno. Currently a Project 562 exhibition called “Natural Wanderment: Stewardship, Sovereignty, Sacredness” is on view at the Hibulb Cultural Center in Tulalip through June 10, 2016, so please go check it out. :)
I hope that you will stay the course with me, allowing me my windy path and a little more “keeping it real” in this post. More importantly, should we happen to bump into each other, please say hi; your friendship is incredibly welcome as I continue forward in this adventure.