Finding My Identity As An Urban Indian

collin

Bozho, Makōns Itíbíwín Nijwaw ndezhnekas. Hello, my spirit name is Young Bear That Looks Twice and my English name is Collin Church. I am from Allegan, Michigan. Currently a junior at Michigan State University majoring in the interdisciplinary humanities with an emphasis on political science and American Indian Studies.

I was raised on the countryside miles away from my tribe. Growing up, I was never aware of what it meant to be a Native American. I was limited on the teachings of my culture or my language and I had no sense of cultural identity. I had this sense of emptiness trying to figure out what it meant to be Native American. As a kid my grandmother always took me to powwows to help sell her widely known corn soup and frybread. While I was at the powwows I did not always understand what was going on outside of the vendors booth. The powwow arena, the cultural ceremonies, and the respected elders were all right there and I was completely oblivious to it all. I had no idea that all the answers I have been looking for about myself have been around me the entire time. Being a citizen of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, I am classified as an Urban Indian. The schooling system I attended never told me who the Native American was, so for me to understand who I was could not be provided to me where I lived.

7th grade year was when reality finally hit me. My grandmother passed away and suddenly my life changed. While attending her funeral I noticed a group of strangers that were there someone I never met before. They were telling me stories about my grandmother and how valued she was in the Native community. The stories I heard made no sense to me because I never understood what it meant to be a Native American. The ceremonies that they said she attended and how her traditional cooking and crafting skills were so incredible just made me realize that I wanted to know more about the legacy that she has left behind. I had to learn more about what it meant to be Native American and why being of a specific race could ever give someone so much pride and humility.

Following my grandmothers death I went to my family for answers to all these questions that I had. However, my family couldn’t answer my questions. Historical trauma attributed in a negative way to my grandparents causing them not pass on any of the language and culture because they wanted my parents to live a life without worries of being discriminated against or getting in trouble for practicing their traditions. I didn’t know what to do, I tried so hard searching for answers and kept running into dead ends.

My quest to learn more about my heritage inspired my father to learn more and to get involved as well. My father went back to college and received his teaching degree and applied for a job at the tribe. He got the job. Now with my father working for my tribe I was able to travel with him on the occasion and to learn more about who I was. I will never forget the day I was first introduced to our tribes Junior Youth Council on September 10th 2011. The current director of language and culture at the time was Teresa Magnuson Melendez and she was the one that personally introduced me to the Youth Councils. When I walked into the meeting there was three other people and it was a very small, but welcoming group. At first I had no idea what to think about the group. As time went on I grew close to the members and became committed to bettering the group. I remember the first friends that I made while in youth council and how today they are my closest friends. Friends like Autumn Martin, Tori Murray Butcher, and Skyler Daisy are the best of friends and I consider them family because I know they will always be there for me.

The youth councils were my outlet to learn as much as I could about my heritage and gain friends that were going through the same struggles that I was. When I was 17, I was given my spirit name just when I needed it most. My name was given to me by my uncle who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was given my name around the sacred fire that was created for our annual culture camp. The firekeeper was kind enough to keep that fire going an extra day so that I may be named in the place where a majority of my teachings werelearned. Having my name I felt much closer to my tribe and I was able to find an identity that I was proud of.

I currently serve as the Chairman for the Pokagon Band Senior Youth Council. During my time on the Senior Youth Council, I have gained many life lessons and have found my calling for what I hope to do in the future. I have gained many teachings from people within my tribe and have learned more about what it means to be a member of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians. Through this organization, we have implemented many programs focusing on education, sustenance abuse, suicide prevention, language, and culture. I am so honored that our youth council is able to attend many different national programs and be recognized all throughout the country. I have learned many things about who I am and what I aspire to be through my culture and my tribe.

The opportunities that I was able to gain from the youth council have soon took a huge impact on my life. Being able to attend conferences like UNITY (United Native Indigenous Tribal Youth), NCAI (National Congress of American Indians), and MIEC (Michigan Indian Education Council) gave me a sense of pride. While attending these conferences I was accepted for who I was even though I did not come from a strong native background. To me that gave me such confidence and pride that I was able to be accepted for who I was although I was not raised in a traditional matter, and to be able to pass the knowledge that I have learned onto the next generations.

I also serve as a National Native Youth Cabinet member for the National Congress of American Indians. Working with policy makers and federal agency partners has shown me all the work that goes on behind the scenes. I have come to respect all the work that the politicians put into bettering the future of Indian country and how much they are supported by the ones in their homelands. In addition to the Youth Cabinet, I also serve as the Member-At-Large for the National Congress of American Indians Youth Commission working directly with the youth in Indian country. The Youth Commission is the acting voice for all American Indian and Alaska Native Youth throughout Indian country. Through this commission, I am able to meet youth from all over the country and hear their stories of their homelands and the struggles that they face while working with them to find a solution to their problems. Youth leadership can happen in manydifferent parts of Indian country. The National Indian Gaming Association has created their very first youth commission that will focus on economic development and the impacts of gaming on youth. I serve as the Co-Chair for this commission and have been working to become a voice to all the tribal leaders and to advocate for the youth to have a voice on how gaming should be regulated. I thrive to be an example for Native American and Alaska Native Youth. Over the years, I have been working on providing the youth around me with more opportunities to express themselves and to participate in cultural teachings. I make it a point to help those around me and devote my time to create a better environment for our next generations of youth.

I thrive to be a voice for the youth and to empower them to be the best that they can be in life. Education is an important factor in order for me to be successful in my future. My education is supporting me in all that I do and allows me to continue devoting my commitment towards Native American and Alaska Native Youth. Outside of education, I am very involved in my tribe and several Native organizations. Advocating for issues that native youth face all throughout Indian country and working towards providing a better tomorrow is what I aspire to fulfill. It is my duty as the next generation to learn my language and culture so that the traditions may be preserved and passed on to future generations. It is very important to preserve our traditions and to continue this battle of keeping our language and cultures present. In this modern era, youth are not always able to grow up learning their culture. However, if there is a push to preserve our traditions and culture, we will be able to teach the youth that were never given this opportunity.

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