Joshua Slane/Mvskoke Media Contributor
Collection of stories attempts to answer question of identity
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — Identity. That’s a big deal these days. White. Black. Native American. First Nation. Muscogee. Cherokee. Choctaw. Male. Female. Transgender. Pansexual. Straight. Homosexual. Daughter. Son. Mother. Father. There’s a lot of ways to answer and even more ways to ask.
One often overlooked question in the web of identity is how does where you are shape who you are. Would I be the same person I am now if I was born in Japan and raised there? What about China? Iran?
What about something closer to home, let’s say Tulsa? Would my identity as a Native American remain intact if I grew up in a city rather than in the Ryal community?
That is the question that ‘Urban Tribes,’ edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale, asks and to be honest, I don’t know the answer to that. But within its pages I can see other answers. As I pour through the collection of stories I can see how people have used food, art, selflessness, social media and love to connect to their identity as a Native.
If you look through this book, and I truly hope you do, you won’t just find stories about triumphing over odds. You will find the stories of people who, much like our ancestors long ago (and truth be told our ancestors not so long ago) are willing to stand up and say “I am Native American no matter where I am, no matter what I am doing or what is done to me.” And you will be inspired, as I have been.
Or maybe you don’t need the inspiration. Maybe the ideals of our people come easy to you. And if so, that is a wonderful thing, cherish that. But know this world is changing, fast and away from us if we let it and that our children and our grandchildren will not have it as easy as we have.
Perhaps one of them could use a bit of inspiration, maybe this book in fact or perhaps just a bit of your time.
And that is where I was going to end this piece, but in light of problems Bacone College is facing and after the Mohawk brothers were pulled aside by law enforcement for the crime of wanting to attend college while Native and being quiet, I feel one writing from this book speaks out even louder than it did mere days before.
It is a piece written by Dr. Adrienne Keene after she heard that a Native American youth committed suicide at her alma mater. In it she talks about how hard it can be to be Native on a college campus, how it can be an isolating time given how few of us go to college and how far removed from more traditional life college can be.
In it she tells the college bound Natives they are loved and supported, not just by their immediate family or by their tribe, but by the community as a whole. I think that is a message Native students need to hear today. So, have you told your student that you love them?