Diana: I am half Native American and half German. My father and mother grew up in Oklahoma, and Oklahoma is where the Trail of Tears happened. All the Native Americans were pushed into one state... it was very crowded.
Eliza: Do you know what tribe your mom is from?
Diana: Her tribe is Creek Indian.
My mom was adopted when she was five, but she was just three when she was put into an orphanage. It was just awful. Back then, a lot of families would abuse and starve Native American babies. Several times, the Humane Society came into homes finding my mom starved. Then she would just be moved to the next foster home.
My adopted grandmother-I consider her my grandmother 'cause she has been so loving-said my mom would store food in her mouth underneath her bed 'cause she was scared that she wasn't gonna get anything else.
My mom said to me, "I'm so happy that you have opportunities because of the way you look." I was a blonde and White baby blessed with German looks. My third-grade-year-old self would tell me that being Native American doesn't mean anything. It's just something your mom says. I have no right because I don’t look Native American.
Media played a HUGE role in my feelings toward Native Americans. Growing up, the Barbies were all just blonde and White. It made me want to just be White. I was so thankful I looked this way because this is what is acceptable. And also, in movies, who was the star? The blonde. Nowadays it's different. But that was the 90s and early 2000s. Native American isn't really an announced culture.
When I was in fifth grade, I moved to a different county. There was a tribe there, Mohawk. I met this boy who was full Native American. He had long hair. I made fun of him for it. He said, "Stop making fun of me. It's part of my tribe." Looking back, it saddens me that I did that.
I was only made fun of when I claimed to be Native American. In history class, I raised my hand-I was actually really scared to do it-and said,"I'm half Native American. My mother's full Native American." A group of African American individuals raised their hands and said, "Can you please tell someone who is not Native American to not say they are because it's offensive and not something to be shared. It's not funny." The teacher didn't know what to do in that moment, so he went, "Okay, next topic. Next slide." It was very uncomfortable. I tried to talk to them, but they wouldn't listen. They said, "But you don't look like it, so why do you say you are?" So I let it go and shut up.
Growing up in grade school, people would ask, "What is your ethnicity?" I look White, so I put "White" down for the first bit. And then later on, I was like, I'm half Indian. I should take that. So if I don't get two options, I put "Other" now. Because I should be proud of it. It's part of me. It's part of my mom. It's saying to my mom she does matter. It is difficult when people are like, "No you're not. You're not Native American. You're probably one of those White people who are 1/16th." And I'm like, "No, I'm 50% Indian." I've always had to justify it.
The time I felt most disconnected from my culture was really at school. Everyday was like an act, a little game in which I had to pretend that I was fully White. In grade school, we were a bunch of meanies who liked to call each other names. There was the Asian group, the African American group, the Portuguese group, the Mexican group... and I was in the White group. You were stuck in your groups.
Nowadays, I've noticed that schools have gotten better at mixing. But in the 90s, it wasn't like that. When you are separated like that, you tend to look at the other groups differently for no reason. No one was innocent; we all attacked each other. That was the time when I felt most separated from Native Americans.
Eliza: There was no Native American group.
Diana: Yup. I was actually with kids, sadly, whose parents were part of the KKK. I went to school in Kentucky. They would literally watch the Super Bowl together, and I got invited, but said I had plans. There was no way I was going to say I was Native American. No way at all. If I did, it would be bad. I was fully separated. I felt scared and ashamed of it all the time.
Also, it was more than just not accepting my ethnicity. I didn't find the way I looked appealing at all. I didn't accept my personality. I was really just degrading everything about myself in every way.
Eliza: Could you tell me more about the process of how your mindset changed?
Diana: It took forever for me… It wasn't until I went to China that I actually truly started to love myself. That China semester abroad probably changed my life. I came back and changed my major and everything. I became a communications major because I wanted to share and communicate love to others and to people of other ethnicities. I wanted to love myself and others. It was a dramatic change, you know. It solely reversed everything and what I was going to do.
Being with the Chinese people, they didn't care. They just... they were Chinese. That's how they saw themselves. And I was like, "You know what? I want to see myself like that. I'm Native American, and I'm German. That's who I am. And that's it." What really did it was these dance nights. They'd be dancing day and night in the parks, playing music without a care in the world. And I was like, "I want to dance in a park and be myself." They were so happy even with their cramped living conditions and the city smog... they were happy.
Then I come back to Kentucky and it's blue skies and grass for forever. And I'm like, "Wow. This is amazing. Why am I not happy?"
Eliza: Why are we depressed?
Diana: Yeah. Why are we complaining about wanting coffee, like, "To start my day I need coffee." You know?
It wasn't until when I became a Christian that I started to change my mind processing.
All my life, my thought processing was, "There could be a God, but I need to see him first." Things started to change with the Salvation Army, actually. My aunt was a social worker in the Salvation Army. She called me up one summer and asked,"Would you like to have a summer job?" I was like, "Well, yes, I need money in my life. Why not?" She said, "It's a housekeeping job at a Salvation Army camp."
Once I got there, I had no idea what schedule I was getting into. I had no idea. It was very spiritualized, very Christian. And so the first week, I'm just laughing at it. I'm hating on it so much and making fun of it. The third week-and I'll never forget this-they called all the female staff into a conference room to pray for some children. I was like, I hate prayer. I really hope no kid walks up to me. Sure enough, one had me in sight. I went, Here we go. I felt like I wasn't able to. I shouldn't. I wasn't in the right place. But she comes up to me and she literally has the same story I do, where she doesn't feel loved and accepted. She walked away crying, and I realize I'm crying, too. Then I noticed that, not only was I praying for her, but I was praying for myself the whole time. That night, I was crying in the bathroom because I realized that I was saved. I literally accepted Christ at night, in my bathroom, crying.
Diana: The next morning I was a whole other person. I was like, this is great. I saw the world differently. I was more open to learn. I was more open to accept people. I was willing to listen- that was my main problem. I was not listening. I was hearing but I wasn't grabbing it because I didn't want to.
It started with love first. And then when I came to Asbury, I learned not only about love but about culture and accepting culture. Loving yourself was a big thing because I didn't truly love myself.
I'd never read the Bible before. I'd never looked into it. I'd only had Sunday School, so going in depth into what stuff meant in Hebrew and Greek, I was like, "Oh, goodness, do I need to remember all this?" But then learning about how the Bible was written, all the people involved in that, and how long it took... just to fulfill a promise... brought about a realization of, "Wow, He did all that to fulfill a promise just because he loves me." And if he loves me that much, then I should love myself.
Diana: And I should accept who I am. Because if I'm not accepting a half of me, then I’m not accepting any of me. Because that's all of me. I broke down a lot. I'm not gonna lie. I cried a lot here because I didn't realize how much I hated myself only because of the culture and what it said to me. I was privileged, I am still privileged, only because of the world and how they see me, but my mom isn't. And it's just hard. It's like a double-edged sword, trying to love my Native American heritage. But the world is telling me I should let it go and take it away.
I feel most connected to my heritage at Pow Wows. We all come together from different tribes and see ourselves as family. I remember doing the rain dance with my mother… it was one of the best things ever. When you're dancing in a circle together, arms linked...just dancing...I felt like how I felt with the Chinese during my study abroad in China. I was without a care in the world.
The Native Americans accepted me. None of them assumed that I wasn't one of them. They asked if I was Native American. I said, "Yeah." And they said, "Okay. Come." They automatically welcomed me. And I was like, "What?" But, no, they wanted to dance with me. They wanted to basically appreciate where we come from. Together. Oh, man, it was amazing. And the meat legs are amazing. They're LARGE. Great, great food.
Eliza: What about the German side of you, do you feel connected to that?
Diana: I've always been connected, especially after my grandfather looked us up. Apparently I had an ancestor who fought in the Indian War. So that's pretty interesting. He got shot in the side. Also, I know for a fact that my family on my mom's side did not use $20 bills because Andrew Jackson was on the $20 bill. He's the one who announced the Trail of Tears.
Unfortunately a lot of blood, sweat, and tears happened and went into creating me and others as well. It wasn't like they just moved… many tribes died along the way, and it was a process that took years. My mom and I have walked trails, but only five miles because my mom can't walk very well because she was abused. She’s having surgery right now, actually, to be able to walk more. She said, "I will walk until I completely cannot." She is a very, very strong woman.
When I was born, the first thing she did was check my feet to make sure I was normal.
"It is such a blessing," she said, "to see someone who has the blood of my own." Looking at me was the first time she saw someone of her blood. It meant a lot. She doesn't remember her father and mother. She does see my adopted grandmother as family, but it's different when it's your own, especially when it’s a child. It motivated her to get through life. She would do anything for my sister and me because she loves us so much.
I just want to say that I am very glad that this conversation is becoming more prominent. People actually are noticing that this is an issue.
We are supposed to be together. We're not supposed to be separated. We're supposed to appreciate each other's foods, music, clothing, everyday life, languages, little phrases... Everything that makes you different is special. You're supposed to be different. Everyone is supposed to be different.
Eliza: You definitely have two rich ethnic heritages within you. That's so unique. Being where you are right now and having accepted yourself more, how would you summarize what it means to you to be Native American, and, more broadly, who you are?
Diana: I am Diana. I am half Native American, and I'm half German. That's who I am. I fully accept that now.
Eliza: Thank you, Diana.