Our stories are intertwined and interconnected.
On this Native American Heritage Day, we celebrate the complex and deeply intertwined stories of two reimaginers within our community. Meet Megan and Chasity, two reimaginers in the re—inc membership with native heritage who share the rich, multi-faceted nature of their indigenous roots.
Heritage: Cherokee Nation
"Many don’t get the opportunity to understand or know the depth of their heritage. And in far too many instances, the heritage of others isn’t taught as broadly as it should be."
"It was surprising to me when moving to Iowa that there was very little known or taught about the Trail of Tears, or its significance. The path they walked started in Northwestern Georgia, traversed through Southern Illinois and Missouri, and ended in what is now known as Eastern Oklahoma – Cherokee Nation (previously Indian Territory.) This path was known as the Trail of Tears, and my ancestors, George Still and Jack Still, were interpreters who assisted with the journey.
As a child I was taught the history, language, and traditions of Cherokee art. I loved our art and the ability to create using traditional methodology. Basket weaving was especially my favorite. The Cherokee language is and continues to be very difficult, as I left childhood with few Cherokee words."
"After I moved away from home, the exposure to my culture has lessened, but I find ways to stay connected. I carry with me a buffalo grass doll made by Lorene Drywater who is considered a Cherokee National Treasure. I also look for pieces created by Traci Rabbit, who paints amazing depictions."
"It is not well-known that the Cherokee Nation exists as a sovereign entity. We have our own government and legal system headed by the Principal Chief (Chuck Hoskin Jr.) and Deputy Chief (Bryan Warner.) It should be noted that a previous Principal Chief was recently in the running to be put on U.S. currency. Wilma Mankiller was the first, and as of today, only female Principal Chief—I would recommend learning her story.
The Cherokee Nation is one of the largest Indigenous tribes in the U.S. With that visibility, it has certainly been easier to broaden the scope of factual history, and teach subsequent generations traditions and immersion into the culture. The goal has been to assist and provide more visibility to other tribes as well. In a landmark decision this year, the federal government honored the Treaty of New Echota, which redesignated much of Eastern Oklahoma as tribal lands, thus closing the circle.
All indigenous nations in this country have such rich traditions and heritage. Even if it isn’t your heritage, it is still a huge part of the culture at large in the U.S. Take some time to learn about these histories, understand the nuances and embrace the beauty of these communities and what they provide. Take note of the media/entertainment presence—the light it has shed on Indigenous communities—and question those interpretations. There is an entire world out there largely forgotten."
Chasity Alexandra Kapono’Onalani Wills,
With Love….that’s truly what Aloha means….
Everything the Hawaiian People do is with love."
"As we welcome you or as we bid you farewell, we do all this and more with love. Native Hawaiians, Kānaka Maoli, the Indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian Islands — these are my people. Not just the people who were born there, or lived there for a time, but the original native people who discovered the Hawaiian islands, not Captain Cook as history books may have told. Why do I emphasize this distinction? It’s because with the passage of time, Kānaka Maoli have struggled to make our existence known, and sadly to simply exist. We are here, and we are a people.
As I moved away from the islands after being born and raised there, I noticed how little people knew of our existence, how they’d emphasize things like “well I’m a Californian isn’t everyone from Hawai’i, Hawaiian?” No, it’s not the same. This argument erases my people. Throughout history, people and governments have constantly tried to erase us. The occupation of foreigners coming in and taking land for plantations, brought with them diseases and foreign plants and animals that to this day continue to harm our people and ecosystem. Then the illegal occupation of the American military, businesses, and government that led to the house arrest of our last monarch in her own home and the eventual overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. We owe a lot to our monarchs, the Kings, Queens, and Princesses of our past hold a special place in the hearts of many Hawaiians. Without them the very essence of our people would not exist.
"The beautiful performance of the hula that many have been entertained by, isn't just a touristy thing to enjoy, it holds so much meaning to the Hawaiian people. It’s how we tell our stories and pass it down from generation to generation. We tell the tales of our voyages navigating by the stars, to our righteous royalty uniting our islands and saving our traditions, tales of our beautiful lands and the majestic ocean with all its creatures, and of our respected yet feared gods and goddesses. We tell these tales through dance and song, the gentle movements of the beautiful awana hula and the fast paced fun kahiko hula. It begins with a powerful chant that leads to hypnotizing song in our Olelo Hawai’i, or Hawaiian Language. Both the hula and Hawaiian language were banned from being performed or spoken for many years.
As I mentioned the very essence of our people were taken away from us. Was it not for our merry monarch King Kalakaua, you would know nothing of the hula, have never heard the soft, rich, and beautiful language that is Hawaiian. Our traditions, our language, and our lands throughout history with no small efforts have been perpetuated in righteousness through heartache and struggles by our Kānaka Maoli, and still we thrive, and still we are here. I am eternally grateful for my ancestors, for people like my beautiful Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop who created in her will an education system and school that would ensure the keiki (children) of Hawai’i would always have access to the best of education. Our Queen Liliuokalani who provided a trust to ensure resources are provided for the well-being of the orphan and destitute Native Hawaiian children and their ‘Ohana would always have a way to be taken care of, long after they were gone. This is how I thrived, I was a child who was educated and taken care of through the acts of my beloved Princess and Queen.
We Hawaiian people are rich in tradition and culture, we are a people who love and care abundantly, we live for buildings communities, in creating large Ohana’s where everyone we meet becomes an Aunty, Uncle, or Cousin, yet we are slowly dwindling in our bloodlines. I am a very rare 60% Hawaiian. Our lands are no longer ours, taken by the rich and powerful forcing so many natives to live in tents on beaches or moving away from the islands out of survival for a better life. Through it all we remain a humble loving people, we continue to welcome all with the spirit of aloha, the spirit of love, and we continue to share our traditions and culture in hopes that it will stand the test of time and cultivate in others, the kindness, generosity, love, and welcomeness we share with all who come to know us.
I am Chasity Alexandra Kapono’Onalani Wills, a native Hawaiian, a proud member of our re—inc Ohana. Mahalo Nui Loa for allowing me to share a small amount of the people I come from. The next time you are in Hawai’i or come in contact with anyone or anything Hawaiian-related I hope you allow yourself to immerse yourself in the culture, learn a little more, and share in the essence of what it means to be Hawaiian. A Hui Hou …. until we meet again!"