It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 8, 2018. It’s a time when we are experiencing a world — especially a United States — rife with racism. It’s a time for women to rise, as they continue to be silenced, shuttered and beat down. I cannot help spend large chunks of time learning how to better be an ally to women of color; those who are most affected but who also bring to the table the most potential to enact real change to this outdated, outlandish system we find ourselves living in. In order to do this work they’re doing, they need support. So I ask: how do I become aware of and dismantle any existing racism within myself? How do I amplify those women of color around me and at large, whose brilliant voices full of wisdom, and minds full of right action, have been ignored and silenced?
As a female business owner in the midst of starting a nonprofit that addresses the intersection of community, health and healing, and mindfulness, I’m feeling a strong pull to make this social justice commitment I’ve made personally, an integral part of the mission and structure of Vital Vessel Project as an organization. How can this new platform — social movement — center the wisdom of women of color? It’s a question I will continue to ask as I bring this vision of mine to life. I have to.
The truth is, I am a biracial woman. To most people, I’m a white girl that may look a little mysterious or exotic. I get those labels a lot. And while I actually am truly mysterious, more because I’m an old soul, and the mystical creature known as a Scorpio rising, I realize my physical appearance — my darkness — helps people to label me.
I acknowledge that while I share openly and lovingly about my background, I’ve also lived largely as a presented (passable) white person in a very white part of the United States. I have a lot of European heritage (Spanish, French, German, Irish, Norwegian and English) and I absolutely have white privilege. So right now I’m working daily to understand how to better be aware of this privilege and what it means to have it, especially because I’m not just white; especially because I’ve shirked judgment from those around me, while not fully honoring who I actually am.
I’m Native Alaskan, an Inupiat. Eskimo, my grandma Bing insists we are called, despite some finding that term outdated. She grew up in Alaska, and I grew up listening to her stories about what it was like to live her life. Her family lived in a traditionally native way, as much as could be done with European settlement already taking place. Still, there were practices and patterns that were very much tied to the earth and her seasons, and a life that was very much colored with stories of survival, perseverance, and also unique ways of eating, playing, loving and being a family. I can’t help but know that this tribal soul pulses inside of me; it’s my DNA and I feel it speaking to me.
I’ve learned about my grandmother’s life, through stories and pictures; visits with her siblings; the published book by her brother Jorgy, who was a legendary native bush pilot. I’ve eaten whale blubber and seal oil. As she tells stories, which she’s always ready to do, I learn of hardships and joys, traditions and a collective resourcefulness adapted by the family. I learn about the places lived in and patterns lived within, and even some family secrets and jokes. I’ve learned a few words in native tongue. These things feel real inside of me. Yet I still find myself knowing so little, and feeling ashamed of that. I find myself reaching internally, full of questions, yet feeling embarrassed to ask them out loud.
I’ve noticed in myself the same spark, humor and slight wildness that is also prevalent in my mom and grandma. I can’t help but know it’s part of what feels native within me, even though I can’t put ‘why’ into words. The three of us express ourselves with a specific sort of passion, and wisdom, despite all three being quite different. I feel connected to my native ancestry in an emotional and primal way. I feel drawn to it — to learn from it, to be with it — more than any of my other lineage. But I also recognize that I’ve never actually been to Alaska. I’ve not yet had the pleasure to be in the place that birthed this native family. So, when it comes to claiming myself as an Indian, I feel not native enough.
I recognize this dissonance and it makes me hesitant to wear the beautiful, hand-made traditional jacket my cousin sent to me so generously. It makes me shy away from talking about myself as anything other than white. I feel like though I’m a part of these people by blood, and most certainly shouldn’t shrink away from my own desire to connect more deeply to this part of myself; I still do. And that will change. I have a lot to learn and heal.
So where does my responsibility lie, in the present, and in the future, having identified this push-pull in my own identity and the desire to dismantle any false stories about myself? For me a beginning place is owning my biracial status, and my white privilege together. They both exist. So, I am committed to immersing myself further in the lives of my own family. I will be visiting Alaska next summer, and asking all of the questions that are burning inside of me. I will feel comfortable speaking about who I am, and identifying with it openly, while also continuing to know that I’ll never be without privilege. I’m honored to be native, and I have a lot to learn from my bloodline. I want to better support those in my family and beyond who do live as indigenous people, especially women.
Knowing myself better is of course a great starting place, but perhaps more importantly, I will use my privilege to amplify women of color — those who have no veil of whiteness protecting them as I do. Part of the intention behind Vital Vessel Project is to bring forth traditional healing wisdom and community healing models, to the modern healing conversation. It is within this ancient knowledge and within these traditional models that we can find the support needed to enable us to create our own vitality as individuals. I see clearly that women of color will be the featured teachers of Vital Vessel Project. Women of color from around the world have the wisdom within them to change the way we heal ourselves. I will provide a platform to connect people, and honor and offer my own wisdom within this platform, as a healer and woman of color myself.