What Does Being Indigenous Mean to You?

I had the privilege of interviewing my two friends, Caitlynn and Dermont, about how being indigenous has had an impact on their lives. Keep reading to see their great answers!


What is your tribal affiliation?

C: Diné (Navajo)

D: I’m Diné (Navajo), born in Shiprock, NM on the Navajo Reservation.


What terms do you prefer people to call you; Native American, Indigenous, American Indian, etc.? Do you find any of these terms used to describe indigenous peoples problematic and why?

C: “Indigenous person” preferred. “Indian” is not an appropriate term, we are not from India and this was a misclassification by the Western society that continues to be cycled within our society.  “Native American” is problematic because the Indigenous peoples of this area existed before “America”. This disregards our identity and history which existed before colonization.

D: I prefer to be called Indigenous. My ancestors have predated the European explorers that “discovered” our land, I’m not a native of a European named continent, I’m indigenous to my traditional land. And to be called American Indian is incorrect in that I’m not Indian.


What does being Indigenous mean to you?

C: A conscious understanding of the multidimensional paradigm of existence that recognizes all entities within the natural world as a respected member of the community. Humans occupy a mere niche within the greater scheme of the cosmos and we must be respectful of those that existed before us. We are one of many from the environment, not one above all others. It also means that I come from a resilient and beautiful culture that has survived the most unethical treatment at the hands of Imperialists and modernity. We are beautiful, resilient, and proud peoples.


What are your favorite practices, traditions, or foods from your culture?

C: Storytelling. Indigenous philosophy, history, and traditions are housed within our stories.

D: I had a Christian upbringing, so I wasn’t exposed or taught Navajo traditions. I only learned them through inquiries with my father’s side of the family and school. I’m also actively working to understand and practice more of my traditions. Traditional food was a major part of my diet growing up, my favorite traditional food being chiiłchin. Chiiłchin is a sumac berry sauce/pudding made of wild berries that grow throughout the reservation.


Do you believe that your culture is ever trying to be suppressed by hegemonic views?

C: The US will not acknowledge the ethnocide and ecocide of Indigenous peoples and their homelands as an aspect of their history. The US was built from genocide disguised as Heteropatriotic ideologies such as Manifest destiny. Indigenous peoples continue to face assimilation, relocation, and termination tactics to this day due to the unethical arrangements made within treaties and federal policies regarding Native Nations.


What was your experience like being Indigenous and growing up in the four corners region of New Mexico?

C: Emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally scarring. Border towns, such as Farmington, are notorious for blatant and systematic racism. There are still cops within this city that pride themselves on being “Navajo killers”. Farmington was once home to Indigenous people before Westerners invaded and turned this area into a “boom and bust” town for non-renewable energy which has had a devastating impact on the environment and Indigenous socioeconomics.


What are your thoughts about the representation of Indigenous people in government?

C: We need more honest representation and change on a national level, not tokenism. There are two promising representatives, Deb Haaland and Sharice Davids, who are focused on providing an Indigenous voice in government.

D: There is a gross under-representation of Indigenous people in the federal government. Indigenous peoples have and treaties or policies enacted on us by the US government but have been unable to be on the other side of the drafting table. I hope to see more Indigenous individuals work to better represent us.


For you, what do you believe is the hardest part about being Indigenous?

D: For me, the hardest part of being Indigenous is trying to explain to other indigenous people, who are full-blooded, that blood quantum isn’t everything. If an individual who is half or a quarter blooded indigenous and know their ancestors, their lineage, and identify as Indigenous I encourage them to learn their language, culture, their traditional practices. The idea that if they’re full-blooded, they’re better than others is discouraging.


Is there anything else you would like to share or want the readers to know?

C: Please understand that the Indigenous experience and identity is not something that can be easily understood. Indigenous studies/Native American studies is a budding discipline within higher education that is producing groundbreaking programs and literature designed to promote Indigenous leadership, self-determination, and Nation building. Please support our Indigenous scholars and their work.

D: Our land, culture and practices, and language all go hand in hand, we cannot have one without the other.