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.