Dear Disruption: Discord gives way to the Native experience, providing a platform for the Native voice
August 29, 2023
Editor’s note: The following is from the ABHMS luncheon at the ABC Biennial Mission Summit June 23-25, 2023, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The program, “Testify! Dear Disruption…,” conveyed the power of testifying as a means of achieving spiritual and emotional uplift through difficult periods of societal turbulence. It has been lightly edited for publication.
My family and I live on the reservation where houses are lined with broken-down cars and yards littered with trash. Our neighborhoods look like the turmoil within. Parents fight addiction and their own endured childhood traumas. Grandparents raise grandchildren while desperately wishing they had been different with their kids. If only they weren’t battling their own abuses and addictions at the time. Each one in our community hoping the next would be the one to overcome the hardships, to end the cycles of alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence before they claim our collective future.
The child removal rate on the “rez” is four times higher than off the reservation and everyone is scared to address the problems passed down in our families because help will probably lead to removal. No one reports the abuse or violence, no one steps in, and we quietly sit in the pews praying something will change without causing more drama or separation.
We send our kids to school and leave it to the professionals. We have never been invited or been received nicely to any meeting or event. Administrators and teachers alike speak badly about Native students, parents, and community and then wonder why we don’t attend. There is no accountability for the teachers to teach our children. No need for them to have compassion or empathy toward the students. There is no backlash when teachers physically push our children or make them cry in front of the class. There is no one telling the teachers to stop yelling and screaming.
Native parents and grandparents cry out to the teachers themselves, to the principal, to the superintendent, and to anyone affiliated with the school about the abuse and bullying from the teachers. They would file a formal complaint if only they knew about the form. They would complain to the school board if only they knew the rules to get on the agenda or were welcomed in the first place. If only we had been told these things at some point in the past 90 years of the school operating and educating our children.
No one admits the clearly persistent divide between Native and Non-Native. No one will admit there is still a double standard when it comes to discipline and that “assimilation” is still the only way for an “Indian from the rez” to have a place in the dominant culture and within the walls of the school.
The Native communities, while dormant under the weight of forced silence, the heaviness of the abuse cycles and the persistent message that we were removed, are removable and defeated, can now reclaim our language, our culture, and our ability to love and protect our children in our homes, in schools, and in the church.
Generational trauma silences us and prevents us from moving forward. It claims lives and whole generations bound by abuse of every kind. Trauma that started in exile at a removal camp where we were given the name of a captor. Named like a pet after its owner. Tribes are overseen by a policy backed by the government and the civilized, “Kill the Indian, save the man.” Tribes are governed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs which, interestingly, is under the Department of the Interior. The website states it is the agency that “protects and manages the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage,” like the animals and national parks. Our Native cultures must be cataloged for the future because the policy “The only good Indian, is a dead one” still overshadows our future.
The traumas continue in a boarding school with a nun or priest or pastor. The abuse starts when our children are taken without warning or permission. The boarding school officials start taking our children at five years old—and some younger. They are miles from home, their hair cut, bathed with chemicals that burn their skin, stripped of familiar clothing, and told they cannot speak their language. They are given a god who is demanding, harsh and unloving. How dare they cheapen my savior! Our children left without food, left with the scars from physical abuse, left in turmoil from sexual abuse, and thousands left dead in unmarked graves. No accountability.
A new era is beginning to be researched and taught called the Removal Era when children were again taken, but this time in the name of security with living condition standards imposed by the Department of Child Welfare. Yet another government policy and continued displacement of Native children in homes off the reservation and away from the people and culture. Generational trauma can be overcome in four generations if no new trauma is experienced. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was born in 1890, even before Arizona became a state. Our family is not yet four generations past my grandfather’s lifetime of enforced trauma.
Living on the reservation is both a pride thing and a hard thing. If you are not careful it can consume you. There is sadness, desperation like a callus that grows over you and can harden you to yourself, your family, and community. There is also a roar of laughter, of teasing, and joking. There is love and family ties to catch, to guide, and to support you like nowhere else. I took the long road to say to you, Disruption, thank you.
Thank you, for your discord to give way to the Native experience, to provide a platform for the Native voice, and to highlight the uphill road we travel to healing and restoration. It was the upheaval and regurgitation of our country’s stories that broke through the messiness of a messy time.
The Native communities, while dormant under the weight of forced silence, the heaviness of the abuse cycles and the persistent message that we were removed, are removable and defeated, can now reclaim our language, our culture, and our ability to love and protect our children in our homes, in schools, and in the church. We can claim salvation and a life of freedom through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who is able to use our story for His glory, who gave himself freely to us.
Hanigm, Ahe he’e, Thank You,
Monique Prigmore is Yavapai-Apache, Acoma and Hopi, and she is an enrolled member of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Camp Verde, Arizona. A longtime foster parent, she offers social and emotional support for tribal children attending Clarkdale-Jerome School.