The Longest Journey

Why should I go to graduate school? Is that a question you have asked yourself? Maybe you are a high school student, a college student, or a non-traditional student. Maybe you don’t even have your GED. Perhaps you are already settled into a career. If you have ever been bothered by stagnation, yearned to broaden your knowledge about subjects that you feel you have only begun to scratch the surface of and want to dive into, you my friend are like me. I have been told repeatedly that to know something is to have the responsibility to share that knowledge in order to share your experiences. We, especially as Native people, have unique experiences to bring to the table.

It is no question that I have trauma in my genes; trauma is all too common with Native students. In some cases this trauma is very recent; other times it is ongoing within our lives. I know I want to see that cycle broken. The challenge in obtaining not only a higher education but extending such education is that minorities experience even more roadblocks. But without getting too heavy, I want to share something that I heard recently from Dr. Dan Wildcat of Haskell Indian Nations University. I was at the National Native Health Research Training Conference in Denver and Dr. Wildcat said, “We are not training you to be nerds who just aspire to have letters behind your name, and not a great sense of humanity.” Think about that for a second. Apply it to your family, friends, and then remember the community. By investing in yourself—no matter your socioeconomic standing—by investing in your education, you are contributing to the resilience of Native communities.

Gone are the days of complaining of being left out. Gone is the time spent lamenting what agencies are failing our communities. You have power. Even those who cannot speak have a voice through us. We have power. The longest journey is the one a person takes from their heart to their mind, or vice versa. Something that I have been reminded of recently is that our health as Native people is the health of our environment, and this is true even on larger scales. This is why I am studying wildlife and fisheries. We cannot leave that burden in the backpacks of our youth. The weight within the backpacks of Native youth is heavy enough. So, what can you do?

Hard questions will soon need answering. Protecting cultural resources (i.e. intellectual property), natural resources, public health, and food sovereignty—we cannot leave these burdens for our children, our cultural responsibility does not allow that. We know this by acknowledging the protections and sacrifices our elders and ancestors have made. My Native communities lie in my heart, so I am expanding my knowledge through the boxes of universities and the circles of ceremonies and life. This expansion will embolden me to help Nitsitapi (all Native people), the communities, friends, and family I hold in my heart. And you’re never too old to continue to learn.

Celina Gray (Blackfeet and Little Shell Chippewa) is a student at Salish Kootenai College studying wildlife and fisheries.

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