I have been on a healing journey to the heart since the day I was born. As a mother of four, a writer, and teacher, I am continually challenged to find new ideas and connect those ideas with our traditions. This is what has led me to the great state of Minnesota.
The first step to my own healing was the realization that I needed to be healthy. And, that meant I had to change! Quite an undertaking, I tell you. I mean, I have been alcohol and drug free for many years but that wasn’t enough. I was missing an important ingredient that had to do with my own self-determination and spirituality. My life became a disaster two years ago because I had just gone through separation and I was struggling to hold my family together.
So, I worked on myself--physically at first. I lost a lot of weight, adjusted my diet, etc. Then I worked on my mental attitude and began to see results from the shift in my consciousness reflected in everyone around me. I also went through therapy and traditional ceremonies to begin my emotional and spiritual healing as well. I dealt with issues of intergenerational trauma and faced them head on for the first time in my life.
Most of my trauma, I saw, centered on the concept of shame. Much of which wasn’t even my own. This was shame that had been passed down through generations from the time of first contact, I was certain. This element of shame coated everything in my life. I really believed that I had to hide my problems from everyone (and not air my dirty laundry so to speak). So I struggled to maintain a façade of success, while inside I was in so much pain. There were many times when I had the urge to just give up and start drinking again or to take anything just to feel numb. Ironically, it was only when I actually faced the ruins of my world that I was able to identify what I was really feeling. Then I saw the shame slide off my body like water draining from a basin. When it was gone, I felt so much lighter and free.
The renewal came when I actively sought out the ways of our ancestors. I began to ask questions that pertained to our identity as Native people and to our traditional practices. Some questions kept me awake night after night pondering: What does it mean to be Native in this contemporary time? Are we Native only during certain times of the day or week? Or is this something that we are 24/7?
People thought I was crazy and asked me why I even worried about such things. “Of course, we’re Native!” they said, “It’s in our DNA! Right?”
Well, once I started down this path, I couldn’t stop. It became my obsession and I wanted to find out if it is truly possible to live as a Native year round, without compromise. Where no one would actually question our inherent right to practice and develop our traditional ways in accordance to Native beliefs. Is this possible? I had to give it a try. My experience was quite challenging and revealing. Challenging because many people were opposed to the thought of how I was living. Revealing because I found out that in order to live by Native values, I had to let go of my own misconceptions of what that meant. But I did it for nearly two years. During this time, I homeschooled my children and worked from home part-time. And, I lived without many conveniences.
I spent two years examining the values that shaped me. From all of this self-examination, I posed these questions. How did our ancestors maintain their honor and conviction in everything they did? What did they do and how did they do it? I knew that the answer to this was the key to my own sanity.
The answer is that our ancestors walked with honor. That honor was held binding through the making of vows.
So, I decided to make vows to the Above, to the Grandfathers, to the Creator. These vows were to serve my people in the best way that I can. Now I became committed. My honor was called upon. And my honor became my shield…one that I walk with each day.
As I began to put my life back together as a single mother, I saw patterns. More realizations came that if we could all make our own vows, whatever they might be, wouldn’t this make a difference in the way we walked our own life paths? Particularly in maintaining our own sobriety and how we teach our children?
Living with vows means subscribing to principles that must be adhered to day and night. That’s how our ancestors lived.
Extremist that I am, it’s what I strive to follow. And, teach. And, of course the most important lesson for me in all of this is that I do so with my heart in my hand.
Ewithai Wongithe! All My Relations!
- Shonge Xube Wau (also known as Renee Sans Souci)