We’re still here:
By: Megan Tom & Lejend Yazzie
Tribal Affiliations: Navajo
Majors: English Literature (Tom), Justice Studies (Yazzie)
Lejend: During my freshman year, a professor failed to include Natives in the discourse surrounding social and political issues. In class, I mentioned to the professor that Native issues were missing from the discussion. He responded with, “It was a long time ago.” I felt inadequate, invalidated and embarrassed. I felt discouraged to bring up the absence of Native peoples ever again.
Megan: Tabling at a resource fair for an American Indian student organization, most students veered away from the table, reading the organization’s mission with a confused look on their faces. Then, a group of non-Native students came by and asked about the organization. I explained, “We support our American Indian students in their cultural heritages and academic endeavors.” Another confused look. I began sharing upcoming events with them, when one student finally said, “I thought you were all gone.” My stomach dropped. Shaken, I replied, “We’re still here.”
These are experiences in college that made us feel invisible. Invisibility is defined by Bryan Brayboy as “the constant interplay between visibility and invisibility-both managed and unmanaged, both within our control and out of our control, and the ways institutions, historical contexts and societal structures interplay with our daily lived realities.”
Invisibility is also felt in Native-specific spaces. As urban Navajo students, we have learned to navigate multiple spaces on campus with mindfulness. Not speaking Navajo fluently and growing up in the city are our realities that sometimes invoke debate about our Native identity. We’re sometimes challenged with proving how “traditional” and “decolonized” we really are. We know not to speak on behalf of all Natives because Native peoples are diverse, and our understanding of this knowledge is ever-growing and changing.
Despite the crushing reactions to invisibility, we refuse to be silenced. Our ancestors and mentors have taught us positive ways to reclaim our identities and voices. This means that we must take care of ourselves. One way is by visiting with counselors (eoss.asu.edu/counseling) or talking to close friends and family who we know will support and revamp the love we have for ourselves. Another way is surrounding ourselves with our Native student community to learn from each other. The American Indian Student Support Services (AISSS) (aisss.asu.edu) is a great place for that. We also work to combat misrepresentations of Native communities to raise awareness of Native peoples and gain the skills we need to improve the institution. We do this through involvement with Native student organizations at ASU (aisss.asu.edu/student-organizations) and in broader organizations that pique our interests.
Our experiences as college students and urban Navajo women have impacted the way we envision the future. Native writer Leanne Simpson’s words inspire us to consider a future where we discontinue the “division between reserve and city” to see that “we are all related,” and to remember that no matter where we are, we’re on Indigenous land. By strengthening our relationships with each other we hope to strengthen nations and build movements that address the challenges of our Native nations.