Journal of American Indian Education
Volume 36 Number 1
"TWO PEOPLE": AN AMERICAN INDIAN NARRATIVE OF BICULTURAL IDENTITY
Michael Tlanusta Garrett
The United States consists of one of the most diverse populations in the world. The once popular notion of America as the great "melting pot" has given way to a growing awareness of the truly diverse and multicultural nature of this pluralistic society (Atkinson, Morten, & Sue, 1993). In the past 20 years, the United States has experienced social, cultural, and demographic changes that continue to shape the nature of American society as a population of many peoples (Herring, 1995). However, historical factors continue to act as a powerful influence on the experiences of many American Indian people.
Many authors have described the deliberate attempts throughout United
States history by mainstream American institutions such as government
agencies, schools, and churches to destroy the American Indian institutions
of family, clan, and tribal structure, religious belief systems and
practices, customs, and traditional way of life (Deloria, 1988; Heinrich,
Corbine, & Thomas, 1990; Locust, 1988; Reyhner & Eder, 1992).
Deloria (1988, p. 166) commented, "When questioned by an anthropologist
on what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian
said simply, 'Ours'." Characterized by institutional racism and
discrimination, there is a long history of misunderstanding of traditional
American Indian cultural values and beliefs on the part of the dominant
culture (Deloria, 1988; Locust, 1988). Five stages of U.S. government
policy have transpired which lead to the current state of sovereignty
of American Indian tribes (adapted from Heinrich et al., 1990, p. 129).
These five stages include (1) the removal period (1600s to 1840s) characterized
by the saying, "the only good Indian is a dead Indian"; (2)
the reservation period (1860 to 1920s) characterized by the saying,
"kill the Indian, but save the person"; (3) the reorganization
period (1930s to 1950s) with schools allowed on the reservation; (4)
the termination period (1950s to 1960s) with Relocation Programs intended
to achieve sociocultural integration in order to end dependence on the
federal government (resulted in the sale of large tracts of Indian lands
and increased poverty); and (5) the self-determination period (1973
to the present) with increased tribal sovereignty following a period
of American Indian activism.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the once abundant population of Native peoples had been reduced to 10% of its original size (Oswalt, 1988). Policies of extermination and seizure of lands were common in the history of the United States' interaction with American Indian tribes. Even after being forced onto reservation lands, many Indian families experienced disruption of their cultural traditions. Many American Indian children were deliberately taken from their homes and forced to attend boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their native language or practice their traditions. The children usually spent a minimum of eight continuous years away from their families and communities (Deloria, 1988; Herring, 1989; Sue & Sue, 1990).
American policies of assimilation have had a pervasive impact on Native
peoples and their way of life (Herring, 1989; Locust, 1988). The U.S.
citizenship of American Indians was not recognized until 1924 when the
Citizenship Act was passed (Deloria, 1988). In addition, American Indians'
religious freedoms were not recognized until 1978 when the American
Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed, guaranteeing Native peoples
the constitutional right to exercise their traditional religious practices
for the first time in over a century (Deloria, 1988; Loftin, 1989).
These are but a few examples of historical factors which have affected
American Indians psychologically, economically, and socially for generations.
Although the experiences of many American Indians have changed as circumstances
and policies changed, historical factors and the process of acculturation
remain as powerful influences on the lives of many Indian people faced
with difficult choices about who they are and how they want to live
(Herring, 1989; Little Soldier, 1985; Locust, 1988; Mitchum, 1989; Reyhner
& Eder, 1992; Sue & Sue, 1990).
In order to best understand the historical context and meaning of the American Indian experience with implications for the education of American Indian youth, it is important not only to understand the effects of acculturation, but to listen to the voices of the people who have lived the experiences and who are living the experiences now. The purpose of this article is to (a) discuss the process of acculturation experienced by many American Indian youth, (b) present the narrative of an American Indian elder as an illustration of bicultural identity development and the process of enculturation, given the influence of cultural conflicts and acculturation, and in doing so, (c) elaborate on the historical and contemporary context of a traditional Indian approach to the education of youth.
Acculturation has been described as:
. . . the cultural change that occurs when two or more cultures are in persistent contact. In this process, change may occur in each of the cultures in varying degrees. . . . A particular kind of acculturation is assimilation, in which one culture changes significantly more than the other culture and, as a result, comes to resemble it. This process is often established deliberately through force to maintain control over conquered peoples, but it can occur voluntarily as well. (Garcia & Ahler, 1992, p. 24)
For an individual person, acculturation might be indicative of "a process of giving up one's traditional cultural values and behaviors while taking on the values and behaviors of the dominant social structure" (Atkinson, Lowe, & Matthews, 1995, p. 13 1). Level of acculturation has been associated with patterns of conflict resolution, willingness to use counseling services, personality characteristics, educational achievement (Atkinson, Lowe, & Matthews, 1995; Suinn, Ahuna, & Khoo, 1992), and has been identified as a dimension which influences within-group cultural values (Carter, 1991).
Although many of the core traditional values permeate the lives of American Indians across tribal groups, American Indians are not a completely homogeneous group, differing greatly in their level of acceptance of and commitment to specific tribal values, beliefs, and practices through a variance of customs, language, and type of family structure. Four basic levels of acculturation have been identified for American Indians:
According to Little Soldier (1985), "marginal" American Indians are the ones most Rely to experience a variety of difficulties resulting from cultural conflict. "They may become trapped between their birthright and the dominant society, losing touch with the former but not feeling comfortable in the latter ... [leading to] conflicts and resulting in serious identity crises" (Little Soldier, 1985, p. 187). These are the Indian youth who are most likely to experience a sense of being "caught between two worlds" as they struggle for identity and a "sense of place" (Garrett, 1995). By contrast, bicultural Indian students are identified as having less personal, social, and academic difficulty because of their ability to effectively utilize a greater range in modes of social behavior and cultural communication that are appropriately employed in a variety of contexts and situations (LaFromboise & Rowe, 1983; Little Soldier, 1985) (see Figure 1).
Through enculturation, defined as "die process by which individuals learn their home culture" (Little Soldier, 1985, p. 185), many American Indian children learn traditional values, beliefs, and modes of behavior and communication as a primary frame of reference. In the school environment and elsewhere, however, American Indian students are oftentimes faced with pressure to compromise their basic cultural values and behaviors in order to successfully meet the expectations and standards of that context (Sanders, 1987). Hurlburt, Kroeker, and Gade (1991) reported a higher incidence of feelings of rejection, depression, and anxiety reported by American Indian students in comparison to other students. Around 5th and 6th grade, many American Indian students begin to withdraw, becoming sullen, resistant, and indolent (Sanders, 1987). The apparent decline of academic functioning and motivation in American Indian students along with corresponding personal and social difficulties has been attributed, in part, to the difficulty that many American Indian students have in reconciling existing cultural differences (Garcia & Allier, 1992; Little Soldier, 1985; Sanders, 1987; Tierney, 1992). According to Sue and Sue (1990), the split between American Indian tradition and mainstream expectations provides added stress to the already difficult challenge of identity formation. Consequently, cultural conflict has been hypothesized as a factor in the large percentage of American Indian students that drop out of school (Colodarci, 1983; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 1991; Sanders, 1987).
Researchers have discussed the significance of adolescence and early adulthood as a time of rapid changes occurring in physical, cognitive, and social growth (Bryde, 1972; Erikson, 1963; Erikson, 1968; Muuss, 1988; Smith, 1991; Sprinthall, 1988). Erikson's (1968) theory of identity development emphasized the need for individuals to complete certain developmental tasks during specific developmental stages in order to maintain a healthy personality and successfully progress through subsequent developmental stages. Adolescence has been characterized by Erikson (1968) as the stage of "identity versus identity confusion" in which the individual's developmental task is to establish a meaningful sense of personal identity. Identity achievement implies that the individual must assess his or her personal strengths and weaknesses to determine the best way of establishing a sense of congruence with his or her self-concept (Muuss, 1988). This involves answering such questions as, "Where did I come from? Who am I? What do I want to become?" The inability to sufficiently answer such questions, according to Erikson (1968) results in identity confusion, which is accompanied by feelings of alienation, isolation, and uncertainty.
Cultural values and the influence of acculturation as a mediating factor in the process of identity development is of critical importance for American Indian youth (Deyhle, 1992; Hornett, 1990; Sanders, 1987). According to LaFromboise, Coleman, and Gerton (1993, p. 399), "it is possible for an individual to have a sense of belonging in two cultures without compromising his or her sense of cultural identity." Brendtro, Brokenleg, and Van Bockern (1990), have suggested that in order to establish a healthy cultural identity, American Indian youth must find ways of satisfying the need for purpose through a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. The process of acculturation experienced by many Indian students from early adolescence to early adulthood influences not only their definition of themselves as individuals, but also affects their social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual well-being (Cummins, 1992; Little Soldier, 1985; Mitchum, 1989; Tierney, 1992). This presents an additional challenge for Native American youth in achieving a meaningful sense of personal/cultural identity through bicultural competence, defined as the ability of an individual to effectively utilize "dual modes of social behavior that are appropriately employed in different situations" (LaFromboise & Rowe, 1983, p. 592). In order to be culturally competent, according to LaFromboise et al. (1993), an individual must:
(a) possess a strong personal identity, (b) have knowledge of and facility with the beliefs and values of the culture, (c) display sensitivity to the affective processes of the culture, (d) communicate clearly in the language of the given cultural group, (e) perform socially sanctioned behavior, (f) maintain active social relations within the cultural group, and (g) negotiate the institutional structures of that culture. (p. 396)
Thus, the biculturally competent individual possesses a high degree of resiliency through a strong sense of him- or herself in one or more cultural contexts. Understanding the experience of the biculturally competent individual becomes important in understanding what it means to cross cultural boundaries, and how to best work with others who also must cross these boundaries successfully.
For many American Indian tribes or nations, the oral tradition of storytelling serves as an important educational method for conveying traditional values, beliefs, and expectations (Duryea & Potts, 1993; Garrett, 1991; Oswalt, 1988). It is through stories that many American Indian people learn, and it is through learning that we come to an understanding of ourselves, the world around us, and our relationship to everything in that world. Soliciting a person's story involves creating an opportunity to understand that person's life-experience as he or she understands it (Riessman, 1993). With any given story, the importance of relationship cannot be overlooked. This includes "neither the 'objective' (structure) nor the 'subjective' (culture) but the relationship between them; neither past nor present, but the relationship between them; neither dominant memory nor commonplace understandings, but the relationship between them; neither the personal/individual nor large-scale changes, but the relationship between them" (Casey, 1993, p. 12). Given these many relationships, the narrator must make decisions about framing the text concerning "the emphasis to be placed on particular elements, the way in which the elements are to be assembled for presentation, and the underlying set of assumptions..." (Casey, 1993, p. 25).
Framing, according to Casey (1993), depends upon the narrator's worldview which is "inextricably bound up with its relationship to other worldviews (in a system of intertextuality)" (p. 26). The narrator has understandings and interpretations (how they tell their story as well as what they tell) within particular contexts that allows his or her development of self, understandings of others, and responses to existing social arrangements. The narrator communicates through language, defined as "the way in which human beings make meaning, as well as worldviews that have been socially constructed in that process" (Casey, 1993, p. 3). This communication as narrative also relates the narrator's worldview and culture as a perceptual lens through which the person views the world. The focus of the narrative approach is on understanding meanings communicated through language by particular persons in relation to particular contexts. As one Indian elder put it, "in order to truly know your place in the Circle, you must recognize where you stand in relation to everything around you."
Racial-ethnic-cultural identity development has been defined as the progressive awareness and pride in one's racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage (Sue & Sue, 1990). Bicultural identity development, however, is a more complex process as described by the five stage model, adapted from Herring (1995) and Poston (1990). The stages of bicultural identity development include (a) personal identity, (b) choice, (c) denial/confusion, (d) appreciation, and (e) integration. Progression through the various stages of bicultural identity development is neither unilinear nor smooth for persons who may experience their unique circumstances as "marginal people." People enculturated in one culture, but required to function in another, experience a dual existence in two cultural realms, yet may not be completely accepting or accepted in either cultural realm. They are, however, in a unique position of either being able to or being forced to choose an identity.
The respondent, J. T. Garrett, Ed.D., M.P.H., member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, was selected for the uniqueness of his cultural/ethnic background which includes a wealth of experience in both mainstream and traditional American Indian cultural realms. Dr. Garrett is the current Health Director for Carteret County in North Carolina and the former Director of Health Care Administration for the Indian Health Service (IHS), U.S. Public Health Service. He is also the past deputy director of the North Carolina Commission of Indian Affairs; he served for a number of years as the administrator of the Cherokee Indian Hospital, and worked at one time as a director of safety and industrial hygiene in private industry. With public health as his primary concern, he brings not only his academic and professional experience, but also his training in Indian Medicine from his grandfather, Oscar Walkingstick Rogers, and other Medicine elders including the late, Doc Amoneeta Sequoyah. From the traditional frame of reference, he speaks the Cherokee language, is recognized by tribal members as a Medicine person, and works with people who come to him for guidance and for Medicine, In addition, he teaches others in traditional ways to preserve the Cherokee heritage for future generations. Dr. Garrett describes himself as having over 35 years of experience in Indian Medicine. He was raised on the Qualla Boundary (Cherokee Indian reservation) in western North Carolina.
The interview was conducted in a 2-hour session in which Dr. Garrett
was asked to discuss his life-story in terms of how he had come to be
the person that he is today: "Who are you? Tell me stories, if
you will, relating your understanding of how you came to be the person
that you are today." When asked to describe who he was and tell
stories relating to the development of that identity, Dr. Garrett chose
to describe the many lessons he learned "coming into the Medicine."
What follows are the stages of bicultural identity development illustrated
by complete excerpts from Dr. Garrett's narrative grouped according
to the major themes which emerged.
1) Personal Identity
What is in a name.
You gotta understand the stories.
Another thing that I remember is that grandpa, grandpa Oscar Rogers, he kind of liked pretty girls, but he wouldn't look at them too much. He'd kind of took down, kind of glance over, and look a little bit. And he'd say, "There's a certain way to look at a pretty woman." Boy I wanted to know how to do that cause I didn't want to get myself in trouble. One time, I really saw this pretty woman, and I was kind of looking. He said, "kind of like that eh?" And I said, "Oh, no sir, I'm not looking at, at what you think I'm looking at..." And he said, "well I'm not looking either, that's the reason I look down, and I just take a glance over, see." The reason that was special to me was because he said "what I do is I keep it in my mind," he said, "I just take a glance, and I keep it in my mind." I thought, well I gotta keep it in my mind, so it was real important for me to keep things in my mind. So I'd make pictures, I'd draw pictures, and I used to draw a lot when I was real young. And I'd spend a lot of time, because I knew that I couldn't remember these plants, so I'd draw pictures of them. Mom probably still has some of the pictures I drew of plants. I learned a lot about plants. Plants always seemed to be an influence for me in my life.
Seeking the way that is natural.
Another one I remember, being influenced by the plants, was that one time I had an earache, and one of my uncles, matter of fact, I think it was uncle Charles, who had a lot of drinking problems, I had such an earache, and I was hurting, and I was holding my ear, and he said, "What's going on there?" And I said, "Well, I got an earache." He said, "Shoot, that's no problem." He said, "What did your momma do for you?" And I said, "Momma's not around, and grandma's cookin" because she was a short order cook too. Everybody worked doing something so they could bring an income into the family. And he said, "Ahh, it's no problem," he said, "let's find one of those puff balls." I said, "What?" He said, "You know, puff ball" he said, "you ever stepped on one of those things, and they go pweeskhkt." He said, "It's a little brown thing on the ground, and you look for them in the woods." And sure enough, we went into the woods, and sure enough, there were these little brown things, and he just kind of opened one up and took that stuff and put it down in my ear. Needless to say, I didn't have any idea that it had antibacterial properties, and that's basically what it was. He said, "If we had some distilled water, we could put it in some distilled water, but you don't want to put this water in cause it's got all that stuff in it, you don't want to put nothing like that in your ear, it'll just make it worse."
At an early age, I learned to know how to take care
of myself in natural ways, and to seek natural ways. And I used to always
drink tea. I can remember drinking tea. We didn't have tea bags, we
used to get tea in bulk. And you would make your own bag. There was
a certain cloth my grandma would buy, and we would just cut it up and
tie it up and make our own tea bags, and then we would mix up whatever
we wanted to. As an example, if I had a sore throat or a cough, she'd
get some black cherry or wild cherry bark, and she'd mix up some plantain
leaf, I mean just putting different things together in a tea bag, and
seep that, and that's what we would take. I was influenced by all these
It's not the medicine that does the work.
Crossing the bridge.
All of a sudden, my dad's business got into trouble. He decided that it was time for us to move back to the mountains. I was, by that time, about a senior in high school. You can imagine, I was in my last half of the year, my senior year in high school, leaving all my friends, of course, I had moved away before, so it wasn't that big a deal, but leaving my girlfriend, I had a girlfriend. That's pretty traumatic. But it's like, when we went to the mountains, it's like going into a fairy land, I don't know how to describe it otherwise. It's almost as though the feeling I had was that that was the real world out there, in Fernandina, and I was going into this magic land. I wasn't there about six months, cause I had just graduated from high school, I ran into a lady by the name of Mary. And Mary said that the Medicine Man wanted to see me, he knew that I was Oscar's boy, his grandson. I had no idea who the Medicine Man was. I had this image of this old guy sitting there with long gray hair, long beard, I don't know, I could not imagine. And maybe I was pretty much influenced by the cowboy and Indian era too. Cause the Indians wouldn't say much, they weren't too bright, you know, as portrayed in the pictures. And the cowboys had all the answers. Well lo and behold did I finally realize that the cowboys were a bunch of loudmouth know-it-alls, compared to another kind of knowledge and understanding that all of the sudden I was faced with. And the reason that I say that so strongly on the cowboy side is that cowboys had all the answers, they had all the control, they just killed everybody, they killed all the Indians and saved the little white lady with the golden hair, etc.
When I first met the Medicine Man, the first time I
met him, I just saw him from a distance, that's as far as I was supposed
to get. He just wanted to see me. I thought that was strange. Then maybe
the second time, third time, somehow or another, I do remember him saying,
"Yep, that's Oscar's boy, no question about it." Then, it
was like, I'm okay. But I also remember him saying, "boy, he sure
is white" (laughing). Now what was strange about that was that
I used to tan real easy, and I stayed dark all the time. In Fernandina,
they would make comments about me being a renegade. So they used to
make comments about me being Indian, I just never thought much about
it. And I thought, wow, I look white, gee, I've got a sun tan and everything.
But you'd have to see this old man, he was really dark (laughing). He
was really dark. Had that dark black hair, and still wouldn't talk to
So once again, the plants became a part of my life. Now here I am, seventeen, eighteen years of age, and finally Mary came down one day and she said, "The Medicine Man wants to talk to you." And also, another Medicine Man wanted to talk to me too, his name was William Hombuckle. And William Hombuckle was the one that Shirley told me he would take me back and teach me plants. So about everything I ever learned about plants, I learned from either Shirley, or my mom, or William Hornbuckle. As an example, now here I was going to school, but I was commuting and working, but every time I'd get a chance, I'd run up and William and I would go up in the mountains. He had a "sang patch" he called it, it was ginseng, but he'd say, "Hey, let's go up to the sang patch," and this was wild ginseng, and that's the first time I was introduced to ginseng. I'd never even heard of it before. But we would walk, literally walk fifteen miles back in those mountains to get to the "sang patch." And he'd say, "Nobody knows where this is, you gotta be careful cause there's diggers all over the place." I didn't know what a digger was until I asked mama, or grandma. And she said, "Well, diggers are people who took for wild ginseng" cause they would sell it, make money off of it. And I thought, wow, why would anybody pull up the plants to make money? I don't understand that. I didn't have a concept in my mind of somebody pulling up these beautiful plants, just drying out and selling them, just to make money.
Anyway, we would go up the trail, and he would always take me what he called "the wet ridges" to get up on the high side and then come down on the dry side. He would always look for special plants, and he'd say, "Now these are special plants." I didn't realize this until, one day, I was trying to identify all the plants that I knew, by the time I was a junior in college, but it was about 65. Sixty-five doesn't seem like such a large number, compared to the Medicine Man who probably knew the use and used some 250 plants. But I didn't realize, I had actually learned how to use and identify 65 plants. Those were ones that I wouldn't necessarily use for medicine, but I knew the medicinal value of those, and how to put the remedies together. You'd never pull a plant unless it was the fourth one, and you would always try to find the one on the east side if there was an east side. For the north side plants, it was for certain purposes. If it was a west side plant, in other words, if it was growing in the direction of the west, you would use it for some physical ailment. And that's the way I learned the concept of the four directions.
The fact that four was a sacred number, I realized that
because you'd always pick the fourth plant, that I would always leave
three. And if you had an emergency where you really had to have a plant,
and there was two there, you'd go ahead and take the one just for that
emergency purpose, as long as there's one. If you had an emergency,
somebody's dying, and there's only one plant, you didn't take it, cause
what was more important, the life of that, or the life of the plant?
So you'd have to run around and scurry to find another patch where there
would be more plants. Now that never happened to me, but you know, that
was when I learned that, as William Hornbuckle would say, humans were
the last beings to come from the spirit world, and so, therefore, we
were probably the most ignorant of all the beings. The smartest spirit
beings were the plants and the animals, and there were different stages
of evolution of development; and that evolution of development was based
on spirituality, not on how long something was around. But I learned
some very natural biology lessons from him such as, he would talk about
"in the beginning."
I had no idea that I would ever be thought of as a Medicine Man. That was the furthest thing from my mind. But I do remember, in going to school, some of the kids would tease me about my grandfather, who was a Medicine Man. My mother never called him a Medicine Man, she always said he's just a strong spiritual man. And even to this day, I'd say, "Mom, was he ever a Medicine Man?" but she said, "No, but he went to church, and he was a strong spiritual man, he knew all about hunting, he knew about the animals and the plants, he was in touch with Mother Earth, and he knew special things." Some time later, and maybe this occurred just a few years ago, I asked my grandmother about this, and she said, "Well, the reason for that is there was a period of time when Medicine Men were important people in the tribe, they were looked up to and recognized as being special and holy, and spiritual, but with the influence of the white man, what happened was, as modem medicine came in, the Medicine Men were looked down upon as having snake oil cures, and stuff like that" and lost a lot of recognition and respect among tribal members because of two influences: one, not just modem medicine, but somebody having something like this "builet" [pill] to help a person, or this special shot that would take the problem away, but also Christianity, religion, because, according to my grandmother, a lot of times, you know, they'd say the Medicine Man was doing bad things, whereas the minister or priest was doing good things, and that was a strong influence. So since my grandfather was recognized in the church, it was very important for him to be recognized as a "spiritual man." But I know a lot of people would go to him for Medicine.
The next thing that happened was that I was invited to join this very special circle of people to learn the Medicine. And I was the only "mixed breed." All the rest of them were full-bloods. And I was even told one time by William Hornbuckle, he was mixed by the way too, that he could never be a Medicine Man because he was a mixed breed. He knew the herbs and he'd get the herbs for the Medicine Men, and people would come him, but that he really could not call himself a Medicine Man because he did not go through the orientation with one of the seven original Medicine people. I think what made my apprenticeship different is that I did learn under one of the last original Medicine Men of the tribe, and that was Doc Amoneeta Sequoyah, and Doc Sequoyah was one of the old Medicine Men. I used to get teased a lot about that, people would say, you know, "He's an old fool, you shouldn't be spending your time with him, all he does is talk about the stuff in the past, we need to go forward and be modem."
And I didn't realize, all the years that I worked with him, even up to the time that he passed on, and I believe that was in 1987, here I went out on my own, I went in the Navy, went to Vietnam, came out and all of a sudden, it was like I was going to Fernandina beach again, I was going to get a job in modem industry and move out into the outer world. But I kept being drawn back. I just had this sense, and I had many visions come to me that I was to go and I was to study the Medicine, and that I wasn't going to be a Medicine Man on the reservation. I would really be one that would "bridge the gap," that I would be one to share, help others understand and appreciate so that we could bring the Medicine back. The idea was not to bring "the Medicine" back but to bring the integrity and reputation of Good Medicine back so that people would honor and respect and appreciate what the elders and the elder Medicine Men had actually brought to us. And if you think about it, people survived many, many generations long before "modem medicine."
You're this and you're that.
I think who I am, is that I truly am two people, matter
of fact, Doc Amoneeta Sequoyah used to call me "Gagoyoti"
in other words, "two people." In Cherokee, that's a way of
saying, well, you're this and you're that. For me, a lot of my conflicts
in earlier years were because I wasn't sure who I was. Was I Indian,
was I white, you know, what was a mixture of a person, where did I belong?
I knew deep down inside, I didn't belong with that class of people who
felt that they were better than others. And I knew that the people that
I came from, the Cherokees, there was something very special.
In his narrative, Dr. Garrett speaks of the way in which he learned to use his mind to create pictures through visualization, the importance of seeking natural ways, and what it means to walk a bridge between two worlds. Within this narrative, one can see movement through the stages of biracial identity development (personal identity, choice, denial/confusion, appreciation, integration), from the confusion of youth to the wisdom and integration of age through a continuous process of reconciling the values, expectations, and practices of two different cultures. One can see the influences of both the enculturation. of a traditional Indian way of life, and acculturation to mainstream values, beliefs, and expectations. One can see the strong influences of family relationships, stories, and natural approaches as Dr. Garrett reconciles his mixed racial heritage and the pressure of conflicting value systems in a gradual movement away from American popular culture (and media-propagated stereotypes) to a traditional way of life practiced by Cherokee people for generations. Dr. Garrett's narrative illustrates the importance of naming, family influences through the oral tradition, natural approaches to life and healing, life lessons in perspective and individual choice, movement between worlds (symbolic of movement back and forth along the bridge that connects the physical world and spirit world), and integrating all aspects of oneself into a unified whole in order to fulfill one's purpose of "bridging the gap" between worlds as the major themes that emerged in a description of his own identity.
The purpose of this article was to present the narrative of an American Indian as an illustration of one who has achieved a degree of bicultural competence by moving through the stages of bicultural identity development, and in doing so, to elaborate on the historical and contemporary context of a traditional Indian approach to the education (enculturation) of children in the way of the Medicine. Dr. Garrett is one example of an American Indian person who has had to deal with value conflicts and make a choice about who he is, what he believes, what he values, what he practices, and how he deals with the expectations of others/society. Dr. Garrett relates, through his narrative, what it means to him to be Indian through emphasis on the oral tradition of storytelling, strong family relationships, and a natural approach to way of life and healing, among other things.
By elaborating on the life-experiences of what once could be described as a "marginal" Indian youngster of the 1940s and 50s, one gets a better sense of the influences, challenges, choices, themes, and worldview of an American Indian individual who has managed to live, what for him is a "successful" way of life, in two sometimes opposing cultural realms. By achieving a better understanding of the self of one narrator in a particular social and historical context, educators, researchers, and helping professionals place themselves in a position of better understanding the context, and various idiosyncratic systems of meaning attributed to that context. This project illustrates the importance of utilizing narratives as a powerful form of inquiry into the subjective-level experiences, realities, and understandings of American Indian youth, given the many issues and challenges of achieving a meaningful personal/cultural identity.
In a traditional approach, as we turn to the life-stories of our elders and youngsters alike, we get a better sense of where we have come from as Indian people, and where we are going. We see the powerful influences of different systems of education, exemplified through mainstream American and traditional Indian values, beliefs, and expectations. We see the continuity of the Circle of Life in stories of images and experiences that flow from the heart, and we begin to arrive at a better understanding of where we stand in relation to everything around us. We begin to understand the importance of attending to the stories the meanings, language, experiences, images, and themes-of our Indian youth. And we begin to learn, as it has traditionally been taught to us by our elders, that education is a life-long process, just as a story unfolds, and offers the gift of its life to us.
Michael Tlanusta Garrett, Ph.D., Eastern Band of Cherokee, grew up on the Cherokee Indian reservation in the mountains of western North Carolina. Currently an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Special Education, and Child Development at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Dr. Garrett has authored or coauthored numerous works including the recently published book, Medicine of the Cherokee: The Way of Right Relationship.
The author wishes to thank Dr. J. T. Garrett for his willingness to tell history. A special thanks also goes to Dr. Kathleen Casey for her encouragement in the process of listening to the stories that people have to tell.
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