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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    Perspectives: Experiencing and Witnessing Racism

    Hiding my Native American heritage

    October 16, 2017 / By Sue Crawson-Brizzolara, Lenape (Delaware) and Dine (Navajo) / 4 Comments

    My family tried to hide our Native heritage for generations, because of the physical, mental, and emotional abuse of Native peoples.

    When many families were getting torn apart and pushed to new lands, my Ancestors escaped by living in the hills and mountains of New York.

    When my Maternal Grandmother was growing up, it was still not safe to be Native (It was 1976 before the Native American Child Welfare Act was put in place, stating children could not be removed from homes and put up for adoption simply because the family was Native). Her parents tried to hide their ethnicity publicly, to protect their eight children from racism, yet they were Native and identified that way privately. 

    While growing up, my Maternal Grandmother always told us, "Never forget, you are Native. No matter what people say, do not forget that inside you are Native."

    I did not understand this. We lived much of the Native lifestyle, and spoke of it within the family, yet never discussed it publicly.

    When forms were filled out, "White" was always listed as race. It was very conflicting. The damage from believing that who you inside is unacceptable, or evil, impacts people for generation after generation. It is called internalized racism.

    Not until I was an adult did I begin to understand what was going on and why. Even now my mom gets very nervous when I claim my Native heritage as my identity, because of her fear that something bad will happen. The effects of racism run deep and are long lasting within individuals and families, communities, and populations. 

    Comments 4

    Thank you, Sue, for sharing the multi-generational pain that your family has experienced because of the anti-native racism that has been part of our culture. It makes the effects of racism come to life, and sink in in powerful ways. I grieve the ways the church has been a part of racist practices, like the removal of children from their families to send them to schools. The idea that we as Methodists (the "do no harm" people) have brought about such pain all in the name of Christ breaks my heart. God help us to not just speak words of repentance, but also act in ways that bring about freedom from fear and opportunities to thrive for all persons who have experienced systemic and individual racism. May God bring peace and hope to your family, and native friends.

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 19, 2017 at 9:42 am

    I appreciate hearing these accounts as a springboard for discussion and continued work to address racism. So often people in the majority culture say, "We're not racist" or "This doesn't/wouldn't happen here".
    Keep telling your families' stories and experiences.

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 19, 2017 at 12:32 pm

    Interesting story and sad as well . I would like to know what part of the country or state she witness this in .
    Living here in wny i have not seen this .perhaps now over shadowed by the large casinos.

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 26, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Dave - thank you so much for those kind words and thoughtful response. Admitting our failures to be who we are called to be is the first major step in working towards positive change.
    Cynthia - thank you for your comments also. In sharing our stories we all can grow together toward a more hopeful, loving future.

    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on October 26, 2017 at 10:09 am

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    With more than 168,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 867 local churches and 65 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."