WBEZ | reservation life http://www.wbez.org/tags/reservation-life Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Revision Street: Vanessa Roanhorse (IV) http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-iv <p><p>I have to curb my small talk when I go home, <em>Vanessa explains</em>. It&rsquo;s not something people do. The Navajo people are straight-to-the-point kind of people. They don&rsquo;t dillydally around conversation.</p><p><em>I&rsquo;ve been talking to her for several hours about growing up on the rez and living now in the drastically different urban environment of Chicago. And what it might take to go back.</em></p><p>When I go home I just sound like an idiot. It just sounds like I&rsquo;m talking to hear my voice and I can see people shutting down on me. I&rsquo;m better now than when I first used to go home. I thought they would enjoy my stories but it was more like, You&rsquo;re talking senseless stuff, I don&rsquo;t even know what you&rsquo;re talking about: I don&rsquo;t know who these people are, I don&rsquo;t know what the point of the story is&hellip;</p><p>Part of it is definitely the urban environment way in which I operate. I learned a lot of these nuances of speaking on the East Coast, so there is a little bit of a quickness and there&rsquo;s a lot of sarcasm. It&rsquo;s definitely an urban way of thinking: you push it, you push everything. Everything&rsquo;s got to be on a certain timeframe. People can&rsquo;t be stagnant. People in the city feel like, if I take morning off, I better do something in the afternoon because I&rsquo;ve just wasted a full day. No one knows how to just enjoy something and you can&rsquo;t just arrive when you feel like it. There&rsquo;s this pace and I think that has a lot to do with the way you think.</p><p>Back home it&rsquo;s not like that. People actually take time to&mdash;if there were roses, they would smell them. You&rsquo;ll be talking to someone [<em>laughs</em>] and they&rsquo;ll just stop talking and look off into the distance. They&rsquo;ve just decided to take a moment, you know. You&rsquo;re like, alright. I don&rsquo;t know if I should get up and leave you to your moment [laughs] or if I should keep talking or what should I do. And then they&rsquo;ll slowly look over, and you&rsquo;re like, Are you bored with me? But it has nothing to do with you. It&rsquo;s that they&rsquo;ve decided to process, or they had a thought come into their head, and they&rsquo;re working it through.</p><p>I live in this really stupid in-between. When I volunteer at the American Indian Center here in Chicago, or I try and work with them, I really enjoy everyone I meet but it&rsquo;s like we&rsquo;re in totally different spaces. I am this liberal, artsy, hippie chick who has traveled and is really interested in world music and hip-hop [<em>laughs</em>]. But I meet another Navajo and they&rsquo;re working steel, and they only hang out with other Natives and we have no common interest besides the fact that we share a culture. That&rsquo;s fun for a little while but we don&rsquo;t have anything else in common. This is the part that blows my mind. I feel bad about it, but it&rsquo;s hard to meet other Navajos with the same interests. I can&rsquo;t find them. Especially in the city. But because I&rsquo;ve been away from home for so long, because I do talk differently and because my interests are different, I&rsquo;m still an outsider. I&rsquo;m still kind of that apple. Red on the outside, white on the inside. It doesn&rsquo;t help that I&rsquo;m marrying a giant, six-foot-four German man. [<em>Laughs</em>.]</p><p>Seriously, I was so nervous the first time he was coming out with me because I didn&rsquo;t know what the family was gonna think. How is he gonna react to all these people scrutinizing him? Navajos are notorious teasers. Once you get past the initial you&rsquo;re-a-stranger-danger kind of thing, they&rsquo;ll just pick on you. You have to be able to roll with it because if you can, you totally earn people&rsquo;s respect. I was really nervous, &lsquo;cause we were gonna have a simple barbeque at my parent&rsquo;s house and 40 people rolled on in. It&rsquo;s a simple barbeque that&rsquo;s not my entire family&mdash;you know, my entire family is over a 100-something plus people and that&rsquo;s just my mom&rsquo;s side&mdash;this is only my dad&rsquo;s side. But everyone absolutely loves him. I think it&rsquo;s because Blaine is a real down to earth dude who can talk about anything. He&rsquo;s culturally sensitive and aware and he knows not to speak out of turn, he knows how to treat someone who&rsquo;s older than he is.</p><p>Blaine is five years younger than me. I fought tooth and nail not to get involved with him. I was on the cusp of 30, and he was just so young. But he stuck it out. It look six months and a fight before I realized that he was my boyfriend. He&rsquo;s definitely changed my life in really neat ways. I&rsquo;m talking about getting married and having babies. Before him that wasn&rsquo;t on the menu. I never thought that was my cup of tea. I just wanted to be the awesome aunt who wore muumuus and big earring and took the kids to weird performances.</p><p>That was who I was gonna be. The muumuus and the cheap plastic jewelry, like Mrs. Roper, the Three&rsquo;s Company wife. [<em>Laughs</em>.]&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 29 Nov 2010 20:02:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-iv Revision Street: Vanessa Roanhorse (III) http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-iii <p><p style="text-align: center;"><i><img height="600" width="450" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-November/2010-11-29/P9120074.jpg" alt="" /><br /></i></p><p style="text-align: left;"><i>If you made any jokes yesterday about Native Americans sitting down to dinner with illegal immigrants over the first Thanksgiving dinner, I hope you&rsquo;ll take the time to read this installment of Vanessa&rsquo;s story. Because it&rsquo;s all well and good to keep the conversation easy and breezy for family, but at the end of the day the reservation system continues to cause real, daily problems for Native people both on and off the rez.</i></p><p>I used to waitress. I&rsquo;ve been working since I was twelve, so I was waitressing at this place called the Navo Nation Inn. I started as a busser and then when I turned thirteen-ish I started waiting. There&rsquo;s no alcohol or anything. It&rsquo;s a dry reservation. I was there and a woman came in with some people. She had decided that she was going to be a teacher&rsquo;s assistant at one of the schools on the Navajo Nation, and I don&rsquo;t remember her name, I don&rsquo;t remember how she came up with the Navajo Nation out of all the places she could have been. But they came in for brunch cause Navo Nation is one of the few places on the rez that has a somewhat real hotel. This is the nice food place. So we struck up a conversation and when I went home, I asked my mom, Hey can I go to boarding school?</p> <p>She didn&rsquo;t take me seriously for a little while. She basically said to me, jokingly, If you can get in and figure out how to pay for it, Go ahead. But I think she really had no belief&mdash;and I didn&rsquo;t have any belief&mdash;that I could do it. But I was like, Fuck it. So I sent them a letter and they called me and I told them I wanted to go there. They gave me all the steps. When I went back to school, I told one of my teachers who really liked me and she helped me get transcripts. I had never heard of a transcript before.</p> <p>I went my sophomore year of high school. I must have been fourteen. I get a letter in the mail saying there&rsquo;s this scholarship, they will pay for your tuition for the next three years, and they&rsquo;ll pay for a couple plane rides home and back. School starts in the fall, please come two weeks earlier so you can get accustomed and dah dah dah...</p> <p>They were all upset&mdash;my grandparents, everybody. Specifically, my twin sister was upset with me &lsquo;cause my mom had just gotten remarried and they had their first baby. We&rsquo;d been living this lifestyle with my mom since my dad left when we were eight, and she felt like I abandoned her. Then my mom felt like she failed as a parent because I had to get away from them. And my stepfather&mdash;he&rsquo;s now my dad, like I love him as my father&mdash;I think he knew why I was going and I think he didn&rsquo;t know how to fix it. Then my grandparents blamed my mother. There wasn&rsquo;t a lot of support for me leaving.</p> <p>That&rsquo;s sort of the double edge sword with growing up Navajo. We&rsquo;re the first people to say go do this, support this, educate yourself, learn, change the world. But don&rsquo;t leave anyone behind, make sure everything is equal. My culture is notoriously very socialist, like it&rsquo;s rude to be overly wealthy, it&rsquo;s almost offensive because someone else isn&rsquo;t as wealthy. You can have things but you have to share. That&rsquo;s how you are wealthy, is how much you share. It&rsquo;s changing, of course, but there&rsquo;s still this deep-seated mentality.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s still something my sister and I combat. We&rsquo;ve been off the reservation for so long&mdash; she ended up, a year later, going to boarding school in California, which was another huge blow to my poor mom&mdash;so it&rsquo;s hard. We both talk about how we feel so disconnected from our people. When I&rsquo;m home, I overextend myself to be as helpful, and available&mdash;to just be there to do whatever anyone needs. Like, I will spend my entire day cleaning my grandmother&rsquo;s house if she lets me, I would spend the entire day driving my mom and dad around if they needed me, whatever they want, I would prostrate myself to it. And part of it is because I feel so disconnected. It&rsquo;s going to be hard to go back.</p> <p>My immediate guilt is that my grandparents are aging and I won&rsquo;t be there to take care of them and I&rsquo;m afraid to miss out. And then the other guilt is, I have two little siblings from my mom&rsquo;s second marriage. My little sister just started college last year, and my little brother will be starting his sophomore year of high school. My little brother totally missed out on me, I have a lot of guilt for that because I couldn&rsquo;t be there for them.</p> <p>Then there&rsquo;s the whole cultural thing. The biggest problem with reservations is that you send out your young, they get educated, and they don&rsquo;t come home. Because why? There&rsquo;s just not any opportunity there. There isn&rsquo;t the lifestyle that they&rsquo;ve grown accustomed to. Sometimes because you return and you&rsquo;re not embraced, you&rsquo;re made fun of. You&rsquo;re separate, you&rsquo;re different, and that&rsquo;s a hard thing to come back to. So I feel a lot like a sell out. I feel like I totally sold out my people. You know, I can&rsquo;t speak my language.</p></p> Fri, 26 Nov 2010 20:32:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-iii Revision Street: Vanessa Roanhorse (II) http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-ii <p><p><span style="font-family: &quot;Times New Roman&quot;;"><o:p></o:p></span><em>Vanessa&rsquo;s been telling me about her plans to move back near the Navajo Indian Reservation where she grew up.</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s the size of West Virginia, <em>she says</em>. But it&rsquo;s the Southwest. It&rsquo;s so big down there that nobody would blink at a five-hour drive.</p><p><em>It may sound preposterous to city folk, but it&rsquo;s true. I have lived a bit on reservations in South Dakota, where a movie a four-hour drive away was a perfectly reasonable evening activity. Whereas in Chicago, an hour and a half on public transportation is unthinkable, even with my Blackberry.</em></p><p><em>It&rsquo;s called, usually disparagingly, Indian Time, and it&rsquo;s often used to explain lateness (and veil blatant racism). But I&rsquo;ve always liked the slow, purposeful way that time passes on reservations, and the way people adapt to it.</em></p><p><em>It&rsquo;s not the only difference Vanessa grew up with, either.</em></p><p>It&rsquo;s really one of those things that I try to see from an outside perspective because for me it&rsquo;s so basic. It&rsquo;s so normal that I&rsquo;m not sure what parts of it are different and what parts of it are the same.</p><p>The coolest stuff is that I grew up with my grandparents. I have nine aunts and uncles on my mom&rsquo;s side and seven on my dad&rsquo;s side. I have fifty first cousins [<em>laughs</em>], and so as a kid a lot of my family lived with walking distance of each other. So we were a giant ball of dirty children in a pack, and we would just run all over the place. We had free range to go and do whatever we wanted. We just had to be in before dark.</p><p>It was great because you could roll up to anyone&rsquo;s house, the doors were always open, and raid the fridge. You know, watch some cable, and then take off again. We used to go free rock climbing which, when we go home to visit and we start to do the rocks again, I can&rsquo;t believe how stupid and ballsy we were, going up cliff sides that were at such crazy degrees and wiggling through them because our older cousins could do it. It&rsquo;s amazing none of us died, truthfully. We were like crazy billy goats running up the sides of mountains. We would build fires, blow things up, we could really do whatever we wanted. What was awesome was that the stuff we wanted to do was really kind of 1950s wholesome: grill hotdogs, swipe cigarettes, and be with your family. Your cousins were your best friends. That&rsquo;s who you grew up with. When I think about having children that&rsquo;s what I would like, for them to grow up with a big family, knowing they can go anywhere you don&rsquo;t have to call ahead first, you don&rsquo;t have to make plans, you can just show up. Your aunts and uncles are like your moms and dads, they can scold you, you can get in trouble with them and no one gets upset because it&rsquo;s just one giant teaching unit.</p><p>But at the same time, it&rsquo;s hard to grow up there because there&rsquo;s nothing to do. There are no after school programs, there&rsquo;s no where to hang out. So when you&rsquo;re little, it&rsquo;s easy, it&rsquo;s wonderful. You start getting into middle school and it starts to change. People are much more sexually advanced. I remember girls having babies when they were 12, and people partying when they&rsquo;re 11, 12. Luckily my mom has always really been there for us. She helped shaped the direction of our lives and we never wanted to disappoint her, so we were pretty good kids. But there&rsquo;s also a really big gang problem on the res, and as you get older have to walk through those landmines and pick your sides.</p><p>The only way to not pick your sides is to play sports, so we played sports. Everything. Basketball, football, volleyball, baseball, softball. I was a hardcore basketball fan and I should have always known I was gonna end up in Chicago because when the Bulls won the &lsquo;91-&lsquo;92 championships, I recorded every single game of that season on VHS tape and I had every single T-shirt of everyone on the team and I wore a different Bulls player T-shirt everyday to school. I could wear, I could wear a different Bulls team player T-shirt or a Bulls T-shirt for two weeks without repeating any of my clothes [<em>laughs</em>].</p><p>I was so crazy when they won, it was really late playing at home and my mom nearly forced us to go to bed early, but she knew that I had to see this last championship game, so she let me stay up while she and my sister went to bed. She came running out because she heard me screaming and then she heard me crying, and my nose was against the television and I was bawling with pure joy. Like I did it. Like I was the one who won. She let me go outside and scream and yell and called everyone. She&rsquo;s like, the Bulls won the championship, that&rsquo;s Vanessa screaming, don&rsquo;t worry. [<em>Laughs.</em>] I was totally in love with the Bulls. I think it was a sign that I was gonna come here, because I&rsquo;ve lived in a lot of different cities and Chicago&rsquo;s the only place that&rsquo;s been able to keep me.</p><p>I&rsquo;ve never been to one Bulls game, no. I think part of it is, I have this fantasy in my head. I have this whole play that&rsquo;s gonna act out in three parts in my head when I go to this game, but sadly it&rsquo;s all with the 1991 to about &lsquo;98 team [<em>laughs</em>]. Like, I&rsquo;m gonna see Don Paxton&mdash;all these people, they&rsquo;re all gonna be there. But because it&rsquo;s not true, I&rsquo;m kind of like, I don&rsquo;t know . . .</p><p>It was such an important time in my life. It was the first time I&rsquo;d ever really gotten into something that was my own. You grow up in a big family like mine and everybody shares everything. I have a twin sister who lives here in Chicago, in Bridgeport, and I wanted this one thing for myself. They all liked the Bulls, but I had to love the Bulls. I had to know all of their statistics, I could rattle them off. <!--EndFragment--></p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 24 Nov 2010 01:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-ii Revision Street: Vanessa Roanhorse, 31 http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-31 <p><p><i>In our hyper-branded, if-you-like-this-you&rsquo;ll-also-like-this, 24-hour-news cycle culture, we forget how easy it is to specialize unthinkingly. Meaning: we narrow our own interests so severely that, for example, we no longer talk to our neighbors. We don&rsquo;t treat the foreclosures down the street as news. We don&rsquo;t think our individual circumstances can possibly reflect the same national or international concerns we glimpse on cable news or read on our RSS feeds. </i></p><p><i>And we forget how early it starts. How quickly and efficiently we narrow. Categorize. Dismiss. Until finally we are demanding of people: what is interesting about you? Why should I care?</i></p> <p><i>I&rsquo;d met Vanessa a number of times over the years, and exchanged pleasant enough conversation with her. Yet when I began </i>Revision Street: America<i>, she appeared on none of my initial lists of interview subjects. Simply put, I had no idea what she might have to say. Nor why I should care.</i></p><p><i>But </i>Revision Street<i> has been about allowing those things to be said anyway: finding place for them, granting them import. So I trundled down to her Pilsen home on a quiet weekend to listen. I'm not even sure why she let me.</i></p> <p><i>Our conversation gutted me. And I can think of no better way of signing off from </i>Revision Street<i>&mdash;even temporarily&mdash;than by asking you to listen, too.</i></p> <p>I&rsquo;ve lived here almost 10 years. I left for two years to California and then I came back. I don&rsquo;t count those two years in California because I was so unhappy there. I was editing. Nothing really big. Commercials, some short films here and there, some adult industry stuff for a short amount of time because it was good money and it was consistent. I really enjoyed editing but I think what happened was I just recognized that I wasn&rsquo;t gonna be a great editor. I didn&rsquo;t have that extreme perfectionism about the work. And I realized I didn&rsquo;t want do it anymore&hellip; so I quit, came back to Chicago and I don&rsquo;t even know how I ended up where I&rsquo;m at right now. This is now my chance to figure it out publicly, I guess.</p><p>You start off thinking you know who you&rsquo;re going to be in college and college tells you, You know <i>this</i>. Where I went to high school, they were all like, You can be the next president. I get why they do that, but I think I just figured out too quickly that I was gonna be a filmmaker/editor and that that&rsquo;s who I had to be. So after I took a break from it, which turned into quitting, I had no idea who I was supposed to be anymore.</p><p>Since the time you&rsquo;re about 17 to&mdash;I was about 26, 27&mdash;I spent time dreaming that this was what my life was gonna be about. I was kinda screwed for a while. I didn&rsquo;t really have any other skills [<i>laughs</i>]. I didn&rsquo;t really do graphic design, I didn&rsquo;t do a lot of writing anymore, and then I didn&rsquo;t have the tools&mdash;like if I wanted to get into photography again I didn&rsquo;t have the right tools for it. I just felt like I put myself into this corner with this like knowledge of information that was totally useless if I wasn&rsquo;t going to be editing [<i>laughs</i>]. So I just bounced around.</p><p>I had some really weird jobs: I tried to go back to the food industry, and I got a job at the first place that took me, which was this crappy little burger joint down the street. They must have missed that they had the worst people working for them at all times because they were so impressed that I was wiping down counters without them asking me. They were like, Wow you take so much initiative. Then about halfway through the day, they were like, Hey can you get the garbage out of the bathroom? I remember opening the bathroom and it smelled so terrible that I just started crying. A total breakdown. I&rsquo;m 26, I&rsquo;m cleaning the bathroom in a crappy burger joint making minimum wage. I guess in some circles of life you should just be grateful to have a job. I struggled with that because where I came from it&rsquo;s hard to find work. Living on a reservation, it&rsquo;s the worst. It&rsquo;s basically the ghetto without the city. So I felt like such a whiney baby, totally privileged, crying &lsquo;cause I have a job, but it was a total blow to my ego.</p> <p>I went to an upscale all-girls private school on the East Coast. I could have gone anywhere for college, but I went to Arizona because my mom wanted me closer. It&rsquo;s like this lead up, this mythology I had created about myself all got broken down in the bathroom of a burger joint on Milwaukee. It was really a dark time.</p> <p>After that I was like, I can&rsquo;t do this. I can&rsquo;t serve people anymore, I can&rsquo;t work for these large corporations any more. I was able to ignore what I was doing for a really long time, but then I turned 30 and four years had gone by. I thought, I don&rsquo;t know how this happened. I&rsquo;m 30 years old I have no ethical or moral solace. Then luckily a friend mentioned there was a job opening at her work. It was totally administrative, but I was like, I don&rsquo;t care.</p> <p>From 30 to 31 was the big push of evolving and growing and trying to be like, fuck that. I can&rsquo;t do that. Part of it is because I have a lot of family back home and everyone&rsquo;s at different stages in their lives. Whenever I talk to them, they&rsquo;re always saying, God, your life is so great. I mean it&rsquo;s not that I&rsquo;m trying to live up to their expectations, but I feel like I got lucky, I got an opportunity, but I was scared and so I wasn&rsquo;t doing anything about it. So 30 to 31 was totally life changing.</p> <p>That was just a year ago. I started doing more volunteer work, I started setting indigenous plants, in particular American Indian indigenous herbal stuff. It helps that my partner Blaine is an urban farmer, so he&rsquo;s always bringing books home and I get to read them. It was a really good year for me, so then I started working at the Delta Institute* and I can&rsquo;t tell you the shit I&rsquo;ve learned.</p> <p>It&rsquo;s so nice to be challenged on an everyday basis and enjoy what you&rsquo;re doing. The whole sustainable thing&mdash;I didn&rsquo;t realize that that&rsquo;s what I was doing already. You know, biking, trying to buy local, recycling and stuff like that. It&rsquo;s nice to be working with an organization that&rsquo;s doing it on such a larger scale. I don&rsquo;t know what it means for my future, but the eventual plan is, we&rsquo;re gonna move back, close to the reservation in two or three years, start our own farm, and do a native traditional agricultural program, a job training program to reteach my people how to grow the food they used to grow. That&rsquo;s the goal.</p> <p><em>* A nonprofit organization that works on environmental sustainability policies and practices in the Great Lakes area.</em></p></p> Mon, 22 Nov 2010 18:25:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/anne-elizabeth-moore/revision-street-vanessa-roanhorse-31