Growing up in Missouri, Oklahoma was just a neighboring state away. I had family that lived, scattered all throughout Oklahoma, whom I saw each year at our summer family reunion. Little did I envision that I would someday move to the Sooner state and join the ranks of relatives who have lived here for decades.
A defining characteristic, historical, and continued aspect of living in Oklahoma are various Native American tribes. Many of my colleagues and local friends have tribal ancestry to the Cherokee, Comanche, and Chickasaw nations, just to name a few. The Optometrist and I have distant Cherokee roots ourselves, but since our ancestors didn’t obtain a roll number, the lasting and signifying documentation for tribal proof, our connection is one of observation, education, and appreciation. And even though I’ve lived here for over seven years, I would consider myself still a newcomer and novice when it comes to tribal history.
A few years ago I attended a Native American symposium and heard some of our Native graduate students discuss their perspective of what it means to be an American Indian student in today’s culture. One student’s comments made me take pause and reflect when he identified how Native students can often be categorized in one of two ways: 1.) culturally immersed or 2.) historically connected.
For the first, some have strong and deliberate familial connections to tribal ceremonies, traditions, and ways. For others, they appreciate their cultural background, but may not choose to participate in the more traditional activities.
This started me thinking…even though I don’t have any direct connections to any Native American tribe, I do have a sense of belonging and purpose with my great-grandmother’s family. For the past 90 or so years, our family has gathered each June to celebrate and strengthen our ties as a family. Older members have gone on to Glory, new ones join the ranks, and even though some last names have matriculated away from the reunion’s namesake, we carry the same blood in our veins.
Once more, last weekend our family gathered in the Ozarks to gorgeous weather to reminisce, tell stories, love on each other, take pictures, eat, and eat some more. This annual gathering always serves as a reminder about the importance of family, family traditions, and keeping these traditions alive.
Now in my mid-30s, I know the mantle will someday fall to me to help younger generations remember who their great-great-great grandfather was and why we gather the way we do. Thus, like the traditions of my Native friends, I want to be found faithful immersing myself in not only our stories and traditions, but maintaining existing connections and making new among members of our family – our tribe.