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Discovering Your Identity as an Indigenous Woman Who Does Not Resemble Native Appearance

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Discovering Your Identity as an Indigenous Woman Who Does Not Resemble Native Appearance

At the age of seven, I realized that having blonde hair among my dark-haired Choctaw lineage was quite unusual. While spending time with my grandparents and joining them at bowling league tournaments, I became known as my grandmother’s granddaughter from out of state. Yet, I encountered surprise when a friend of hers playfully questioned my relation, expressing doubt that a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl could be her relative. This marked my initial understanding of the challenges of being the non-physically indigenous granddaughter of an Indigenous woman.

Although legally recognized as Native and a Choctaw Nation member, I struggled to fully embrace this identity as I grew up. My physical appearance did not outwardly reflect my Choctaw heritage, leading me to feel like a whitewashed version of my family. It wasn’t until later in life, especially during my years as a parent, that I realized how deeply these differences and insecurities had influenced my self-perception and parenting approach.

My lineage traces back to the early 1800s, with my ancestors being among the initial Indigenous people to endure the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. Before the establishment of Oklahoma in 1907, my great, great grandfather, Gilbert Wesley Dukes, served as Chief of the Choctaw Nation. Despite my understanding of my background, I struggled with imposter syndrome. During my teenage years, I became acutely aware of the contrast between my curly blonde hair and my family members’ appearance in photographs, prompting me to undertake the challenging process of coloring and straightening my hair, particularly difficult in the early 2000s before suitable hair care products were available.

As I write this, I am adorned with beautiful Native beaded earrings that provide me with a sense of belonging and connection. These earrings have helped me feel whole and deeply connected to my Choctaw heritage, despite denying this part of my identity for the past 33 years.

Influences in Childhood and Embracing Indigenous Roots

While Louisiana is my home, my family’s heritage has deeply influenced me despite not living in Oklahoma like the rest of my relatives. I spent my summers in Council Hill, Oklahoma, learning to drive on gravel roads, celebrating the Fourth of July with family, and enjoying dances at the community center. Family gatherings during Thanksgiving emphasized the paramount importance of family, and I fondly recall the presence of Native figurines and artwork in my grandparents’ home, even though discussions about our heritage were not overt.

I vividly remember my grandmother expressing a desire to have learned the Chahta language during her childhood, and this memory remains deeply significant to me. However, at that time, I lacked the self-awareness to comprehend the significance of her words.

Embracing and Exploring Indigenous Roots

Becoming aware of the challenges faced by Indigenous communities was a profound and humbling experience for me. Despite my heritage being diluted and the unfair advantage granted by my white-passing appearance, I am committed to learning and empathizing with the struggles of Native communities.

Educating My Family about Our Culture

Motivated to change the narrative, I have taken on the responsibility of educating myself about Choctaw culture, its history, and the current issues impacting tribal communities. I am dedicated to passing this knowledge to my children, who are the final generation eligible to legally claim their Native heritage. I want them to take pride in their origins, love every part of themselves, and confidently embrace their heritage, a journey that took me most of my life to understand.
Adapting to my children’s interests has been effective in sharing Choctaw culture and history with them. For instance, my son’s fascination with factual information has led to in-depth discussions about historical events such as the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears, while my daughter’s love for vibrant fashion has prompted us to explore Native-owned clothing and jewelry.

Preserving Language and Sharing Family Stories

Although the Chahta language is endangered, I am committed to learning as much as possible alongside my son, demonstrating our dedication to preserving this vital aspect of our heritage. Additionally, I have cherished the opportunity to share family stories with my children, allowing them to learn about their ancestors and the experiences that have shaped our family.

Strengthening Family Bonds and Embracing Heritage

Initiating discussions about our Choctaw heritage has fostered a deeper connection with my father, providing an avenue for us to explore our family history and engage in ongoing conversations about our tribe and ancestral stories.

Empowerment and Advocacy

Overcoming self-doubt and reconciling my physical appearance with my Choctaw lineage has been a part of my journey. I am determined to use my privileged position to raise awareness about important issues such as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign and contemporary cultural genocide, demonstrating my commitment to advocating for Indigenous communities.

In conclusion, embracing our history and heritage is essential in preserving our identity and ensuring that our voices are heard. My journey has been one of self-discovery and empowerment, and I aspire to empower others to embrace their identity and heritage, just as I have done.

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