76 – Happy Birthday Papa ~

485039_10151296715507327_1132879907_n If my dreams would allow I’d travel to the time where you held me close till I fell asleep. I could feel you carry me to my bed and place me down gently. I’d travel to the time that I’d hear you wake before dawn and I would follow you around silently as you prepared to go to the railroad in the morning. You’d pack your lunch, walk to grab your boots, turning around you’d place your finger over your mouth to ensure I stayed silent as I watched you. After you grabbed your coat, your lunch and bag you’d pat me on the head or leave me in the dark telling me to go back to bed. I watched as you left the house and would sit on the couch or go back to the comfort of my shared bed.

we were a family then. A family that was happy. I used to remember everything you said, all the things you did and I held onto those teachings, emotions, hurt and pain for a long time. I remember seeing you in the hospital room, aged. I was heavy hearted as I would comb and braid your hair, or wipe your mouth. You were so frail, changed from the strong man who my dad once was. I didn’t know then, what I know now about your life.

I knew I was going to lose you that December day and I remember thinking about what you used to promise me when you wanted me to do something. “do the dishes and I will dance at your wedding” “clean your room and I will dance at your wedding” “sweep the floor and I’ll dance at your wedding”SCAN0015

At 15  I was angry, and sad. I thought back to gardening. I tried to recall the memories that were good so I wouldn’t think about the anger. I remember hot summer days by the river fishing. I remember cool summer evenings digging in the dirt planting. I remember fried meals and middle of the night road trips. Strawberry Lake, Spirit Lake, White Shield and the cold wind blowing us around in an open pickup bed, piled under blankets and sleeping bags so we could all fit.

Cold December night I sat with you, wiped the blood from your mouth, held your hand as the relatives came to say their goodbyes. I held your hand as I watched you take your last breath and I remember we all prayed. We said the  prayer as we let you go into the cold December night. Your battle was over, your life lived, your time complete.

Your friends still call me your daughter. We recall the life you lived, the choices you made and the children you shaped.

Happy birthday papa ~ We remember you this day. Love the little girl.

FM Area Foundation Brunch comments. For Cher ~ Thank you for inviting me.

Well, this is really an honor for me. I spend a lot of my time on the road in our communities. Low income communities, on and off the reservations. Places where there is a great deal of hopelessness and apathy. So being here today to talk about my experiences is a welcomed opportunity. Here I can say things that may have an impact on our world, a world within our own reach as individuals, and that hope makes this opportunity very energizing.

I love to think that saying things here will give value, meaning and power to the stories of my experience, and that my experience will then affect the actions of those of us gathered here.

I shouldn’t be standing in front of you today. I don’t come from any significant background. My story is actually quite ordinary. I come from a German Russian farmer’s daughter who fell in love with a Native American rebel. Their love, an improbably love – not welcomed by either of their families. They persevered and had six beautiful children. Ridiculously good looking children.

When I say, I shouldn’t be standing here today, that I shouldn’t be here. I say this, because growing up in my community, I felt different. I never felt I was a peer or a friend to the kids at school, I knew our family was different. In a classroom of Adams, Kelly’s, Michaels and Johns, a name like Prairie Rose Seminole very much set me a part, and I was treated as such. Oh Prairie Rose, she’s that native girl. That’s right. I’m Northern Cheyenne and Arikara and I was proud of that. But even in my pride of heritage, I never felt like a whole person.

Identity is important and understanding identity amidst the variety of messages and world views of those around a young child, started a complex journey.

So, I want to talk about the power of identity. I grew up in a multicultural home. My mother, who is a strong, beautiful woman, faithful to her church and of service to the community. My dad, another strong individual, faithful to service to the community, both standing up for causes that would shape my path in life. I saw my parents struggle with their companionship and how they would raise their children in a more tolerant world. My parents were tough, and loving, and it wasn’t until I started school, I understood that they were poor, and if they were poor, I was poor.

We grew up in the Madison neighborhood, or as we called it growing up, the Ridge, the Golden Ridge. There were families who were poor and families who weren’t. I knew I was poor because I got free hot lunches. I would get tickets to use instead of money and the other kids would notice that, standing in the lunch line, my bright yellow ticket ready to give to the lunch lady. I could hear the whispers, saying I got a ticket because I didn’t have money.

As time went on, my parents marriage problems got worse. My father started drinking and eventually they got a divorce. Poverty and its symptoms started to win. My mother working 3, 5 jobs at a time, my father drinking, winding up in prison. My older siblings starting to act out, drinking, drug abuse started within the home. We stopped being a family. We started to just exist within proximity to one another.

Gladys Ray a community elder with twin granddaughters about the age of my twin sister and I. She was doing work within the schools along with the Indian Ed coordinator, Renee Wood. They did their darndest to impact the trajectory of native students living in Fargo. It was no secret that we had a high drop out rate, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, homelessness in the native community. I just didn’t see it, I didn’t see it till it started happening to my family and when Gladys or Renee would talk about those issues, I was embarrassed to admit that they were talking about people like me. Poor, native kids who’s life path was most likely drop out, prison, early pregnancy, addiction, prostitution or worse.

I was 11 when I started working, 12 when my parents got divorced, 13 when my father was sentenced to prison, 13 when I started to really pay attention to my environment. I was sent to an all native boarding school, run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Within my first year there, my sister had started using drugs and smoking, my younger sister was jumped and beaten by a group of girls. Beaten because she was different, and I surprisingly was the star student. The only reason I was a star student was because my public school education was much better than the 6th grade curriculum they were teach us as 8th graders. My 8th grade teacher Mrs. Biewer was a large German Russian woman who absolutely LOVED that I was one of her people. She did something, that as a lost kid in a dark, hopeless place, I wasn’t used to for a long time. She believed in me. I looked around and made a choice that I didn’t want to represent any of those stereotypes that we, as a family were becoming. I saw how hard my mother worked, my dad was in prison, there was nothing I could do about the choices of those around me, but there was a choice I could make. I could be sober. I could try to be sober.

I believe its true that it only takes one person to affect the path of a person, whether it is a positive or a negative path, that choice is up to us.

My mother took us out of the boarding school, since it was pretty violent. My sisters continued to use, my brothers followed suit and I tried to not put myself into any situation that would allow me to make those decisions. I threw myself into outlets that allowed me to have a voice. I was succeeding in some small way because people were placing value on me as a person. My identity was at risk. Everywhere I looked people failed because it was acceptable for them to fail. Poverty and its symptoms were winning. If I tried and failed it was almost as if it was an expectation for me to fail, and that made it ok. I was struggling with this concept that I don’t have to be anyone because of poverty, or being native, because very few people believed in me. I missed Mrs. Biewer’s hopefulness. I didn’t understand it fully at the time, but back in the city at a public school, where I was lost in the crowd. Teachers didn’t pay much attention to me until American Indian Heritage month came along, then they asked me about being native, what my experience was.

I remember one of my teachers in high school put up the 10 little Indian poems in October, and I raised my hand in class and said it was offensive. She made her point that she wasn’t taking it down. So I wrote a poem about 10 little English teachers. She said it made her cry and during American Indian heritage month, November she went out of her way to schedule a native expert to come in and talk to the class.  The expert was a Norwegian woman who canceled twice and never did show up.

Identity is important. It is our story, and we should own our story. Growing up, I didn’t own my story and I fell into the traps of the expectations, or lack of expectations of those around me. I didn’t graduate from high school, I’m a drop out got my g.e.d. Out of my mothers 6 children, only 3 of us have high school diplomas. 3 of us have started college, 1 of us has a masters degree.

Identity is important. I want to admit something to you. I’m 32 years old, and I’ve been sober my entire life. I don’t say that to be virtuous, I say that because there is power in identity. When we start to understand that we create our identity through our commitments, our actions. We create the kind of identity where we can say to the world, to the world within our reach at least, that things don’t always make sense, and that you can do things that you don’t think you can do.

I was surrounded by stereotypes and it was because I had a little ignition of a spark that I could be different, and its ok to be different.

I was 15 when my father died in prison, and it was then that I made the commitment to learn how to be a family. It took a few years, when I was in my 20’s for me to be intentional about that commitment and now 10-13 years later my siblings are sober, we actually like each other, and I know that if ever I need them, they will be there for me.

We’re still poor, but we’re happy. In my work now, just as Gladys and Renee did in my youth, I am out there trying to instill a little hope in the world. I see death, I see grief, I see suicides, addiction and a lot of darkness. And in those moments I feel most human, because of the unknown influences around those experiences. In our communities dealing with symptoms of poverty, grief, injustice the systemic acceptance of such things….we want and dream of all kinds of things, but mostly, what we need is hope. An orientation of our minds and hearts, the acknowledgement of our being in a hopeless place, knowing that we are a witness. We are fully human when we see ourselves in these moments and we are hopeful. Hopeful that our actions will make a difference. It is hope that is missing when our young people are making the choices to end their lives.

I believe that as native people, as poor people, our identities are at risk. We fall victims to the politics of apathy. No opportunities for us when no one cares about us. When we don’t care about our realities we don’t see the opportunities for us to break the cycles of poverty and all that comes with it. We love the escapes of reality, or we are ignorant to the facts that there is suffering, abuse, degradation and marginalization happening in our communities. We need to talk about the poor, and integrate into our lives the understanding that our actions, our beliefs are shaping the community we live in.

I believe in the goodness of humanity and our collective actions.

Gladys Ray once sat me down and told me she was proud of me. She encouraged me to take risks, because to make change happen, you have to be brave, sometimes you’re alone, sometimes there are people with you, but its those risks that really make a difference.

We are having courageous conversations everyday. Lives are being changed because of philanthropy, and opportunities to nurture success of individuals. Ultimately our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity. I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do. I’ve come to understand and believe that we are more than the expectations of others. We are more than just a detail of who we are. I am Northern Cheyenne and Arikara. I am German Russian, I am poor, but that is not all that I am. That is not all of who I am. and because of this understanding there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected for all people. I believe that in our community, our state, in this country, the world – that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. The opposite of poverty is justice.

When we realize that our existence has an impact on others, we can leverage that relationship to work collectively to make a better and just world.

I am a better person because someone had a different expectation for me, and I made a commitment to that expectation.

I’m asking all of you to make a commitment to spread a little hope in your part of the world.

Many thanks for this opportunity.

Waygoshted. Thank you.

 

My Light in You ~ (sharing again )

In a dream I was shown a vision. I was being lifted and carried into a sea of people. Some who I knew, others I did not.

Each person had a light about them and behind each person, there was a door.

Each door was open. Open to pleasant trails or more difficult journeys.

Some seemingly inviting, others not so much.

The light around the people shown brighter in some than in others. Although, there was never less than the dimmest of lights and then those lights that were obvious beacons for any who would follow.

As I was being carried away, I realized that the doors were not behind the people, they were the people Each person an opportunity, a lesson, a piece of life.

Experience, friendship, joy, sorrow, hope or pain.

In my dream I didn’t understand and I closed my eyes. In the darkness I could still see all the lights, some near, all around, ones that would drift, others in lines or spiraling in a group, those bright and those barely a glow.

I opened my eyes and in the doors I saw a reflection. Reflections –not just of me, the reflections of myself in the humanity of others.

Reflections of me, within the tendencies of others.

In this sea of people, reflections, others seemed to be someone. Someone I used to know, used to be, have yet, or never will become.

Seeing strangers as family, as strangers become family.

Hearing the voices, laughing, sharing, crying, screaming, whispers saying see me, save me, help me, hear me, love me, know me. Know me.

I began to drift. Drifting higher away from the people.

Again I closed my eyes, scared for a moment.

Darkness, silence, I could see all those lights again, all of them shining in the darkness.

I saw mine shining, warming me from the inside. Barely contained within me. I was comforted. I opened my eyes. As I my light shown, we came together, my light made stronger by the light within you, your light stronger by the light within me, we, stronger by the light within others, we’re never really alone.

Together, connected in this soul of humanity. We are of the same breath. Drifting among the lights, doors and reflections I was grateful. It was a comforting to be, to know that which is in all others, is within me, to know that we are within all others.

However dark, however joyous, together, alone, to carry on, in all this that we call life.

Love to live.

You can never replace it. A second, a minute, an hour, a day. Time, one of our most precious resources. One of the best gifts we can give is our time. Laurie gave so much timYou can never replace it. A second, a minute, an hour, a day. Time, one of our most precious resources. One of the best gifts we can give is our time.

Laurie gave so much time to working with young people. Traveling with me to reservation communities to talk with young people about her experience as a soldier, as a photographer and as an activist. Her life story captivated the starry eyed youth as they pictured themselves walking sandy deserts listening to Eminem and taking a photograph of a scorpion. Humbled, honored to serve their country for a simple idea of freedom. Laurie brought out their dreams and would often say that if you visualize your dream, commit to that vision, you will achieve it.

Bryan grew up in hills of Rolette county in the Turtle Mountains of North Dakota. He used to ride his dirt bike or four wheeler across the Canadian border, joking that they had better hills than the states did. Bryan acted with all of his heart and gave everything he could to make people happy. Whether it was frying potatoes for his dad, letting his niece paint his nails (because good uncles do that) or fixing his girlfriends car….again, he gave his time as if there was too much of it.

Laurie and Bryan never knew each other. They both had me in their life and they both struggled with overwhelming dark thoughts that they weren’t worthy, or couldn’t be the people they wanted to be.

The summer of 2008 Laurie called everyone she held close and said goodbye. When she called me I was driving and my phone kept cutting out. 4 times we went back and forth and I said I will call you tomorrow when I’m home. The phone went silent and when I tried to call her back no one answered.

February 6 2012 I found Bryan, my partner on a cold floor within minutes of his heart stopping. I never got to say goodbye to Laurie, and I can still see her face when I walk past the coffee shop we used to meet at. She ended her life because she just wanted the dark thoughts to stop.

Paramedics worked on Bryan for 45 minutes in the ambulance. We could see shallow breaths, but couldn’t find his heartbeat. They got him to breath before moving him to the emergency room. His body slept for a week because of the cocktail of drugs he took. He survived.

19 out of 20 people who attempt suicide will live. Even though they survive, they are 37 times more likely to end their life a second time. It is up to us to make sure there is no second time.

Native Americans, we have the highest rate of ending our lives in suicide. We need to change that. No one need to end their life.

In my experience…It’s a humbling to know that your love may not be enough to pull someone out of the grips of darkness. It could be that love that saved a life.

For those who decide to live, or need support, and nurturing to continue to live. We need to be there.

When Bryan got out of the hospital, I didn’t know what to say, but instead of not saying anything, or isolating him, I asked what I could do to support him. As a community, we need to create the space to have courageous conversations. When we lose our loved ones, when our loved ones fail, as a community, we need to comeback to life and find those resources set up to do so.

We all want more time, and that time is more precious when we can spend it with those we love. Thank you for yours.

A year older

A year ago I was recovering from discovering my companion on the floor.Passed out cold, clammy to the touch drugged, barely breathing, I couldn’t find a heart beat.  He had tried to end his life by suicide.

The warning signs had been there. His depression started to spiral with the loss of his mother and the pending loss of his sister and his grandmother to illness. A few months prior we saw a commercial for an insulin pen and he joked about how he would end his life, or how he would take another’s life. He’d use insulin.

The evening before I found him, that’s exactly what he had done. He overdosed on his insulin, his anti depressant pills and his anxiety medication. He had taken the time to place all of his eagle feathers around him and used the blanket I had given him at an honoring before we were together and wrapped himself inside.

He left a note asking me to use his money for cremation and to do what I wished with all his belongings after his family had taken what they wanted.

A year ago I mourned the loss of that relationship, as he survives into a new beginning. For someone who thought he was all alone, even in love, he was surrounded by family who were making sure that he would never see suicide as an option again.

It has taken the better part of the last year to deal with the pain and other emotions of this experience. He and I have had our talks and we have just recently started to check in with one another. Not to try to get back together, but to just make sure the other is ok.

I ask him about car stuff and he asks me about issues or makes a joke about how I’m changing the world.

I’m a year older. A year of healing and I’m glad to be alive.

Breaking the Politics of Apathy published on Lastrealindiansblog.com 10.15.12

Hi, my name is Prairie Rose Seminole and I’m a voter.

It wasn’t expected that my life lead down this path, and it could happen to you too!

I’m not a typical voter. I am a native voter, and that makes me special. Exactly how special, no one knows; the census bureau doesn’t track the Native vote, nor does the North Dakota Secretary of State,; frankly, I don’t know of any state or national office that tracks how significant our vote really is.

In the past I’ve been told that campaigns just don’t have the resources to engage me, or my community, and in reality I believe that to be indicative of a larger issue. A systemic acceptance, that our vote doesn’t make a difference. Historically, we could perceive that’s true based on the actions of elected officials and the realities we face in our communities and the tendency for little or no resources of any government, candidate, or party voter outreach to be allocated to turn out the Native vote. I reject the idea that our vote isn’t worth the effort to speak to our community.

These are politics of apathy, initiated by those who we didn’t matter to, who didn’t seek our vote, which we then internalized and started to believe that our vote didn’t matter.  This in turn led to our being the population in the United States with the lowest voter turnout of any ethnic group.

In truth our vote has made a difference. Just ask any democrat seeking state-wide elected office for state or federal positions. We have made the difference in North Dakota for decades. For our neighbors in Montana, Minnesota, and South Dakota, the Native Vote has been instrumental in electing leaders, people who make decisions on our behalf.

Why does this all matter?  Simple.  Because we are the most legislated people in the country and decisions are being made that directly impact our quality of life.  If people are making decisions for us, shouldn’t we have a seat at the table? I vote because we need a champion at the table who reflects our values.

I believe that as Native people, our identities are at risk. We fall victims to the politics of apathy. There are no opportunities for us when no one cares about us. When we don’t care about our realities we don’t see the opportunities for us to break the cycle of political apathy and all that comes with it. Are we ignorant to the fact that there is suffering, abuse, degradation and marginalization happening in our communities?  No – we live this fight every day. Who we elect matters.

We need to talk about our reality to change it. We must engage in the system that rules over us and integrate into our lives the understanding that our actions, our beliefs are shaping the community we live in. When we become engaged in the process that rules us, this process of democracy, we can shape the community we live in.

Identity is important. It is our story, and we should own our story.

There is power in identity. When we start to understand that, we create our identity through our commitments and our actions. We create the kind of identity where we can say to the world that we can be the ones to make our future.

So I am a voter.  I vote because I want leaders who reflect my values, who will champion the causes I believe in, who will fight for opportunities for our people to be successful. Leaders who have brought us to the table to talk with us about what is important in our community, and who have put in the work to earn our vote.

I do this work because the decisions that our politicians are making affect our daily lives. Whether it’s the food our kids are eating in school, the roads we drive on, the programs that feed and serve our elderly and veterans, the water we drink, or the environment we live in. These things matter. For Natives our vote isn’t as much political as it is personal. All of these things are personal to how we want to live, how we want our children to live, and with what opportunities.

I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do.  I’ve come to understand and to believe that we are more than the expectations of others. We are more than just a descriptor.  I am Northern Cheyenne and Arikara. I am German Russian and I am poor, I am a voter, but that is not all that I am. That is not all of who I am. I understand that there is a basic human dignity within all people that must be respected. I also believe that in our community, our state, this country, and the world that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.  Justice comes from the process, the system that rules over us. I vote because we must be a part of this process.

I am Prairie Rose Seminole and I am part of a political movement that believes our ideas can spread across the country. I vote to honor the spirit of those who came before and fought for us to have this right. I believe that by breaking the cycle of apathy, we can ensure generations to come will have a good life in the land our Creator has given us.

Now is the time for our movement to be strengthened for generations to come. Get out and vote; it makes a difference.