Healing While Indigenous, an Introduction

Yá’át’ééh. Shí éí Darrah Johannes Blackwater yinishyé. Béésh Bich’ahii  nishłį́ dóó Tsi’naajinii bashishchiin áádóó Béésh Bich’ahii dashicheii  áádóó Táchii’nii dashinalí.

I am born for the Metal Hat clan. I am born of the Black Streak Wood clan. My maternal grandfather’s clan is Metal Hat. My paternal grandfather’s clan is Red Running to Water. 

This is a blog about historical and religious trauma across generations, and how I am learning to cope with it as an Indigenous person with German and Dutch ancestors. 

Before I start, let me tell you a little more about myself via the papers that define me.

I have a highly coveted blue passport, which says that I am a citizen of the United States of America. 

I have a birth certificate that says I was born in Farmington, New Mexico. 

I also have a Certificate of Indian Blood that says I am one half of one whole Navajo. I hate this paper because it is essentially the same as the paper I have for my dog, Kai, which says that she is one half of one whole Labrador. 

I identify as one whole citizen of the Navajo Nation.

Somewhere, I have a very important paper that says I graduated from law school last year. I bought it so that rich, powerful people would believe I’m smart. I’m not sure where that paper is at the moment. I should probably find it. How else will they know?

My identity is complicated. But it is also simple. I’m Darrah Johannes Blackwater. 

I am a Diné (Navajo) woman from Totah (aka Farmington), a conservative town in present-day New Mexico, on the border of the Navajo Nation. Last month I celebrated my 30th birthday in my hometown, surrounded by family. My dad is from Oljato (known in English as Monument Valley, Utah), where his family has lived since the beginning of creation. My mom is from Anishinaabe and Menominee territory, known as Wisconsin. Her great grandparents were German and Dutch. They came to what’s known as America in the late 1800’s in search of opportunity. My mom is an educator at heart, and moved from Wisconsin to Totah in the 1980’s to teach special education on the Navajo Nation. She is what Diné people call a Bilagáana, a White person. I’m still not fully sure what that makes me. The Diné are traditionally a matrilineal society, meaning I am born for my mother’s clan, making me Dutch in their eyes. But in the patrilineal American society in which I live, I am considered a Navajo, especially in the summer when my arms and legs turn my favorite shade of brown. 

This story is centuries in the making, and it will never be finished. I am giving you a snapshot of one story of religious trauma. Unfortunately, there are millions more. The places and characters change, but the institutions and harm done remain consistent. 

Currently, Indigenous nations are investigating the extent of the harm religious institutions have perpetuated through government-sponsored “Indian boarding schools” over the centuries. In Canada, nearly one thousand Indigenous children’s bodies have been found outside of church-run, government-sanctioned boarding schools. It is widely known and understood that many religious leaders who ran Indian boarding schools in Canada and America sexually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually abused Indigenous children.The grief and emotional devastation that many Indigenous people, families, and communities are feeling right now is too big for English words to describe. In many ways we are just beginning to understand the devastating effects these “Indian boarding schools” had on our families and communities.

Similarly, I am taking inventory of my personal experiences with religious trauma and spiritual abuse. For me, this means looking back at an inappropriate relationship with a youth minister, Angela, who emotionally and spiritually abused me in high school, and how that experience impacts the way I see myself and the world today. It also means bringing curiosity to how my grandparents, Indian boarding school survivors, were changed by their experiences, and how that affects me, my family, and our relationships today. 

I am writing this story so that other survivors of abuse and historical trauma may not feel so alone in their journeys. I am also writing this to help non-Indigenous people understand what it’s like to be Indigenous in America today. I am adding my voice to a choir of voices calling for reflection, reparation, accountability, and drastic change. This is a blog about anger, toxic relationships, cycles of abuse, intergenerational trauma, genocide, and grief. This is also a story about the power of love, connection, family, relationships, coping, and maybe even healing.

The events are portrayed to the best of my memory. While all the stories in this blog are true, some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people involved.

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