Me - Holly, you have an interesting story. Up until a couple years ago, you knew very little about your heritage. Would you care to share a little about what led up to your discovery a couple years ago?
Holly - Sure, yeah! My mom told me all the time when I was little that we were native, but that our nation had almost completely died out and that we were some of the last of the tribe. I grew up surrounded by Native art and certain customs that my mom picked up from her grandma. That was all I had to work with.
A couple of years ago, Jeff took me to the Chattanooga powwow because I'd never been. And I saw the arena director(who turned out to be Lorie's husband, Jimmy!) had on a medallion with the seal of my nation on it! So I caught him and talked to him, told him my story. He probably thought I was nuts, considering that we're the fourth largest tribe in the US. I started researching, learning everything I could about my own family. I come from two chiefs, a judge, and several councilmen. And I had no idea until a couple of years ago. I'm still learning, I'm working on the language, customs, etiquette.. There's a lot to work through.
Me - That's really an amazing story and just a huge blessing that you ran into someone at the powwow that was able to give you that place to jump into and discover more about your tribe and into your families heritage as well. Being raised the way you were, with thinking that most of your tribe had died out and having some customs and art in your house growing up, but in our conversation you told me you were raised more "white" right? Yet you're learning as much as you can now, what has that been like?
Holly - I was definitely very lucky, especially to have met someone so welcoming.
When I was growing up, my father was a tyrant. He is extremely racist, he mocks other races and culture mercilessly. I think growing up seeing his antics made me very conscious of what I'd been deprived of, which was basically my entire identity and knowing about my nation. I was definitely raised white and I resent it deeply.
Learning everything later in life sucks. It's hard. It's so easy to misstep and offend someone just by being ignorant of some obscure rule. You get laughed at, you aren't seen as native, you're basically an outcast to most of the tribe. But I think there's an upside in that you can't take who you are for granted. There's too much time and effort and heart put into discovering who you are and what the community means to you. People raised right don't have this bizarre and meaningful journey they had to take to find their folks. I'm glad I have that.
Me - The journey definitely has it's own merits and really brings about a different admiration and respect of the things you learn. Being raised "white" but learning our cultures later in life, we've seen things the other way and I think we appreciate what we're learning and makes us treasure it more.
You and I talked a little bit about this at our shoot. I shared how I've been super nervous about talking about my heritage because I don't know specific details because of the things in the census and how I've not wanted to be seen as "that white guy", with you really connecting with your people later in life, how did you go about connecting with them in a respectful way. I know meeting Jimmy at the powwow, but I'm sure you were just wanting to learn and digest all that you could as fast as you could. I know that you have to slow down and not get in a hurry as well because you want to show that your truly care and are respectful. How did you balance that?
Holly - One of the big things I've learned and am still learning is that sometimes you have to just wait to be taught. I may have a million questions but there are only certain ones that are appropriate and there are only certain people I'm able to ask. Ricky, I can't tell you just how blessed I am that my mentor is also one of my closest friends. That makes a huge difference. She knows my heart, my motives, and how obnoxiously curious I am about EVERYTHING. Getting to know her before I started asking the sensitive questions was a big reason I'm where I'm at in my learning. You've got to have a teacher that understands how precious you consider the traditions and language and religion to be.
Having said that, I have definitely asked the wrong person the wrong thing at the wrong time and been just absolutely humiliated. It's just one of those things that happens and will continue to happen for probably the rest of my life. Haha.
Me - I definitely think patience is the key. Similar to you, someone I consider to be my mentor has become probably my closest friend. Learning that time and patience is key is something he's being working to teach me. Anything worth something takes time to achieve. What is something that you have learned so far that has surprised you?
Holly - My biggest surprise was how alive our culture and religion still is. We have our superstitions and myths that are still told to children in the Mvskoke language, we have our traditional clothes. Our religion is thriving, I've still got a long way to go there. Having come from knowing nothing to where I am now, the biggest shock to me was the superstition surrounding owls. They're shape shifters, bad omens.. I love owls and it made me sad to learn this.
Me - Wow, That must be tough for one of your favorite animals to end up being a bad omen. I've learned a few things in regards to my culture that have been a surprise as well. That is wonderful that you're learning and being open to a different belief system, religion wise. A lot of people are raised that THIS is the only way to believe, that when you get shown a different way, it's hard to be open to a new way of believing, a new way of looking at things. Were you raised with a different set of beliefs? If so, how have you worked with learning the Mvskoke religion with what you were raised?
Holly - My father was a tyrant, he forced us to go to a Pentecostal church of god when I was little. I can remember being terrified of the pastor because he was always shouting, people passed out and spoke in tongues.. I had a constant fear of going to hell. It was miserable. The Mvskoke religion is still very new to me, I love going to stomp dances and I feel powerful and humbled all at one time when I'm with my people.
I just shed Christianity last year. It wasn't a gradual thing, either, it was like I woke up one morning and just did not believe in Christianity.
Me - Man, I can really relate to what you're saying. I was raised in a Christian church, and a very strict family. It wasn't like a tyrant type thing for me. Church wasn't something I was terrified of, for me personally I just saw a lot of hypocritical things. I spent a lot of my time in the woods and I was just always at peace with God until I quit spending so much time in the woods. When church became my only connection to God, i struggled tremendously. I would either be extremely religious or a screw it all mentality. I never could connect until this past fall after I met Wes and he recommended Russell Mean's book and it reminded me of a lot of the beliefs I had on my own as a kid