Commentaries

MPR: Share Your Story Collection: Growing Up Indian
Is growing up Native American different from growing up black, white, Asian or Latino? In what ways? Minnesota Public Radio asked audiences about their experiences. These are some of the responses. Share your story, too.

Find individual stories and read related coverage from MPR News Collection: Growing Up Indian.




What are some of the opportunities and unique blessings of growing up Indian?
As an Aniishinaabe, I am blessed with helpers in both physical and spiritual planes, and I feel a sense of belonging. I feel unique, with an awareness of everyday messages and teachings that help me to understand, identify, and resolve inner and outer conflicts. As Anishinaabe, we have been given gifts of tobacco, sage, medicines and ceremonies for our well being in all we do, and I rely on these gifts to walk through this life.

What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. In my family we experienced (and continue to experience) the effects and consequences of alcohol and drugs, various types of violence, suicide attempts and suicides, jail and imprisonment, depression, anxiety, toxic shame and fear. I managed to stay out of the prison system, but only by the skin of my teeth. My challenges were internal: fear and shame. I felt that I could not succeed. My fear and shame kept me from reaching out, trying new things, and taking risks. I had no role models. So I became one for myself, my children, and my family. I forged a path that no one in my family has taken. I got sober, looked at my fear, shame, guilt, loneliness, abandonment. That takes guts! I didn't do it alone. I have Gichi Manidoo and Spirit helpers. I have wonderful people in my life!

What else should we know about being a Native American youth?
You should know that fear and shame overwhelm us. We think we need to physically fight to conquer these feelings, yet what we really need is to heal them. Then we will find ourselves and we will find peace. We are Ogichidag and Ogichidag ikwe. There is discipline in these words. There is peace, happiness, belonging, achievement, and success in these words.

Teresa Drift-Hill
Wahkon, MN






What are some of the opportunities and unique blessings of growing up Indian?
Living in the city and being Native American is indeed hard. But we have so many opportunities out there that other people don't. One great advantage we have is help with college tuition. My college education is very important to me. My family is a middle-class family, and it would be tough paying for college alone. But thanks to our reservation, we get some help paying for college. The Native students that attend school really need this help, so we should grab this opportunity as long as it exists.

What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
For me, the number one reason why it�s hard to be a Native American in the city is stereotypes. People think of Native Americans as "the typical Indian": one who drinks and doesn�t care about what he does. Not everyone here is like that. No race is perfect, but people look down on us as if we are smaller than they are. It frustrates me when people do that because I honestly do not understand why they look down on us. Although it's hard to deal with, I try to overcome. I will not sink down to that level of thinking a certain race of people are better than another race. I can't let a little thing like that get in my way.

What else should we know about being a Native American youth?
Being Native American is a privilege. Yes, some things about being Native are hard, but there are also great things to being Native. We have plenty of opportunities out there, so don't let them go to waste. Just keep up in school and do good. You will achieve something. It might not be for a while, but you will achieve. I'm very thankful for being Native American.

Jamie Papasodora
Minneapolis, MN






What are some of the opportunities and unique blessings of growing up Indian?
I have family that takes part in my life and influences me to have the patience I need to handle things that go on around me. I'm currently using that patience to relearn my culture.

What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
Teen problems at school that bother me make it hard to think about me and my culture. But when I get home, everything's different. When I'm at home I get more into my culture with my parents, brothers and sisters. Only at home do I get the chance to catch up on learning my culture.

What else should we know about being a Native American youth?
Where you were raised really doesn't define what kind of Indian you are and how close you can be to your background. It doesn�t even matter if you don't see your Native side of the family as much anymore. My (immediate) family doesn't visit my other family anymore because they moved closer to the reservation. Most of the few that stayed in the city, like my family, only stayed for the education opportunities for those of us still in school. My parents find it better for our education to live in the city, and I find easier that way for me and my siblings, too.

Monica Briggs
Minneapolis, MN






What are some of the opportunities and unique blessings of growing up Indian?
Unique blessings were extended family, knowing all of my community and cousins, knowing that we share a common history, and closeness to neighbors. I grew up and attended schools in the suburbs of Coon Rapids, Blaine and Cedar, Minnesota. We were usually only one of perhaps four Indian families in the area, and two of the other families were also from White Earth.

What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
Difficulties included prejudice from surrounding communities, schools and teachers, especially on the reservation. We also faced negative attitudes toward our culture. People didn't try to understand that our culture is inherent and a part of us everyday, not just on holidays. We share births, deaths, happiness and sorrow together as a whole community. In my family, we share many everyday activities - child care, groceries, grief and pain, and joy. But most of all, we share the responsibility that all of our children be healthy and happy, as well as successful. Success comes in many forms: educational achievements, a new home, beadwork and regalia making. We all have talents that we can share; they just may not be accepted by the dominant cultural "norms."

What else should we know about being a Native American youth?
Native American youths are the greatest assets that our families and communities share. We need to allow them to grow and share their knowledge and ideas.

Sandra St. Clair
White Earth, MN






What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
Some of the challenges or difficulties were people being racist against us just because of who we are. People don't realize that they are here because of the Native people and if it were not for us nobody would be around.

What else should we know about being a Native American youth?
That we are good people and are trying to succeed in life. But it's hard when people just try to put all the negative things out in the open and put Native people down.

Desirae Terrazas
Minneapolis, MN






What are some of the opportunities and unique blessings of growing up Indian?
Some good things are that when someone in your family dies, the rest that are still alive comfort each other and constantly remind each other that we have to stick together. When you're a very young Native child and you're always playing outside with your brothers and sisters and cousins. you don't think that there is anything wrong with the world. Everything gets difficult in your teen years. In some ways it's no different from growing up another race, even though most of the violence that I see is race-related.

What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
Some bad things are stereotypes. Most people think one way about Natives just because of what they see on TV, or because one of their Native friends didn't make a good life choice. I understand that most of the time the negative things they think are true, but I still don't understand the prejudice.

What else should we know about being a Native American youth?
As Native American youths we can do anything we want. Don't give up, and don't fall under the influence of drugs. If you are in a bad situation, watch your back and try to keep yourself clean. I also wish other young teens the best of luck.

Heaven Harding
Minneapolis, MN






What are some of the opportunities and unique blessings of growing up Indian?
The Native culture is the best. Attending pow-wows and participating in dancing at the pow-wows makes you proud to be Native!

What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
The youth have nothing to do on the reservations. Each reservation has a youth division, but in our area, it serves only their family members. Not all kids are included. I have complained about this to the directors and tribal councils, but nothing is ever addressed properly; it's all politics on the reservations. You need to be related to someone in a higher position to get anything accomplished.

What else should we know about being a Native American youth?
The tribal councils need to start addressing the problems youth face. They need to give youth a safe place to spend time, give them jobs and help them advance in their education, and give them incentives when they do advance. Write some grants to help build a safe place. Stop using youth as a campaign issue to get elected and then forgetting about them like you do with elderly people.

Brenda Rice
Walker, MN






What are some of the challenges or difficulties?
I am not Native American, but oddly enough, I experienced firsthand the deep stigma associated with being Native. I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago in the 1980s. My family is from India and I was born there, but came to the U.S. at a young age. There were hardly any Asian Indians or American Indians, for that matter, in my town. Whenever my classmates and peers asked what I was, I would respond, "Indian." Immediately, they assumed I was Native American. They'd then ask, "What tribe are you from?" Time and time again I tried to explain that there was this country on the vast continent of Asia called India; that the people in this country were Indians; and that there was a difference between Asian Indians and American Indians. They couldn't seem to register this information. They just assumed I belonged to a tribe and teased me about it.

Once I went to the library and a girl around my age (probably 10-12 years old) whispered and laughed with a friend as she gaped and pointed at me. She came over and asked the ill-fated question: "What are you?" Of course, I gave my usual response, and she gave the all-ignorant reply: "What tribe are you from? Cherokee?" "No," I groaned, and tried to explain yet again. But it was no use.

There was another episode forever etched in childhood memory. It was a Friday afternoon, and I walked back from school with my friend and her brother. They were also of Asian Indian descent. After about half an hour in her apartment, we heard a great commotion outside. At first, we ignored the racket but it grew louder and louder. We stepped onto the patio and saw about 30 boys from our school making whooping sounds like Native Americans popularly portrayed on TV. They waved their hands over their heads to indicate feathers. We were speechless; all we could do was stick out our tongues. My friend's mother shouted at them and the group quickly dispersed.

It is strange to be on the receiving end of such misdirected prejudice. I tried to distance myself from Native Americans by vehemently denying any biological or social connections with them. At the same time, I felt an odd affinity with and a deep sympathy for this group. It was hard enough for me to tolerate occasional comments and insults. What must it be like, I thought, to swallow this kind rhetoric on a more frequent basis -- not just from other people, but also from a more formidable beast -- the media?

Insults and ignorance, therefore, were my first introductions to a group of people I had never met. These experiences provided me with the first glimpses into future history lessons about the plight of Native Americans.

Again, I am not Native American, but I can speak to some of the challenges and difficulties of growing up Indian. As an Indian, you are misperceived. You are isolated. You must wage battle with ruthless stereotypes from your peers and the popular media. You are the object of merciless teasing and grating insults -- not just from Caucasians, but from all racial and ethnic groups. Most people who teased me were members of racial minorities. Ironically, I have experienced more prejudice for what I am not (Native American) than for what I truly am (Asian Indian).

Rachana Sikka
Minneapolis, MN






MPR News
Radio

Listen Now

Other Radio Streams from MPR

Classical MPR
Radio Heartland

Services