Rapid City, SD

“Not everybody wants to be healed,” said Renee Fasthorse Iron Hawk. “Many want to stay in their corners.”

We’re in the middle of our annual  Native American retreat, only this time it’s not on the land. We’re not in the Black Hills, or South Dakota, or Wyoming, Nebraska, or Montana. The land is our Zoom Room. Instead of gorgeous hills, streams, and night stars, there are 80 squares containing beautiful faces from different places in the world.

The name of the retreat is Sending Our Voices to Mother Earth.

Today, Violet Catches talked about her status as a “dual citizen.” I am also a dual citizen, a citizen of Israel, where I was born, and the United States, where I was naturalized at the age of 18. But Israel was founded by Russian and European Jews, who made sure that Western culture would be foundational to the State. (Later, Sephardic Jews, originating from the Middle East and north Africa, brought with them their culture as well, and co-existence between the two has never been easy.)  For me, there was no conflict between the culture of Israel and the US.

Violet described something very different. She experienced an American culture that wished to educate and indoctrinate her in its ways, that for many years prohibited most aspects of the other half of her dual citizenship, including native spirituality, all ceremonies and prayers, disbelieved its history, and made its language taboo. For Violet, there was, and continues to be, conflict in being a dual citizen.

“My grandmother raised us, and she’s the one who schooled us. When the social workers came to check up on us, to see why we weren’t in regular schools according to the law, Grandmother would tell us to run down to the river and hide. We’d run down to the river and play, and later in the day we’d return and see her beckoning to us, to tell us it’s safe to come out.”

Violet continued: “When you’re a child you don’t mind all this, it feels like a game. But then you get older, and the pain and the pressure of always having to hide yourself, hide who you really are, explode. That’s why young people get addicted to alcohol and many drugs, because they can’t stand the pain. They go to a very dark place. Some of us come back and continue our journey, but some of us never come back.”

It never occurred to me that for some, dual citizenship implied being erased and ignored, your real name expunged, your language extirpated. Crossed out, one big X across an entire history and culture, splitting up families in a culture that values family almost above all else.

So this time we’re not in the gorgeous Black Hills. We’re in a Zoom Room with 80 people carrying the pain of racism and a pandemic that hits those who are exposed worst of all. Exposed because theirs are the jobs that require them to work in unsafe environments without proper equipment. Their jobs are essential, while they are expendable. It’ll be this way with climate change, which is already affecting vulnerable populations first and hardest.

“When you see that you’re a child of the earth,” said Renee Iron Hawk, “it changes how you see yourself and your life.”

Children are vulnerable; they need to be cared for, held, loved. They’re aware of forces that control their lives that are far more powerful than they are.

“Grandmother would take us down to the river,” recounted Violet, “tell us to open our palms, and put a rock on each palm. ‘Hold that rock till you can hear what it says,’ she’d say. ‘Listen to the wind, the trees, the grass.’ We have to remember that they are all stronger than we are.”

We are not almighty, we are children of the earth. As children, we have to listen, watch, learn. Most important, we have to heal. But—

“Not everybody wants to be healed,” Renee reminds us. “Many want to stay in their corners.”

How much are we up for? And what will we give, what sacrifice will we make, in order to be healed?