Shared in the April 6, 2020 NAP Weekly Newsletter
Contributed by Professor Maurice Crandall, Native American Studies
Lately I've been thinking about an experience I had a few years ago, which might furnish some words of wisdom, or at the very least, be an entertaining story (in a coyote kind of way). The year before I came to Dartmouth I had a postdoctoral fellowship in Dallas, Texas. Surprisingly, I really liked Dallas, but that's beside the point. In November of that year, we had an important tribal election, and a few of my family members were running for office. So, we planned a family reunion to coincide with election day. That way, we could get as many family members as possible to be present and vote. I made my way from Dallas to Arizona to support my family and community. The reunion was held at Montezuma Well, a place that is sacred to our people, as it is the opening from which our ancestors ascended from the underworld to our current world. Montezuma Well is on land administered by National Park Service. On the site, there are ancestral dwellings, which the NPS had designated off-limits, even to tribal members. But, for whatever reason, we were told that on that day we had permission to enter the ancestral areas. I took advantage of that, and made my offering to my ancestors in one of the structures just by the water's edge. One of the rangers was watching me with curiosity, and I told them what I was doing. Afterwards, I left without giving it another thought, and the reunion and election went swimmingly.
In fact, I didn't think about it at all until several weeks later when I got a call from the superintendent of the national monument where Montezuma Well is located. This individual accused me of illegally entering protected archeological areas. I explained that I was a tribal member, and that I had permission to enter those spaces that day. They were adamant that I had broken the law, and even insinuated that I was lying about having permission to enter my ancestors' spaces. The conversation ended frustratingly, but left me more resolved than ever. The next time I was back home, I went straight to the Well. I hiked down to the water. The park ranger who was present, who knows me by name, greeted me and asked where I was going. I told them I was entering my ancestral site and made my offering once again. And I plan to repeat this every time I'm back home in the future.
I tell you this story for one main reason, and that's to implore you: don't let anyone tell you that you don't belong. In your community, in sacred spaces, in society, even at Dartmouth. For too long, as Indigenous people, others have strictly circumscribed our movements, actions, and ways of being. I will say that you should be sheltered in place right now, socially-distanced from others, but generally speaking, live Indigenous and proud in the manner that you feel is right. You do belong, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.