A Space for Writers of the World
I had a dream a few weeks ago. In this dream I was planting tobacco in a backyard, placing seeds in the ground at different spots. There was an old shed in the yard and I planted seeds around the shed. After planting the last seeds, my mom came out from the house and looked around the yard.
She said, “Why aren’t you planting them in a line, so they’ll grow together?”
I looked at the yard as a whole and see the seeds are spread far apart. I planted them this way so that the roots would have room to grow and to prevent overcrowding. But maybe she’s right. The plants might be able to support each other if they’re planted closer together.
I reply, “I thought it would be good for them to have space to grow. Should I replant them?”
As I’m speaking, I’m walking towards the back of the shed to look at the first seed that I planted. The plant is already grown almost as tall as me and I have a moment of panic and indecision.
How did it grow so fast? Do I replant this plant or leave it alone?
I’m currently finishing my PhD program in Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis. I’ve been stressed lately balancing family commitments and my work completing my dissertation. At first, I thought this dream represented my own disorganization and guilt for not being more accessible to my family. Is my academic path leading me to grow further apart from my family? Are my projects too disconnected from our lived realities? Could I be doing something more concrete to support my family? Even if my projects are successful right now, do I have the stamina to continue turning out new and exciting research? Are my priorities wrong?
After talking to my friends, one mentions that at least my plants are growing. That’s a good sign, right? This cheers me up a bit. I tell myself that I need to just keep forging ahead. My research in Native American history is important.
The relationship between individuals and the lives of their forbearers first drew me to the field of history. As a Ho-Chunk person, a member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, I grew up with an awareness of how my family’s history is tied directly to federal and state policies. While the United States of America was being formed as the nation it is known as today, my Ho- Chunk/Winnebago family were dispossessed of their homelands and driven from their sacred places. Additionally growing up with both parents in the military increased my interest in the workings of the government.
Despite centuries of attempts to eradicate Ho-Chunk people, we persist. As I research the history of my tribe the ties between my family and U.S. federal Indian policy surfaces within the archive. Familiar names and language emerge as I sort through the papers of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The voices of my relations are resurrected from this archive.
In 1892, eighteen years after the Winnebago Indian Reservation in Nebraska was established, my great-great-grandfather William H. Decora was born. His World War I draft registration card reveals how he identified himself at the age of twenty-four. He writes “I am true American” as his citizenship status and identifies as “Indian Winnebago” for his race. He likely did not have
U.S. citizenship at this time.1 There were a few ways Native Americans received U.S.citizenship. They would receive citizenship twenty-five years after receiving an allotment through the General Allotment Act, through serving in World War I, and through the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. William Decora likely did not qualify for any of these options. His draft card was signed in 1917 and he was too young to qualify for the allotment option. William Decora asserted an identity that predates the United States, and redefines what it means to be an American. He actively asserted his identity within a process that is meant for assimilating the individual within a larger system, the military industrial complex. This act demonstrates more than agency, it reveals William Decora’s confident attitude regarding his identity and position in the world.
William Decora reports “Farming” as his occupation. I wonder what he planted or nurtured in his fields. I wonder what he would think of my academic work. I am also planting and growing through my writings and projects. I’m even farming in my dreams now. Through teaching I like to think that I am helping to give others the tools to nurture their own ideas.
Another dream. This time the FBI is attempting to abduct me to induce post-traumatic stress disorder through A Clock Work Orange tactics. I find out they’re doing this to all Indian people. Forcing them to watch films of historical acts of violence perpetuated on their ancestors to induce PTSD. It’s another way to incapacitate Indian people and stealthily commit genocide. Throughout the dream I’m managing to hide from them, but I don’t know how I can help those who have been captured.
I had this dream twice. This dream is too disturbing and I don’t tell anyone about it.
Anishinaabe scholar Lawrence Gross describes colonization as the apocalypse of the Native American world that Native nations are still recovering from. He asserts that Native American people are experiencing post-apocalypse stress syndrome (PASS) and are not only rebuilding their nations but also “rebuilding their cultural world”.2 He notes that one effect of PASS is the breaking down of family structures and social dysfunctions.3 It pains me to see these truths reflected within my own life and the lives of those who are closest to me. It’s difficult not to consider how things would be different without the effects of intergenerational traumas.
However, I know that we are all survivors of these traumas and continue to move forward despite great hurt. I know many strong people who do the best they can despite the odds that are stacked against them. I must remember to honor the strength and willpower of my ancestors and continue moving forward in the best way I know how. I need to remember to be thankful of my ancestors who survived trauma and to think ahead to the future generations. We are not incapacitated. We are not invisible.
This cheers me up a bit. I tell myself that I need to just keep forging ahead. My research in Native American history is important.
1 Edmunds, R. David. “Native Americans and the United States, Canada, and Mexico”. Philip J. Deloria and Neal Salisbury, eds. A Companion to American Indian History, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. and McCool, Daniel. “Indian Voting”. Vine Deloria, Jr. ed. American Indian Policy in the Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.
2 Lawrence Gross. “Cultural Sovereignty and Native American Hermeneutics in the Interpretation of the SacredStories of the Anishinaabe”. Wicazo Sa Review. Vo. 18 No. 2 (Spring 2003).
3 Ibid, 131, 134.