Every November, we celebrate Native American Heritage Month and recognize the contributions and achievements of Native Americans. We must recognize and acknowledge the importance of the month. I had the time to sit down and talk to one of my closest friends Kaya Frutchman, from Wilmington, Delaware, and the Navajo Nation in northern Arizona. She is an undecided Freshman at Swarthmore College but currently focuses on computer science
When I knew I would talk to Kaya about her experiences, one of the things that piqued my interest was her specific viewpoint growing up Navajo but also being Buddhist on the other side of her family and what that looked like for her growing up. "I find there's like similarities between the Navajo way of life and also Buddhist practices and philosophy," said kaya. Kaya also told me stories of Tibetan monks visiting the Navajo and how they use similar items in ceremonies to purify and cleanse, such as juniper and cedar. "The only time I found a conflict was in Buddhism we embrace death and have funeral ceremonies for families that are grieving, but in the Navajo way of life, we don't conduct funerals at all," I was told a story of her dad wanting to take her family to a funeral, but her mom was a little hesitant about that choice but because of the way her family works her mom allowed her and her two sisters to attend and I think that points back to both forms of life being very similar to one another and not being a strict way of life compared to other forms of living.
Me and Kaya got the time to also talk about the displacement of Natives and the challenges that they have faced. She mentioned the removal of children, how they were stripped of their cultural identity, how their heads were shaven, and how clothes were replaced to make things "normal" and basically commit cultural genocide.
She also mentioned a court case I had never heard of, Brackeen vs. Haaland, which involves the law known as ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act), which ensures that tribes have a right to intervene when their members are involved in child welfare cases. It also requires that local governments make a more significant effort to protect indigenous peoples and their families. This case over a child adoption can significantly affect the relations between the U.S. and the indigenous people for years to come.
However, Kaya is grateful that she has an attachment to her people and knows where she comes from "We were taught to know our clan and speak our clan in Navajo in our language, and I feel like that right there, that simple act is just instilling in us to know where we come from and remember and respect our ancestors and just through speaking our clan is what connects us to home because we are living off the reservation and away from Navajo land, with that, I'm very proud to know where I'm from because there are so many indigenous people who have been displaced from their culture and their families and it tends to leave their souls just lost and without any direction and I'm very appreciative and proud that I know where I come from"
Native American heritage month is crucial for us to remember not only because of the past harms and difficulties that natives faced but for the struggles they deal with today. It is not something that is handled and over with; remembering that the fight for cultural acceptance is not over is key to keeping it alive.
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