The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian: We have to work to make miracles happen

November 04, 2009

Gyasi logoPublished widely in Native American newspapers and websites, Gyasi Ross has kindly volunteered to share his blogs here on Look for his writings, The Part-Time Blog of a Full-Time Indian, the first Wednesday of every month.

It's kind of funny - some of the kids that used to beat me up and make fun of me are my close friends today.

After I initially moved to the city from Montana, there was a short period of stable living with my dad. A real "dad and son" setting - fishing, baseball, the whole nine. Soon after, however, as rolling stones are wont to do, he rolled; I found myself living with my auntie on the Nisqually Reservation.

She was kind enough to bring me in, and I am forever grateful for that. Still, I was another mouth to feed and feeding costs money. Since my auntie certainly didn't have much money, she wasn't my parent, and my parents weren't providing any sort of money or resources to help feed me, I got the feeling that I wasn't always "wanted." Plus, she already had problems with her own children. Who needed the hassle of another kid? Somehow, what was supposed to be a short-term "emergency situation" turned into me boarding there for almost two years.

I was stuck.

Kids can always smell blood

And doesn't it seem like little kids can always smell blood when another kid is in a vulnerable position?

I soon found myself defending my poor fashion choices to my peers. Long before MC Hammer made extremely baggy pants and shirts cool, I wore baggy clothes out of necessity. My cousins were much older than me, and they had nice clothes - oftentimes through ill-gotten means - and I'd sneak wearing their clothes. I didn't have many of my own.

In the morning on the way to the bus stop, kids would ask why my cousin's Generra sweater was so huge on me. "That's the way we wear them in the city." They'd ask why my Jordache jeans were dirty. I couldn't tell them that it was because my cousin had been wearing them the entire week before, so I'd say that they were "brown acid-washed." Kids asked why I didn't wear any socks. "It's too hot." I didn't want to explain that I just didn't have any.

Of course, when I changed for PE class, wearing shoes without socks wasn't looked too highly upon. Apparently, it created an odor, which just gave the other kids another reason to think I was an oddball.

And the bus rides home seemed like they took days - I'd sit in the back and try not to talk to anybody. I'd stick my knees up in the back of the seat in front of me and sink my butt WAY down and try to just "blend in," not bring any attention to myself. At that age, it seemed like "attention" for me meant "I'm a target for some older kids who want to find an easy target."

I was an easy target.

My dad was in a drug-induced walking zombie-state. My mom was in Montana sorting out her life and curing herself of alcoholism. One of my sisters was in job corp, pregnant, and working hard to improve her life. My other sister was a young bride with a child on the way in Montana. None of them were in any position to help me out; I knew they would've if they could've, but they simply couldn't. I got cut from the basketball team, had bad grades and really didn't care about grades because I was a fat 13-year-old Indian kid in the middle of nowhere with a messed-up family - who's gonna ever hire me anyway?

I was stuck.

I couldn't really see things improving. I saw myself wearing stinky clothes and getting picked on by day, and eating cheese sandwiches and drinking canned orange juice by night for the foreseeable future. It was sadly poetic - my mom thought moving me from Browning, where my family had little to no opportunity or finances - was "escaping." Yet, I found myself in exactly the same position. Maybe even worse. A miracle needed to happen - I just didn't think that one would.

I found that miracles do happen; just not overnight.

Not everything went perfectly, but over the course of a long time, I started to get exposed to some opportunity. My mom quit drinking and made her kids a priority. My little brother was born. My sisters, their husbands and their children moved closer to the rest of the family. I had tons of little eyes watching me - little brother, nieces and nephews - all these beautiful little Skin kids.

All of a sudden, I had something to live for, to look forward to. I could show them the right way - teach them the value of school, of sobriety, of family, of hope and faith. I had a purpose. No matter what the outside world thought of me, I had people that needed me, whose lives I could help make better. I became much better at blocking out criticism and learned to find hope in my brother, nieces and nephews' smiles and unjaded hearts.

So what?

Well, when I was in that situation, I felt completely helpless and hopeless. Stuck. I know that I'm not the only one who's felt that way.

In fact, there are many people - Skin and non - who have the spirit of hopelessness. That spirit has manifested itself much more aggressively within our Skin communities than in others. In fact, that spirit multiplied and spread amongst Skins as shown by our alarming numbers of meth use (and other drugs), alcohol abuse, and most scarily, suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control, Native males 20 years old and older are four times more likely to kill themselves than non-Natives.

On some reservations the hopelessness is so pervasive that when a young person dies the first question is "Did he. ... ?" We hope that it was not suicide, but also know that it very well may have been. When we find out that it wasn't suicide - that it was "merely" death by car accident or a sickness or drowning - there is almost a sense of relief.

How in the heck did we get here?

My theory? Well, this is the "religious" part. See, my theory starts with the proposition that Skins are inherently spiritual people. Moreover, I believe suicide and hopelessness are indeed spiritual issues, therefore Skins are more sensitive to these spirits. Not to be political, but my thought is that we have been feeling the destructive and manipulative spirit of capitalism, greed and conquest since the so-called "discovery." We understand that much of this great nation's history is not based upon honor and acceptance and love, but instead on deception, murder and hypocrisy.

Non-Skins are seeing this as well. They see things like the housing crisis that was created by unscrupulous and lying lenders. They see random shootings and acts of violence out of frustration with the current economic structure. For example, we see a 91-year-old black lady shoot herself because her house was about to be foreclosed upon. Apparently, the house was worth less than the value of the mortgage from the day she purchased the house - somebody lied to that woman! And she felt stuck. That is the deception and dishonesty that creates hopelessness and it's very similar to what you find on many reservations. Now, non-Skins are catching it.

What do we do? I think we have to work to make miracles happen to get our loved ones unstuck. We cannot, however, wait for miracles to happen. We cannot hope they happen. We cannot complain about the vulnerable situation we find ourselves in; that doesn't cure our situation or put us closer to finding a solution. It merely keeps our focus on the worst parts of the past instead of building upon our ancestors' sacrifices to make a stronger future. We cannot afford to do that.

Instead, we have to work to get unstuck.

I resolve, like my mom did by giving up alcohol, to work for what I say is important to me. I resolve, like my sisters did by moving closer to the family, to be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. I will do my part to encourage others, create structures and provide obnoxious hope to the hopeless and blind faith to the faithless. I resolve to remind people we are all created with a plan in mind - mine was to be a support and aid to my brother, nieces and nephews, and now my son, girlfriend, friends and family the same way my sisters and mom and grandma supported me. Giving in to the spirits of hopelessness, depression or suicide will not allow my plan to be fulfilled.

What do you think?

Gyasi "Fancy Skin" Ross is a member of the Amskapipikuni (Blackfeet Nation) and his family also comes from the Suquamish Tribe. His Pikuni (Blackfoot) name is "Oonikoomsika." He is co-founder of Native Speaks LLC, a progressive company owned by young Native professionals which provides consultation and instruction for professionals and companies. Gyasi is currently booking dates for his newest presentation, "Mother Lovers: Poetic (and Musical) Justice." E-mail him at

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