Lesson Three: Self-Identity
Sometimes we look at ourselves and don’t really see how complex we are. We feel that we are simply “me” and that isn’t very meaningful or exciting. Sometimes we need to step back and see the many varied elements that make us who we are; make us unique and important.
Traditional Native philosophies hold that each individual has a purpose in the world and a power that gives them meaning.
In her interview, Karina Walters seems to move from job opportunity to job opportunity, passing tests as she moves. It is near the end of all these experiences that she sees what she does as her “calling,” the thing she was meant to do. She understood she was meant to do this specialized work for the benefit of Native people. As in the Hero’s Journey, she had to complete the journey—pass the final test—to realize this.
Look at the interview with David Lewis. He studied the history of his multi-tribal background so he could understand his ancestors and their traumatic history, and then link that history to his own story. Even then, he faced an identity struggle.
The following quotes that explain how he felt when he came back to his people and tried to establish his tribal identity:
“A lot of people lost their culture (because of annihilation, forced reservation life, and termination), lost their connection to their history, their family… I’ve heard a lot of the current generation of Indian people are coming back to their tribe and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know who I am. I’m Indian. I’m a member of the tribe now, but I don’t know who my people are.’ Or sometimes people are saying, ‘I’m related to you. I could come into the tribe, but I don’t have any records of who I am.’”
David needed to find out about his people, but he also had to connect that with who he was and recognize how much was lost that he and his people had to recover to have their tribal identity intact.
This next activity is fairly simple, but in it you will learn how complex you are. You will need a sheet of plain white paper and a pencil.
- This activity asks you to tell people who you are based on how you define yourself. Start with whatever you feel is your primary identity. Write that word in the middle of the page.
- We don’t want a simple list of words. We want a diagram that shows a relationship between the words you will write. Some people make circles around each word and have that circle overlap other circled words showing their connection to one another.
- Some people might identify their main identity as “Father.” Then they might connect that word identity with “Husband,” if that is their second identity. And then “Son,” or “Brother,” or whatever they choose in how they define the roles in their lives. Continue until you have listed all the words/identities that make you who you are.
- Spend some time thinking about the things that you define yourself by and how those words might be visually presented as connected.
- When you are done, look at all the words you have written down. If you were to share this list with someone, would those words be sufficient for them to understand who you are? To get to that point of understanding you would need to tell them stories that explain the meaning of that identity in your life. Can you think of s story for each word that will clarify the meaning of the word to you and why it is important?
- For example if you wrote the identity of “Sister” on your map, the story might be: “I am the oldest sister of three sisters. Because I am the oldest, I have always been given a lot of responsibility in the lives of my younger sisters. Once my youngest sister went to a movie with a bunch of her friends and I…”
- You are now moving from mere word identifiers to stories that explain and give meaning.
- Can you weave all the stories together into one story? Can you tell that story in one sitting?
- Another possible outcome of this activity is to see you can be connected to other people if they list the same word descriptors as you. You and another person might share the word “Left-handed,” and because of this you share the culture of left-handers and have identified common ground for conversations. So sometimes this activity is also called a “co-culture map” as each word you list is a culture that you share with others who use the same word.