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An Outsider’s Story

Greetings W.I.N. community,

Wind River Native Advocacy board chair Cherokee Brown and members Millie Friday and Clarisse Harris explained their group’s purpose and plans during their annual meeting Saturday at their new meeting place – 14569 Highway 287 in Fort Washakie. – Alejandra Silva, Wind River News, 12/7/2017, caption for front page photo.  (The article covered 3/5 of page 1, an insert on page 5, and ½ of page 10.)

For more information about the Wind River Native Advocacy Center (WRNAC), go to www.wrnativeadvocacy.org.

The annual meeting of the WRNAC on December 2nd focused on their successes and plans.  I felt honored when they gave me flowers to thank me for my on-going support and expressed their appreciation that when I came five years ago to the Wind River Reservation on behalf of the Wyoming Association of Churches (now the Wyoming Interfaith Network), I came to listen and not with preconceived ideas of what they needed which unfortunately has been their experience with many other outsiders coming here.

I hope that I am a model for how other outsiders should and can work with (and not for) the people at the Wind River Reservation. My move here was to implement a carefully crafted resolution for us to connect and stand with Native Americans.  I was always made to feel welcomed, but I was told, “We don’t need your help” and “We don’t need to be saved.”  That was good, because that was not my intent.  It takes time.  It takes building relationships, not with just one or two, but with many.  It takes listening.  It takes making sure people are not just telling me what they think I want to hear.  

I no longer am an outsider because of the friends I have made here and my appreciation for the Native American culture.  One Northern Arapaho man worded it this way, “Many others have come here to help us, but then left.  Chesie came and she stayed.”  I have stayed and I plan to continue to stay.  This is my home.

And yet I am an outsider.  I did not grow up on the Wind River Reservation and I am not an enrolled member of any tribe, a definition of Native American determined by blood quantum as imposed by our federal government.  I don’t experience daily prejudice based on the color of my skin.

Another Northern Arapaho told me that I am Native American in my heart and that is what matters.  If only it were that simple, but racism and a history in our country of destroying diversity has made that a challenge, like my own German, Irish and Welch ancestry’s cultures where through the so-called Melting Pot we assimilated.

A glory of being Native American is having an identity, despite the attempts through massacres, boarding schools and missionaries to destroy the culture.  There is a strong sense of family and community that gives strength.  Fortunately for all of us, Native Americans did not assimilate and seek to reclaim their culture.  Native Americans have survived!

I am blessed to be here and have learned and still am learning so much! 

Fear not. Be bold. Build bridges. Do justice. 

Blessings,

Chesie Lee

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