By Rosalia Badhorse
When I walked across the stage to collect my bachelor’s degree in Business Administration on May 17, 2015, I counted my first coup! For those who don’t know, “counting coup” refers to the winning of prestige against an enemy, which was traditionally practiced by warriors of the plains tribes. More specifically, counting coup involves touching an enemy, or stealing an enemy’s weapons, and returning to camp unharmed. In modern day times, I believe that when a native leaves home to pursue a degree, they’re stealing the intellectual weapons of their historic enemies, and are then able to bring honor back to their nations. In this way, counting coup through education keeps our warrior spirit alive, and it keeps our instincts to protect our nations strong.
As a child, I often wished that I could go back in time to live off the land and to be free, as indigenous people once were in the Americas. It just seemed like a much better time to be in. I was so convinced of it that I even grew a little depressed at knowing that I lived on a reservation and that my world was so dreadfully different from my ancestors. But as I got older, I came to realize that my lifestyle didn’t have to be downright reprehensible and that my culture didn’t have to die just because times have changed. In fact, times are always changing, and tribes have always held onto their identity through adaptation and through the utilization of new tools to carry on our traditional ways. For example, Cheyennes used to use dogs to move their belongings from place to place, and then they used horses, and now we use cars, trains, or airplanes. Times have changed, but our traditional values and beliefs are timeless.
Another way I looked positively at my modern day lifestyle as a Cheyenne was again through a combination of traditional teachings and by contemporary methods. Growing up, I was always taught that the number four was a sacred number. For this reason, it led me to believe that there was something special about my four years in college. I viewed it as more than just school, but as my rites of passage, much like the way young Cheyennes back in the day used to go out into the wilderness alone for four days to discover their purpose in life. Correspondingly, college required me to leave the rez, and to be on my own in order to seek my purpose in life as well. During this journey, my extracurricular activities and internship allowed me to travel up and down the east coast and to the midwest –to places I had never been. I was always learning new things and was always moving. I lived a nomadic lifestyle, and my spirit felt unconditionally happy roaming around Turtle Island, as my people once did long ago.
My collegiate experience was a real eye-opener for me. I experienced culture shock, ignorance, micro aggressions, homesickness, and yet, I also had a lot of fun adventures and visited places I’d never imaged and tried foods I never knew existed prior to leaving the rez. While I definitely picked up some skills in the classroom, I also learned a lot about the world, myself, and even more about my own community as I explored other cultures and communities in the U.S. Overall, my experience as a young indigenous woman in college on the east coast has provided me with such an abundance of intellectual wealth that I feel as if all the stress, frustration, and good times combined were worth it. These experiences have allowed me to grow stronger mentally, emotionally, and even physically and spiritually over the last four years. And though my vision of the future seems to alter or evolve every year, it feels as if my purpose becomes more and more clear with time.
In the meantime, however, I’m still celebrating my first counted coup and am in the process of returning to camp for a while to recount the stories of my victories in battle. And when the time is right, I will return to the battlefield (AKA school), to count my next coup.