Zhaawani-noodin: There is a South Wind – a Response to the Name “Dirty Kanza”

I can tell you one thing; whenever someone tells me what I should do, I almost always do the opposite. I have been that way for as long as I can remember. In some psychology class years back, I learned about the theory of psychological reactance. It all boils down to an idea that people believe that they possess freedoms and the ability to participate in those free-behaviors. When those behaviors are threatened, something within us is sparked and we react. I find myself pretty apprehensive when it comes to telling anyone what they should be doing. For that matter, I mostly, don’t care what anyone else is doing. A person’s true character comes out regardless. You are what you do.

Last year, for the first time, I signed up to race in the Dirty Kanza. I am blessed enough to be a sponsored athlete and often have race entry fees covered by George (Broken Spoke). I sometimes opt to pay for my own entry, or for the entry of a friend if my entry is covered. I am poor; when I spend 200 dollars on a race entry, it means a lot to me, as I am certain it does for the thousands of other people who share the starting line with me. Paying for the race myself connects me to the people I race alongside. I race for the human connection. I’ve signed up for DKXL two times; each time I have paid for my own entry.

As of today, June 21, 2020, I hold a Bachelors degree in American Indian Studies, a discipline I have invested a great deal of energy in educating myself about. I am even more passionate about understanding Native Nations as governments.  As an indigenous woman, I see everything through my very own indigenous lens. My life has been shaped by my enrollment as a citizen of a tribal nation. Have you ever dated someone, fallen in love, thought about having kids, and realized, if you stay with that person, your child won’t be a citizen of the nation that defines your identity? I have learned a great deal about myself, other nations, and how to communicate my thoughts about indigeneity. I also ride my bike, often really, really long distances, alone. When I ride alone, I think about place, I think about identity. It’s only natural though, because it’s in place that I understand my role in this world. I am just a visitor.

I rode my bike to Emporia, Kansas last year. I tour with two long braids stretching down either side of my face. They blow in the wind; they get all tangled. And I roll into little towns where people will ask me about my ethnicity. It’s weird right? Why would it matter what my ethnicity is? People always ask. I’m asked if I am Latina, and other times, I am asked if I am an Indian. This only happens in places where Indians live. To the latter, I reply yes, with pride. After all, my identity as an Indian has been complex.

I often wonder, as the first person in my family to attain an undergraduate degree—are we fully assimilated, have I assimilated? The anarcho-punk within me refuses to believe that a government with a mission to eradicate indigenous people through genocidal policy could win, but when I look at the next generation of Indians in my family—my brother’s children, my sister’s children, the lack of my own kin, my cousin’s newest child—and I feel like we lost. My family’s citizenship to the Fond du Lac Nation, to Nahgahchiwanong, dies with my generation.

Maybe it’s because I have spent so much time learning about the history of the United States, one of the nations to which I hold citizenship. Citizenship isn’t a right, it’s a responsibility. It’s my responsibility to learn about the foundation on which America stands.

Columbus sailed the ocean blue. I grew up being taught that this country was discovered in 1492. In 1978, Indians were finally permitted religious freedom by the United States Government. 1978. 42 years ago. 1978 was not that long ago. Did you know that contemporary Federal Indian Policy is rooted in the Doctrine of Discovery—a religious foundation that essentially says any land not touched by god is free to be claimed in his name and then can be settled by Europeans? Look into the Marshall Trilogy. Separation of church and state, my ass.

I only share these tidbits with you, because I don’t know how else to share the view from my lens. Hold out a box, square side out, and ask, “how many sides do you see?” One. There are 5 sides unseen. Rotate that box to show a corner, “how many sides do you see?” Three. Only three remain unseen. There is no way to see all six sides of the cube on your own; we need the perspective of another to fully see the whole thing. Only when we ask, what do you see can we learn what the box really looks like.

One of the things I have learned from learning stories from the people in my community is that you always preface a story with, “this is how it was told to me.” We’re all familiar with the game of telephone; maybe this isn’t how it was told to me, but this is how I remember it. After all, “the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir.”

This story doesn’t belong to the storyteller. This story belongs to you.

So… this is how it was told to me.

Before Ditibised found Babiizigaanikwe’s belly she was a wild child. She would pedal upon the waves made by the heartbeat and thoughts of Gichi-Manidoo. The waves were little, close together by Gichi-Manidoo’s heart. That’s where the little ones learned how to ride the pump track. They would be close to Gichi-Manidoo, and when they fell over they had a hand to help them back up. The further away they got from the heart the greater the peaks were. As Ditibised wandered to the fringes of the waves, they rose and plummeted to the furthest stretches of the sky. Riding the waves of Gichi-Manidoo’s heart was the only way to reach the moon, and well, the moon is the home to the great grand mother of it all.

It’s not a short journey to the moon, there are many ascents, many summits, but no one listened to stories like Nokomis. Ditibised was impatient and pedaled through the days and night. There was something about the lack of sleep, there was something about the sheer exhaustion that Ditibised connected with. Plus, Ditibised was struggling. One day, as she was looking down on the Earth for her prospective parents, she saw a school bus and watched as the story unfolded. Seated upon the edge of the sky, she saw something that broke her heart. She needed to know what it meant.

She had seen two little girls sitting side by side holding hands on a grey school bus seat. The kids around them had lighter skin than they did. The thing is, though, that those little girls didn’t see that. They didn’t see that they were darker than the other kids. They were white. Just like all the other kids. The taunts grew louder and louder, unintelligible at first, but soon it was clear. “Dirty Indian”, “My mom said you’re just a dirty little Indian.” The girls did nothing, the girls said nothing. They silently marched off that school bus and down their driveway.

Ditibised watched them as they arrived home from school.

Babiizigaanikwe wandered to a sink in front of a mirror. She wondered, why was her skin different? She was probably just dirty. The brown must have just been dirt. Maybe, she thought, maybe I could wash the brown from my skin. And she scrubbed, and scrubbed, and the brown turned to red. The brown wasn’t coming clean, but it still brought some relief. Red. Red wasn’t dirty. She finally had to be clean. Pure. The kids on the bus must notice. And instead of acceptance, the white children erupted.

Hands over their mouths, chanting as they thought all Indians chanted, “redskin, redskin, redskin.” Babiizigaanikwe’s brown skin turned to red. The shame somehow grew heavier and manifested her being. From that day on, she decided, she wouldn’t let anyone else know that she was an Indian.

Ditibised couldn’t even wrap her head around the idea that brow skin meant dirty, meant less than, meant other. She felt so heartbroken that Babiizigaanikwe could try to wash the brown from her skin. She needed some words from Nokomis.

When Ditibised shared this story with Nokomis, the Earth went silent. The waves in the ocean stopped crashing; Nokomis said she wanted quiet so that Ditibised could hear her clearly.

Nokomis said, “There is a history that exists long before you, and a legacy you live that will be remembered long after you. There is a reason that you saw those two girls on the school bus. You won’t even notice how you internalize oppression as you grow. There will be a time when, even you, deny your indigeneity. You will think you’re not “Indian enough” to be an Indian. Remember this story, remember what those before you endured so that you could exist. It’s your responsibility to endure such that others will exist after you. This is how the Anishinaabe carry on. There will be many who never heard of “The Dirty Indian”, but that’s because that legacy lives on the other side of the box—the side they can’t see. Let this story remind you that words have great power and only speak when them when you are certain. Further, be careful how you listen. That little girl was so hurt by the dirty brown comments; she didn’t think about the red that would come after. You, my girl, are an ogichidaakwe, and the ogichidaakwe waits, watches, and at the right time pounces.”

One Indian doesn’t speak for all Indians. One Indian Nation doesn’t represent other Indian Nations. One Indian, this Indian, speaks only for herself.

I don’t demand that you should change this race name. I don’t even demand that you should listen to me. I think my friend Bobby said it best; “once I learned, I had no other choice.” This is the world of cycling I want to exist in; people question their perception and make adaptations. I believe, that if we communicate our lived experience and listen to each other, we can see all six sides of the box. I don’t want your obedience; I want to see your free will and intention.

We don’t know, what we don’t know. But once we do know, what we do with that information reveals our debwewin (truth).

Now you know what I hear when I hear “The Dirty Kanza.”

I have read the press statement released on signed by Jim Cummins and Lynn Williams, the chair of the Kaw Nation. I fully respect and believe in the sovereignty of each Native Nation. Lynn Williams is the elected leader the Kaw people have chosen to make decisions that best represent their nation. I respect their decision to choose how their words and place names exist in this world. Further, I respect that even if the name doesn’t change, that Lifetime has started to have conversations with the people ancestrally connected to the land the bike race traverses, the people of the south wind.

But I will say this;

If I ever heard of a race called “The Dirty Chippewa”, I would fight, tooth and nail until it was history, because I exist now to try and protect those who come after me from ever trying to wash the brown off of her skin.

Please, email me if you have questions, comments, curiosities. Miigwech (thank you).