"Some people are pulled so far into one world, that they may not notice. Others, like myself, remain in the middle, teetering precariously in the middle of both worlds."Read Christopher Smoke's The Modern Native of Two Worlds
I wrote The Modern Native of Two Worlds because it's something I wished someone would have told me. I would have wanted someone to look at the positives of what I was doing, rather than the negatives. I have felt much shame from myself and others about not knowing my culture to a high degree that is expected of me. I know others feel the same shame because it always feels like we have so much to do to save our culture, and we only have constant reminders that we're not doing enough. My hope is that it will be the reminder to anybody who reads it that they are doing enough. We have so much to learn, but we shame others for not knowing things they "should know", and we turn learning about our cultures into a competition. And the same shame is reflected towards people who know their culture because they are shamed for not pursuing education. I hope that it makes people more aware of the lines we draw even amongst our own people and hopefully it will encourage positivity amongst us all.
In the Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse) culture, we have the Two Row Wampum. It is a 400-year-old wampum treaty strung together with two parallel lines of purple wampum in between three parallel white wampum beads. The three white lines represent a river and the two purple lines represent two boats travelling along the river, one representing a canoe for the Onkwehonweh (Original People of Turtle Island) and the other representing a ship for the Europeans. The lines are set parallel so that they never meet at a point to acknowledge the agreement that both the Onkwehonweh and Europeans will travel along the river of life together, but neither shall interfere with the other.
But being native in these modern times means new things. It means that we must live in two worlds; a native world and a non-native world. The native world is one of cultural revitalization, where we feel a pressure so strong to help keep our cultures alive that it approaches a life or death desperation. The non-native world, where we must get an education and have good, high-paying jobs to make money in order survive, is becoming necessary. No matter if you’re full, half, quarter or part native, you feel the push and pull of both these worlds.
Some people are pulled so far into one world, that they may not notice. Others, like myself, remain in the middle, teetering precariously in the middle of both worlds. Unable to commit fully to one or the other, because you feel like a stranger in both, but still participating despite the difficulty.
No matter which world you choose, an invisible line seems to have been drawn. The people in the other world will look at you, and speak words that invoke shame, even if it isn’t their intention. Shame about not learning more of your dying culture. Or shame that you are not seeking education to get a good job and make a living for yourself.
But there is no shame in doing what is best for yourself. For some of us, we may choose to embrace our culture so fully, that we lose out on some education or a high paying job. For others, we may choose to obtain the education and high paying job because it challenges the negative stereotypes that we are subjected to as a minority. Whether you choose culture or education, you should be proud because you’re doing exactly what you need to do.
For those who remain in the middle with me, you should feel proud too. You’re learning from both worlds but at a steady pace to balance the two. Those who remain in the middle stand on the invisible line between these worlds, one foot on both sides. Although we feel like a stranger in both, we are also an inhabitant to both. We have a familiarity to both worlds. We can be the bridge between these worlds to help our brothers and sisters connect and learn from each other. We all live on this Earth together and it isn’t one person’s responsibility to learn everything. We all constantly learn from each other, and we all constantly teach one another. We can help to erase the line that separates the two worlds.
We have begun to live in a new time where being native is now acceptable. In the past, we had to hide our culture and traditions but now we are allowed to be proud of being native. We, as a people, can now heal from the trauma that we have so long endured. Our spirits are crying out to become whole again as we struggle to grasp at the teachings that are beginning to die with our elders. From our elders, we learn much of our culture and traditions but we are getting to a point where we are beginning to lose our living libraries of knowledge as they pass on to the Creator’s Land.
We hear much about this problem. It is a crisis. The pressure is on all of us to learn everything we can of our cultures. Languages, songs, dances, and all kinds of ceremonies have already disappeared, but there are still many with us today kept alive by current and previous generations.
But even under that pressure, we must learn to help and encourage the positives in one another so that we are a proud people again. Shame will never be helpful to us.
Whether someone is just learning their culture, or has lived their life immersed in it, we must encourage them. Whether someone is completing high school, or returning to college or university, no matter the age, we must encourage them. If one of us falls or trips along the way, we as a people should help lift them up. By doing these things, we can blend the worlds and create a new one where we can survive.
We no longer have time to draw lines and divide ourselves. We must learn to travel between the canoe and ship and not feel bad about it.
Although the Two Row Wampum was meant to be between Europeans and the Onkwehonweh, it can take on a modern meaning for our people. A meaning that symbolizes our need for cultural education and non-native education for us to survive in this river of life. All we need to hold it all together is positivity between ourselves as Onkwehonweh.