Calling My Spirit Back

Calling My Spirit Back October 22, 2014

Mitakuyepi (All my relations),

Cante waste ya nape ciyu zape ye (I greet you from my heart).

My English name is Emma (Trimble) Eagle Heart-White and my Lakota name is Wanbli Wiyaka Win (Eagle Feather Woman). I am from the Lacreek District of the Pine Ridge Reservation home of the Oglala Lakota Nation.  I am a baptized and confirmed Episcopalian.  I, also, follow traditional Lakota spirituality and ceremonies.

My twin sister, Sarah (Trimble) Eagle Heart, and I were raised by our maternal great grandmother and grandmother, along with many aunts and uncles, after our mother suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident caused by two drunk drivers racing on a road. She was on her way home to Wanblee, SD following her shift as a police woman for the Rosebud Reservation in the early hours of New Year’s Day 1985. My sister and I were seven years old at the time of this car accident. I carry my mother’s maiden name to honor her.

I am very excited about my first blog post after experiencing technical difficulties.   There are many personal experiences I would like to share  to help others.  At the time of my writing this blog last month I was encountering a recurrence of a traumatic experience I believed I had overcome.  Then a flood of memories and emotions overcame me.

At seventeen years old, we should have been thinking about attending the homecoming game, our date to the homecoming dance, marching with the band in the homecoming parade, and generally enjoying our senior year of high school.
Instead we decided to answer a calling to stand against stereotypes, dehumanization, and racism of Native American people by protesting our high school’s homecoming coronation “ceremony” and “Warriors” mascot.

Sarah and I had received this calling the year before as Junior high school students when we had watched the “ceremony” play out yet again. We were trying to understand the “ceremony” along with other native high school students. We wondered, “Why is the football team dressed up as Native Americans with face paint, blankets and war whooping? Why are these “Warrior Princesses” (Homecoming Queen Candidates) wearing Native American women’s Traditional dancers’ regalia complete with leather buckskin dress and moccasins? Why is there a “Big Chief” (Homecoming King) standing stoically with his arms crossed in front of a tipi wearing a head dress, leather vest pants, breech cloth and moccasins? Why is there a “Medicine Man” (Runner-up Homecoming King) wearing Native men’s Traditional dancer regalia complete with a porcupine quill head roach and eagle feather bustle?” We tried to understand, but sadly could not. The only realization and resolution was this is wrong and we need to do something.

The homecoming coronation “ceremony” was a 59 year old tradition consisting of each person entering the gymnasium slowly and stoically with only a spotlight illuminating their walk to the stage. Their high school accomplishments were read to a tom tom beat. The “Warrior Princesses” would sing a song called an “Indian Love Song” around a fake fire. The “Medicine Man” would then dance around them to a drum beat stopping to access their appearance, touch their hair, jewelry and clothing, and finally weigh them by lifting them part way to standing up. Finally, the “Warrior Princess” lifted to standing position completely was the “Warrior Princess” (Homecoming Queen) chosen for the “Big Chief.”

We knew our decision to answer this calling would be hard, but we had no idea how difficult it would be. We held peaceful marches and rallies protesting the homecoming coronation ceremony and Warriors mascot became larger and larger. So, did the name calling, verbal attacks, taunting and threats of violence against my sister and I, our family members, and the Lakota Student Alliance. The amount of hatred, anger and racism we experienced is not something I would wish upon another human being. We had friends warn us when they would hear other students’ plans to harm us. Our cheerleading advisor tried to get us kicked off the squad and made sure to tell us she had tried, but the school thought they would get too much bad publicity if they did so. Our band teacher from the fifth grade would no longer speak to us. We were basically shunned at school and in our home town. At our high school graduation, when our names were announced to receive our diploma only our family clapped for us. It would, also, be at least four years before I could meet a Caucasian person and not experience apprehension, anxiety and fear.

In class one day, I sat down at a table where all the students gathered and one by one they moved to sit on the other side of the room. I tried to be strong, but I was having a hard time. I decided to call my CSAP (Center of Substance Abuse Prevention) counselor Chris Eagle Hawk to get my mind off of what was going on that day not intending to tell him what was going on that day. But, he knew I was upset and asked me what was going on. When I told him he said to be strong and said what we were doing was right. What we were doing was the same as many of our great leaders-Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. I went to the rest room to try to pull myself together. My sister somehow knew where I would be and found me. I told her what Chris had said and we wept in the rest room before gathering our strength to face our classmates, school and town.

After four years of protesting, the school board informed us of their decision to immediately discontinue the homecoming coronation “ceremony” and to phase out the “Warriors” mascot.

It is twenty years later, the “Warriors” mascot remains and there is a petition to reinstate the original homecoming coronation “ceremony.” It is apparent, there is still much healing and education needed in this small town I still call home.

It is very important to understand how stereotypes, dehumanization, and racism of Native American people contribute to historical and inter-generational trauma by impeding the healing process.

As a counselor and advocate for survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, I facilitate healing programs for historical and inter-generational trauma. My intention is to help others to find healing, so they will not suffer in silence like I did for so long as a Sexual Assault survivor. I know many Native American people are suffering in silence due to historical and inter-generational trauma, including high rates of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Native American people experience multiple traumatic experiences due to inter-generational and historical trauma creating complexity within their healing process. As a historical survival mechanism we have learned to shut down our feelings and emotions. In an attempt to numb our pain we use unhealthy coping methods such as alcohol, drugs, negative behaviors, and so on. Historical and inter-generational trauma has taken away traditional healthy coping skills and our ability to trust anyone. We minimize our pain and suffering, we push it deep within our heart, soul and being. We pretend we can forget this traumatic life changing event/events. Our secrets make us mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally sick with much confusion, shame, guilt, anger and sadness. It is a continual struggle to love ourselves. Ultimately, compounding our lack of self-worth and contributing to the killing of our spirit. This continuation of suffering can become very overwhelming to the survivor leading to suicide ideation and suicide.

We can stop the cycle. We can heal so our children do not have to suffer as we have. We can move toward healing. It is not easy.  It is a process to work through each aspect of healing. We can call our spirit back. Only then will we truly have peace in our hearts.

I do not regret my decision to protest the Bennett County homecoming coronation “ceremony” and “Warriors” mascot twenty years ago. I had hope people would have the knowledge and understanding to hold respect for a people who have suffered so many injustices. I understand now the healing needs to come from within each individual from a place of compassion, humility, respect and love. I still hold hope for our people because we need to. We have the next seven generations looking to us for guidance and we need to heal for their sake, if not our own.

Pilamayaye (Thank you.)
Mitakuye Oyasin (All My Relations).

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