My name is Hishu Wea McGrady. I am named after my great great great great grandmother, Hishu Wea. It is Hidatsa and in English is translated to Peppermint Woman. I am enrolled at Ft. Berthold, ND, Three Affiliated Tribes. Mandan (Nueta), Hidatsa and Arikara (Sahnish). My maternal grandmother was also Ft. Peck Assiniboine (Nakona) and Sioux (Dakota) and my biological father, Northern Cheyenne (Tsitsistas and So’taeo’o). My tribes have lived primarily in this northern area of Turtle Island for thousands of years. Suffice it to say, this is home. Born and currently living in Montana, I have also lived a bicoastal life. From Washington State to Pennsylvania and stops in-between, all have been learning experiences, various and unique. They have all left an indelible impact in the construct of how and who I am, to which I am so grateful for.
During my travels, I have met so many different Indigenous people and my impression is always this. As stewards, teachers and students of our cultures and our homelands, Indigenous people are bestowed with thousands of years of wisdom of the land, water and sentients. Out of selfless love and care, our elders pass on languages, stories, medicine, food ways, prayer, our sense of humor. In turn we try our best, individually, to learn as much as we can for not only the present, but future generations.
In doing so, however, our ways of life have been met with heavy resistance. Futile attempts to annihilate our presence from our homelands began steadily on the East coast and the south, sweeping westward to the Pacific Ocean, beginning with the theft of our lands. Thereupon, eradication and theft of our prime sources of food, shelter and trade, theft of our children, theft of our languages and theft of our identities and cultures with the assistance of the Dawes Act in 1887, championing forced assimilation. We were not legally acknowledged as “citizens” until 1924 and weren’t allowed to fully vote in all 50 states until 1964. Women were sterilized at IHS (Indian Health Services) until the 1970s and just recently, ICE was sterilizing BIPoC female detainees. In the 1950s, my own reservation lost 150,000 acres due to the coerced flooding of the Garrison Dam, displacing 90% of our relatives and villages and all that that acreage supplemented for our well-being. Tribes continue to fight for land and water, from fracking, resource extraction and pollution. Often they are met with law enforcement or military brutality. To say the least, this gargantuan history of genocide has left us traumatized, perhaps in ways many of us may never fully realize until we are older, if at all.
Primary challenges for Indigenous people, because of these colossal atrocities, lay simply in defiance to our truth. We are not believed, we are not heard, and as CNN labeled us earlier this month during Election Day, we are not valued as human, we are, “Something Else”. We are discouraged and shamed as having bad manners and disrespect when we speak of our oppressions incurred by genocide and chastised for not adapting the colonial mentality, frequently ordered to just “get over it”.
The result of not believing or listening to us can be seen in disparities such as healthcare, poverty, education, employment, homelessness and high rates of criminal conviction. Intergenerational trauma then affects family infrastructure, parenting, and ability to self care. Historically, Europeans introduced alcohol to Indigenous people as a means of manipulation for trade and treaty. Eventually, what was never a part of our people’s means of coping, became self-medication for the loss of, everything. Unfortunately, because of personal biases, ignorance and racism, alcoholism is deemed a choice we make, despite all the aforementioned historical references, rather than a symptom. Instead, alcoholism and drug addictions are penalized, vilified, and stereotyped as part of our culture and identities.
These challenges are very much abridged but it does help to build some sort of need to understand, know more, learn the truth about a whitewashed history and be a positive part toward helping to heal generations of ignorance and harm. Understanding as an accomplice, you must listen, support and know it is not your history to tell.
Despite so much adversity, our people are astoundingly resilient. As we are becoming aware of our histories and traumas, various programs continue to develop to meet each need that was taken from us. From language revitalization to historical reconciliation, land-based cultural competency courses taught by elders and Indigenous historians and now media sharing, mental health programs that incorporate intergenerational trauma understanding, healing by sharing one another’s creative talents, whether that’s beading, dancing, sewing, gardening, singing, painting to sharing our sense of humor and so many more restorative projects. We are eagles ascending to watch and care for Mother Earth. And we are still here.