Toksha akhe, Pine Ridge

“This is what true revolutions are about. They are about redefining our relationships with one another, to the Earth and to the world; about creating a new society in the places and spaces left vacant by the disintegration of the old; about hope, not despair; about saying yes to life and no to war; about finding the courage to love and care for the peoples of the world as we love and care for our own families.” —Grace Lee Boggs

When I think of a revolution, I think of one of the fundamental tools of freedom that is ignored and keeps us disenfranchised: solidarity. When we unite, we are more powerful. Joe Feagin argues that alienating racist relations make it difficult for people of different races to recognize their commonalities, and to achieve solidarity in fighting broader patterns of inequality that affect the vast majority of people in society, regardless of their race. The history of the Native people is a perfect example of this power, as we have all ignored the damage we have inflicted.

The Native people have been oppressed and dehumanized since the founding of this great country, brutalized and tortured by pilgrims on the Mayflower and forced to erase much of their cultural history and richness. The Lakota, specifically, currently possess 5% of the land originally owed to them by numerous treaties (See Fort Laramie Treaty for the most famous one). Our federal government has broken every single treaty and seized all of the lands that are usable, confining the people to “utilize” the Badlands — land that is so destitute it struggles to grow grass. Aside from its terrain, the land is the burial ground of hundreds of their ancestors massacred in an attempt to protect their land and their people. Many residents say the spirits come alive at night and screaming and the sound of gunshots can be heard at Wounded Knee, the site of at least 300 murders of the Lakota people. They are forced to subsist on meager and unhealthy food rations provided by the federal government. Their original food source, the buffalo, were wiped out in an attempt at assimilation.

In March, myself and six others traveled 14 hours by van to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, home of the Lakota Sioux Reservation. This was my final trip, my final ABI at Loyola, and I was terrified that I was overstepping, entering a community where I was not wanted. Alternative Break Immersions, transformative and wonderful in their foundation, often struggle to maintain the ethical boundary between learning and “providing service” — often coming to communities who never asked for help in the first place. This trip is infamously one of the hardest — groups are intentionally made small to minimize the impact, and each group member should have a foundational understanding of the ABI pillars, even if they have not been on an ABI before. And for a generally welcoming group of people, they have been taken advantage of too many times to trust everyone.

The group researched, read, and educated themselves for a few months before attending this trip, and we all believed we were “prepared”: we had an idea of what the reservation is like. But what I saw, I could not have imagined.

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Driving through the Badlands, March 2017. Photo by Hannah Goheen

The first step in beginning a revolution is to become proximate. A famous quote by Max Warren states the important task in becoming proximate:

“Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More seriously still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.”

AlJazeera states that “The US Census Bureau’s 2014 study found that more than 52 percent of residents in Oglala Lakota, the largest of Pine Ridge’s three counties, lived below the poverty line”. When looking at the news articles, the media, and often, the reservation itself, it seems that the Lakota people have everything stacked against them. “They are voiceless”, we often hear, “The Native people have not been able to recover”.

In many aspects, that is true. The Lakota people have suffered for years under the thumb of the Federal Government and the American people. Each vote for a President, whether it be Barack Obama or Donald Trump, is a vote against the well-being of all Native people in the United States. Every citizen who visits Mount Rushmore, who hikes a Black Hill, contributes to the history of oppression for the Native people. But what is important to note is that they are not voiceless — they have been speaking for generations, but no one has been willing to pass the microphone, to be proximate and hear their stories. I am, by no means, an expert on their story, but instead a messenger, an advocate for each individual to begin to listen to their stories.

The Lakhota (spelled in the Lakota language) consist of several tribes within a confederacy of three dialects: Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota. The Lakota are the largest and most Western of these groups and reside mostly in North and South Dakota. Historically, they should have more, their ancestral land spanning over four states. When Pine Ridge Reservation was initially created, the Lakota Sioux were given 140 acres and 3 cattle each, erasing their pivotal circular living arrangement and installing capitalistic values into a community. They were not allowed to leave the imaginary confines of the reservation and were forced to look at their sacred land, the Black Hills, for over 70 years, from their homes.They watched as their sacred Black Hills were torched and bombed to etch the faces of four presidents that aided in their torture and oppression. Any attempt to exit the reservation meant they could be arrested or killed. White people stole their land and any retaliation of defense would mean hundreds would be killed. Their children were kidnapped and placed in Catholic schools; beaten, dunked in vats of chemicals because Indians were considered “dirty”, hair shaved, and forced to speak English, not Lakota.

To narrate the Lakota without highlighting their strength, resilience, and tenacity despite this oppression is a disservice to their narrative. The Lakota are not weak but are crippled by the actions of a federal government that have brutalized their people since the English arrival on the Mayflower. The people are not voiceless, but instead shut down and erased of any narrative other than one constructed by their oppressors.

After a Sunday service at the Oglala Catholic Church, a participant in our group asked a Lakota man how he feels about President Trump and the effect he could have on his community. His response was, “We have survived the last 44 presidents, we can survive this one”. Their survival is embedded, and necessary.

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“Death of the Whiteman”, White Clay, Nebraska. Photo by Hannah Goheen

For the majority of the week, Loyola worked in classrooms at Red Cloud Indian School (RCIS), a K-12 Roman Catholic private school located on the reservation. While our focus was to teach coping skills, we also had the privilege in observing a typical class within each grade level. RCIS is home to Catholic and Lakota teachings, including Lakota language and culture classes in order to revive the language. The majority of RCIS graduate with honors, attend four-year universities and often, return to the reservation. This return to make their own impact is uncommon, as the average amount of students who leave the rez do not return, causing an intellectual “brain-drain”.

After school, we often spoke with residents of the reservation to better understand the culture we had immersed ourselves in or traveled to locations surrounding the reservation. We met Sister Barb, a nun who travels hundreds of miles every Sunday to pick up Lakota elders to attend mass. Sometimes, only five attend mass, but Sr. Barb makes sure it continues. We met Linn Cross Dogg, a mechanic at Red Cloud Indian School that candidly spoke of alcoholism and the way it permeates the community; almost every individual has a personal connection to alcoholism. Our car drove past FEMA trailers in which families of 6 or more lived in. The trailers themselves were intended to be used for up to a year until the government built houses, but many families have been living in their trailers since 1999.

Many fear becoming proximate because it often exposes us more than we would like. In Holy Rosary Chapel, located at Red Cloud Indian School, there are fourteen stations of the Cross that depict Jesus as a Lakota man in Lakota garb. Contrary to other Stations of the Cross, the Roman Army is depicted as 7th Calvary (a United States cavalry army regiment headed by General Custer). White people. Systemic oppression thrives in these places, in our history, but also in complacency in the present. The very injustices occurring in the 21st century are the result of our ancestors. Individuals outside the reservation have the privilege to ignore the injustices that occur within the reservation. They ignore history, or worse, change it, in an attempt to justify and absolve themselves of guilt and pain. Unlike many acts of trauma in the United States history, all Americans are complacent in allowing Native people to live in these conditions. All individuals: young, old, Black, White, Asian, live on the land belonging to those confined to a few square acres. Mother Theresa said, “Forgive us, Lord, if we unwittingly share in the conditions or in a system that perpetuates injustice”. However, the only we can be forgiven is if we acknowledge and work to eradicate these systems.

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Chapel in Red Shirt

There is more I wish I could say, wish I could articulate. There is a reason it has taken me months to draft this post. For my group, there are often no words to describe the beauty, the pain, the reconciliation we experienced on our trip to Pine Ridge. Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka. The Sacred, the Divine, or the Great Mystery. Instead of our testimonies, we were given the tools to begin the process of healing, of forgiveness, and of social justice. Garrett Gundlach, SJ said that “Some things in life aren’t invitations to change, they are imperative to change”. It is no longer our choice to determine if we help others or, more importantly, fight with others. Solidarity is pivotal and preserves ourselves and this Earth.

For ways to get involved, check out these websites:

  • American Indian Association of Illinois: The American Indian Association of Illinois strives to transform American Indian education into an experience founded in native culture, language, and history fused with knowledge, excellence, and tribal values which will enhance tribal nations and urban native communities where American Indian families work, live, worship, attend school, care for their elders, and raise their children.

http://www.chicago-american-indian-edu.org/chicago-american-indian-university-education/About-American-Indian-Association-Illinois.html

  • D’Arcy McNickle Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies: Its goals are to encourage the use of the Newberry collections in these areas of study; improve the quality of what is written about American Indians and indigenous peoples; educate teachers about American Indian and indigenous cultures, histories, and literatures; assist American Indian tribal and indigenous historians in their research; and provide a meeting ground where scholars, teachers, tribal historians, and others can discuss their work with each other. Fellowships and programs are available.

https://www.newberry.org/darcy-mcnickle-center-american-indian-and-indigenous-studies

  • Stand With Standing Rock: The fight to clean water access still is not over. Stay up to date with information regarding the pipeline and ways you can help.

http://standwithstandingrock.net/category/news/

 

Dear Donald Trump

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Day, and the 2nd Presidential Debate, I felt that this was the best way to articulate how I feel in the midst of this election (mostly, I wish it would just end).

As an avid past watcher of the Apprentice and awareness of who Donald Trump was prior to the election, his comments do not surprise me. Frankly, they do not upset me either. They reveal a larger issue that people are only now discovering. This, I believe, is the bigger problem.

Sexual assault, why a seemingly trivial subject, is actually extremely important in a political process. Sexist remarks often become policies that determine how much women are paid, how much they get on maternity leave, whether they are required to carry a fetus to term. To ignore the comments reveals the character of that very person, the core values that take precedent over ones livelihood. 

For as long as I can remember, I witnessed sexual exploitation and/or assault, from someone else, or on my own person. Movies I watched contained scenes of half-naked women being choked, smacked, kicked, raped, and it seemed normal. When I began to wear a bra, go through puberty, I was stared at, catcalled, gestured at, and even touched. At age 12, my mother yelled at two older men for whistling at me. At age 16, a man on the street asked me how I would like to be fucked. A man I was “talking to” at age 17 told me, “you look like you like to be choked”.

When I was 19 years old, a man I was dating raped me. I liked him a lot, and remember feeling butterflies when I spoke to him. I remember saying no, three times. I remember wearing a giant tan sweater, leggings, and Ugg boots. I remember feeling paralyzed, like I was in a dream. And I remembered his apology: “Well I am sorry you thought I did that to you, but you seemed to want it too, and it was the fault of both of us”.

Though many would find this shocking, its not. Women often are raped and sexually assaulted by people they know, quite well, which makes it harder to prove sexual assault: being in a relationship or talking to someone means they have jurisdiction over your body. I could not tell, not report what seemed consensual to others. 

Donald Trump is also great at circumventing guilt.

In the 2nd Presidential Debate, when asked about the Access Hollywood BTS video, in which he told Bill Bush to grab a woman by the pussy, he responded:

“That was locker room talk. I’m not proud of it. I am a person who has great respect for people, for my family, for the people of this country. And certainly, I’m not proud of it, but that was something that happened. If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse — mine are words; his was action. This is what he has done to women. Never been anybody in history of politics in this nation that’s been so abusive to women, so you can say any way you want to say it, but Bill Clinton was abusive to women.

Hillary Clinton attacked those same women and attacked them viciously. Four of them here tonight. … And I will tell you that when Hillary brings up a point like that and talks about words that I said 11 years ago, I think it’s disgraceful and I think she should be ashamed of herself, if you want to know the truth.”

I was 19 years old when I was raped, and because rhetoric is spoken like this daily, the rapist believes he did nothing wrong.

I know for most, I am preaching to the choir. For most, no one knows about my sexual assault. It has been something shameful that I have battled since, it completely changed the way I see myself, see others. I feel the trauma daily, every time I see a woman raped on-screen, every time I hear a politician advocate for a rapist’s acquittal. I identify with the trauma of African-American, Latina, Asian, White women who are raped on college campuses, by bosses, in their homes.

Equally unfortunate is the narrative of toxic masculinity, that promotes a rape culture for both men and women. Men are raped daily and are told they cannot reveal this, as it makes them less of a man. They are told to “take” virginity, to give it to her rough, for fear of being gay, of being a pussy. Aggression is required in order to have a healthy relationship.

Sexual assault is also often racist. I recall the case of a police officer who raped a multitude of poor, Black women, targeting them specifically because “no one would believe them if they reported it”. Muslim women cannot share that they have been raped because they would be shunned from their communities. Latina and Asian women are either sexual deviants or fetishized virgins. There is no in-between.

I have family members who plan to vote for Trump. Who do not see the correlation between Trump and the marginalization of thousands of people. Who only see their future and not the future of their children, grand-children, and great-grandchildren.

I am not here to teach, or promote, or highlight Trump’s comments anymore than they already have. I am not here to overwhelmingly support Hillary Clinton with open arms. I only came to share what is already known. The hate rhetoric Trump spews is acknowledged and welcomed by a vast majority of this country. His racist comments are the same. Be aware of those that say them in your own circles, in your own homes. They are not here for you, for me. “Something that happened” continues to impact people daily, and it is important that it is discovered, addressed, and dismantled.

“I Am Light”

It’s hard to write a short and simple post on how much light LUCES brings into my life. Gratitude does not seem to suffice; when I think of LUCES, I think of warmth and light, as its name denotes, but love, compassion, strength, courage, happiness. Self-care.

When I entered Loyola, nothing could prepare me. As an 18 year old, I truly believed I was ready for the world, and these four years were simply another barrier to that. My first year felt like the end of the world. I was desperate for a community, for a purpose. I joined dozens of organizations, tried desperately to make friends, develop relationships, but I never felt sufficient.

LUCES taught me bravery. From the beginning, LUCES was there, but my first gathering left me intimidated and nervous. These women were self-loving, compassionate, driven individuals; didn’t seem to make the mark. It was bravery and courage that allowed me to continue attending, to discover that the space was welcoming, safe, and inclusive.

LUCES Gala

LUCES has the ability to show and teach every individual who enters the space what it means to be a leader and to combat the imposter syndrome that prevents us from being strong, and brave. LUCES speaks on identities and encourages you to embrace them so that you can use them as tools of strength, rather than as debilitating. When it came to my racial identity, I thought I knew exactly who I was entering Loyola. For the first time, I was able to find the word that defined who I felt I was: multiracial. I didn’t have to pick one identity and leave the rest at the door. When I questioned my sexuality, LUCES held examples of what it meant to be queer as well as a woman of color, identities that are often mutually exclusive. I felt the courage and the strength to embrace my identities, even if the world around me didn’t.

LUCES also taught me that the identities you did or did not grow up in do not define who you are. Identities are fluid, they constantly change, and I learned to ride the tide of those identities. And with those tides of identities comes radical self-love.

To love yourself each and everyday is a daily challenge, and there are days you will no doubt feel hatred, guilt, or shame about yourself. But with the support of my LUCES cohort, I know that I can do anything. Though I have only one more year with LUCES, I know that it will forever be in my heart, and the women always there to support, nurture, and care for me. Thank you, LUCES, for my strength.

Shame & Gratitude

Shame is one of the most powerful weapons in this universe. It has the ability to shut people up, to close in on themselves, to fester in it, to think about those things over and over, and continue to feel that shame over and over again. After reading about the negative effects of shame in Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are,  I came to a sudden clarifying conclusion that quite honestly, overwhelmed me. Shame is something that controls many aspects of my life.

Shame thrives when it is not shared, when it is hidden and closed off. There are a number things I can feel ashamed of, feel bad, but it is time that I take the first step to loving myself again, to sharing that shame so that it cannot survive. My actions and behavior have no doubt brought shame, and guilt, but the power of forgiveness is infinite, and it takes courage to share that shame and ask for forgiveness. I will use this blog to continue to speak about the things in my life that I find gratitude in, but I will also share the things that keep me from getting out of bed, for fighting for things I believe him. This is not a how-to, or a post that says “this is how I overcame it”. I am using this as a tool to resist, release, and transcend.

2016 has been a rough year. I have made more mistakes than I would care to count, I have hurt people unintentionally and well as intentionally. I have pushed down so much stress that it often feels like I am drowning, and it has caused me to direct my pain toward others who didn’t deserve it. This year has also brought pain, and injustice, in personal and societal ways that felt unfair. I often pray, but it felt like I was asking God “why?” rather than thanking them.

I try my best to be optimistic. But today, I cannot. Today, it feels impossible to look on the bright side. And, in remembering a book, called Just Mercy, I came across this quote:

“I am more than broken. In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy”

Embracing my brokenness means that I am giving myself mercy, rather than continuing to punish. I cannot be good for others, unless I am good to myself. I cannot heal unless I feel the pain associated. I cannot forgive myself until I acknowledge the mistakes I have made. I cannot stop being angry until I acknowledge that every person’s decision is not as a result of me.

Until then, embrace the brokenness.

5,280 feet

Day 2! This day serves as a letter to my beautiful home, Denver, Colorado.

Dear Colorado,

You may seem like a strange place to represent, but I am forever grateful to call Denver, Colorado my home. When I tell people of you, they often mention skiing, or legalizing weed, but there is so much more to you. I think of our small, but high skyline that seems to touch the always blue sky, or the beautiful, dense, Rocky Mountains, which hide away memories of my childhood.

Every happy memory that has kept me focused and grounded in the beautiful state of Illinois is a product of Colorado living. Chicago is a bustling, diverse city, with unlimited amounts of things to do on any given day. But nothing beats you, Colorado, with miles of lush, green forest, and high, rushing rivers with children diving headfirst. In many ways, Colorado is a branch of a simpler life. As a child, it pushed me to look for “bigger” things, but it now serves as a reminder of balance: I can seek ambition while also focus on my self-care and happiness. Colorado is a consistent reminder of that. And, as cliché as it might sound, I have never felt more of God’s presence than when I am overlooking what seems like thousands of miles of country, so high that one step will send you crashing back to Earth. You lift your arms and feel like you can squeeze a cloud, feel the heat of the sun. I’ve never been anywhere else that evokes the same feeling.

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La Loma, one of my favorite restaurants.

And for anyone who knows me, they know that food is a prominent facet of my life and is a true representation of my mood and my personality. No one can do Mexican food like Colorado. It’s spicy, flavorful, and the restaurants have been around for ages. Waiters and owners remember my face from when I was a baby. From the chilaquiles to the enchiladas with mounds of cheese and chili…sorry Chicago. No one does Mexican food like Colorado.

Colorado has gifted me with people I treasure most in this world. Though I have made great memories and friends here in Chicago, nothing replaces the people back at home. They are there for late-night phone calls, for every cry of homesickness, and as a reminder that they will all be there when I get back. Most of my family is there as well, and knowing that I always have a place to go is a comforting reminder.

Shout out to the 303!

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Featured Photo Courtesy of http://www.socialventurepartners.org/denver/

30 Days of Gratitude

For the month of July, I will be challenged. I honestly have trouble being grateful for the simple things in my life. I often stress and worry without thinking about the things I do have. While some of my daily struggles are justified, I really want to add more positivity in my life.

DAY 1. First day goes out to the OG. Mama.

My mom is quite literally, the strongest, most humble, most giving human I may know. One of them, at least. From giving me life, to giving me knowledge, she has always been my guardian angel, whether I knew it or not. These are the reasons why I love her:

  • She educates me.

For years, my mom sent my sister and I volumes of books that I had no interest in reading. From Borderlands to Life of a Slave Girlshe was determined to make sure I was as educated as possible, and not through the lessons taught in school, but in the lessons I would never hear about: slavery, systematic oppression, colorism, police brutality. Before I had a name for these issues, I had an awareness for them, and I can only thank my mom for that.

In my mom’s house, she has a book for every thought I have ever had. Whether I have wondered about spirituality in business, or Sikh women and relationships…there is a book, and she has read it. Every statement I make is a learning tool for my mom, a way to challenge me, to think critically, to understand the deeper meaning behind each of my actions and the power behind each of my words. No other woman has done that for me.

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  • She taught me forgiveness.

Since I began to live with my maternal grandparents at age 5, I have always battled with severe abandonment issues and anger issues, wondering why my mom and dad did the things they did. It took me years to understand and truly come to terms with those circumstances, and my mom continued to love me unconditionally despite every dramatic moment of angst. She never retaliated when I said mean things, when I told her she was not my mother…not once. She continued to state her love for me even when I was sure it did not exist. That moment alone made me realize that forgiveness is not about the other person…but for yourself. And forgiving my Mom for things she could not control was the greatest thing I could do for myself.

  • She gave me great genes.

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All seriousness aside, HOW HOT IS MY MOM?

  • She taught me the importance of knowing where I came from.

My Mom practices Yoruba, a following of faith that ties back to Africa prior to the slave trade in the 1700s. When first hearing about this years ago, I really thought my mom was crazy. But learning about these things through her eyes has helped me understand that while I may not practice Yoruba, it is important to know where I came from in order to determine my future. My surname is Honor, a name an ancestor took after slavery that exemplified their hard work and resilience. The name fits well with the family. I come from a long line of strong, independent, and resilient women who have sacrificed their lives for their family, their partners, and their Earth, to be better and so others could have better lives. That sacrifice lives within me. I would not be the same without it.

  • She keeps me grounded.

This woman knows every spell in the book when it comes to feeding the mind, body, and spirit. She makes the greatest food, that practically steams with love and affection. She knows every elixir (no matter how gross) that will nourish my body ravaging after a sickness. She has used an avocado to make my hair feel like a baby’s bottom. She fills my head with the women of my past, present, and future, to inspire me, to challenge me, and to allow me to reflect on my purpose here in life.

Thank you, Mama, for all that you have given and continue to give me.