Lesson 3 – The Wanderer: Finding Acceptance
Understand that cultural identity is a personal decision and a person may identify him/herself as belonging to one or more ethnic/racial groups.
Embrace your own cultural heritage and create a lasting record of the origins and development of your ethnic identity.
The Wanderer is attempting to move towards connecting with other people, searching for a means of support. The goal is finding acceptance from others and discovering who you are.
Making Cultural Connections
“I thought I was getting stories. I did not realize I was getting my culture handed down from generation to generation.” Ed Edmo
Ed is an enrolled member of the Shoshone Bannock tribe and has family ties through his grandparents with the Nez Perce and Yakama tribes. While Ed’s parentage and cultural background is Native American, he may still be considered “mixed race” because he can trace his ancestry back to more than one racial/ethnic group. People who are mixed race may choose to identity with one, both, or none of their specific ethnic backgrounds. It becomes a personal decision to embrace a particular heritage or cultural way of life. In Ed’s case, he embraced them all.
Although Ed’s father spoke both Shoshone and Bannock languages fluently, Ed never learned to speak either of these languages. His father believed there was no reason for him to do so, that he “would never need it.” Unfortunately, if one’s family or other tribal elders do not assume the role of teacher for the younger generation, the language may be lost to them. While others may take a “foreign language” class in school, Indian children continue to rely almost exclusively on support within their own communities to learn tribal languages. This is because Native language instruction has never been part of the formal public school curriculum. On the contrary, Indian children forced to attend boarding schools, often far from their tribal homes, were severely punished if they were caught speaking their native tongue or practicing tribal traditions. As Ed says…..
“I only speak English because my dad was whipped in government school…”
Even though Ed does not speak the languages of his parents or grandparents, he fondly recalls listening to stories told to him by his Yakama grandpa and Nez Perce grandma—and never having a problem understanding what the story was about!
Coping With Cultural Conflicts
“We had a fight with the Indian kids…then we would get on the [school] bus and we would team up with the Indian kids to fight against the white kids.”
The Shoshone Bannock tribe makes its home at Fort Hall in the state of Idaho. When Ed was growing up along the Columbia River in Oregon, he remembers having fights with other Indian children because he was considered an “outsider,” then fights with white children because he was an Indian.
Ed describes other experiences of cultural conflict. One of these is when a bus driver referred to him as “Billy Jack,” which was intended as a pejorative and exemplified how a person may be negatively perceived by others because of his ethnicity. On another similar occasion the Boy Scout leader with whom Ed was staying kept calling him “Chief” rather than addressing him by name.
This often happens to people who do not belong to the dominant culture—they are socially categorized by others based upon their appearance—how they look or dress. Then the stereotypes define them rather than their personal reality or an appreciation of their cultural context and experience.
Ed’s interview reveals other instances of having his identity as a Native American mocked or disparaged. Listen to his words and recognize how these “messages” lead to feelings of rejection and alienation.
Exploring Your Cultural Roots
Take a fascinating journey into your own past. Study the unique traditions and customs of your family, extended family, tribe. If you are of mixed ancestry, you may have several historical “threads” to follow. Understanding your cultural roots is the link to your racial/ethnic identity development.
Collect family stories. Your “history” often begins with other peoples’ memories, helping you to get to know the people your ancestors were. The stories may reveal special family traditions, and anecdotes that “flesh out” your connections with the people who came before you provide insight into how your cultural reality and identity were shaped. For example, Ed recalls his auntie—how she looked, what she wore, a recollection of something she once did, and his admiration for her.
Make it a project to write down or tape record descriptions of:
- Where your family lived or still resides. What are the defining elements of the landscape, the weather, the natural resources, and how people live? Describe your grandparents and great grandparents homes and surroundings.
- Recollections of special events, like Ed’s mention of Salmon Feasts he attended in different villages or locations.
- Favorite recipes or dishes passed down from parents and grandparents. Think of favorite smells and tastes that trigger treasured memories.
- Healing practices and spiritual ceremonies.
- Traditional clothing or other articles that help to define your tribal identity.
- Events that made an impression on you growing up—like Ed’s memory of his grandfather hunting in the mountains and dressing out a deer.
- Be creative. Look to a variety of tribal sources or people to help you define your cultural world.
Your stories, your recollections, your voice on tape, your written descriptions, your family photographs and memorabilia—all of these together comprise a “memory bank” available to family, relatives, and friends. It becomes an important source of information about historical events (like the flooding of Celilo), and about your ethnic/cultural identity development. It is a “living legacy” for those who follow you