By Elizabeth Rule, grade 12, Chickasaw
2008 Reconnecting The Circle Essay Winner
My mother carried me into the Circle before I could walk, my father taught me how to Two-Step as soon as I could walk, and now, as a young Chickasaw woman, I spend all summer on the powwow trail dancing Southern Traditional. For the past seventeen years of my life, I have seen aspects of the Native community change and have noticed the individual characteristics of each powwow. However, there is a common thread that binds the generations, locations, tribes, and traditions together: patriotism. It is important to understand that Indian Country expresses patriotism in unique ways and for equally unique reasons, personally affecting my life as a tribal member and the way I perceive my community.
The most obvious expression of patriotism among Native Americans in my community and family is the flag song and honoring of veterans that have become protocol at a majority of powwows. I have experienced the atmosphere shift from light-hearted to serious, respectful, and reflective when the drum releases its first note of the flag song. People stand a little straighter, the shuffling quiets, and even the darting eyes of children glaze as they are transported back to the old times for the duration of the song. Next, the emcee requests that all veterans enter the circle so that they may receive the respect and honoring they deserve. As the men and women, some old, some young, some in wheelchairs, some using canes, some who served sixty years ago, and some who just came home, make their way into the arena, one can expect to hear, roaring over the microphone, “Ladies and gentlemen, give our veterans a round of applause! Please keep clapping until every man or woman who has served our country enters! Though your hands may grow tired, think of how weary these valiant citizens became as they fought for the United States of America! Please, ladies and gentlemen, keep your hands moving!” Instantaneously, a thunderous wave of applause overtakes the arena! It is as if every person present completely understands the magnitude of the service our veterans have provided. Not only do Native Americans express their patriotism at every gathering, they inspire the most enthusiastic and elaborate expression that I have ever witnessed.
The importance of patriotism to Native Americans extends beyond mere pride in the United States—it represents unity, identity, and the reconnection of the circle. When attending a powwow, one notices that the tribal flags are carried in with the American flag, symbolizing a common bond between all Native Americans. Though various tribes have different traditions, customs, and beliefs, all American Indians, regardless of tribal affiliation, are, first and foremost, Americans. When our land became dominated by settlers, people with vastly different ways of life, much of our identity as Native people was lost due to legal bans on our practices, the negative connotation of being Native American, and mandatory assimilation into European culture. However, we were able to withstand these difficulties and overcome these obstacles. Native Americans are still alive and well, proudly expressing our heritage, and passing down our sacred ways through the generations. It is important to come together as Native and non-Native people in order to ensure that our rich and beautiful culture is not forgotten or lost in time. Through patriotism, we must continue in our efforts to reconnect the circle and work with our fellow Americans for the accomplishment of a common goal—a bright future.
As a tribal member, the patriotism expressed by Native Americans has affected my life by instilling a strong sense of pride in my heritage and, consequentially, inspiring me to work for my people and express my pride and patriotism to others. My desire to serve my people has become apparent in my life through my involvement in recreational cultural events and opportunities to inform the public. In the past two years I have dedicated my time to serving as a guest speaker for Diversity Day at my high school, presenting to an elementary school, and participating in an educational day at a local heritage center. The motives behind such actions are to educate the public about my beautiful culture, promote the diversity, and address stereotypes in order to build strong bonds between all American citizens. The more the public is educated , the more people recognize the value and beauty of diversity, and the more common misconceptions are corrected, the more we will be able to reconnect the circle as Americans, Native and non-Native, and increase patriotism.
My perspective of my community has been influenced by patriotism in that I am surrounded by a sense of unity through this commonality. I truly feel that patriotism is the glue that binds my community together. Though I do not live in an area with many other Native Americans, I know that I am free to express myself, my culture, and my traditions and do so without fearing that I would be judged. It provides an opportunity for the young and the elderly, the rich and the poor, the Natives and the non-Natives, and people from various backgrounds, who have different cultures, traditions, values, and beliefs to unite and share the emotions and aspirations inspired by patriotism. When walking down any street in my community, the most common characteristic of the houses are the American flags that proudly wave from nearly every porch. I think about the people that live in each house and the vast amount of differences between each of them. However, there is always at least one shared aspect of my neighbors: pride in the United States of America.
Understanding the importance of patriotism in Indian Country is vital to understanding the actions and identity of an entire ethnic group and the unity of the United States as a whole. The elaborate expression of patriotism, particularly at powwows, demonstrates the unity between Native Americans, despite location, tribal affiliation, age, or beliefs. Though patriotism is paramount among American Indians, it also serves as a common thread between all Americans, Native or non-Native. My life has been affected by the expression of patriotism because it has inspired me to express my heritage and to be proud to call myself a Chickasaw woman. Despite the countless differences that exist between the members of my community, I know that we are united in our pride as Americans. My tribe is commonly referred to as “Unconquered and Unconquerable”; however, the truth of this saying extends beyond the Chickasaw Nation when the entire country is united through patriotism.