[Introduction: This is a several page post that I began writing as I wrestled with considering my personal responsibility in regards to European colonialism which “settled” the nation I grew up in. It ended up being about why I exists in more ways than one. I hope you enjoy it.
On this page I will begin by asking the question “Where did this all come from?” and explain what I mean by that question and why I started asking it.]
My name is Kevin Gonzaga. I grew up in Modesto, California which is a farming town that grew to 200,000 in the heart of the Central Valley of California. I was never really interested in Native American issues and my only exposure to them really was two things. In elementary school I did a “Missions project” where I studied a Spanish mission and the Native Americans tribes they “helped.” Later, I took a few trips to a place known as the Miwuk village, where a small museum and some land had been sent aside to inform people about the Miwuk tribe, the people who originally lived in the Central Valley.
I lived life, grew up and eventually went to college in Canada. This was where Native American or First Nations (as they call Native Americans in Canada) came back on my radar in a big way. While serving in the Lower-East Side of Vancouver, one of the worst sides of Vancouver, the poor, the homeless and the addicted were more often than not First Nations. I have written about one experiences with a First Nations named Bev in another post.
On a whim I joined a trip to serve Ft. Babine. This was a First Nations reservation for the Carrier Band in the heart of British Columbia. My time in the community deeply impacted me. I saw first-hand the ravages of alcoholism, abuse and poverty but also saw first-hand the beauty and strength of the First Nations people. I saw Native youth who had adopted hip-hop urban culture and saw elders who were worried about the disappearance of their language. One unexpected turn of events was that people mistook me to be First Nations descent. I assured them I was not, as I did not want to be a “fake indian” but this could not be dodged, especially in contrast to the rest of the team which was all white.
Here is a link to a gallery of some photographs from my time in Ft. Babine and Smithers, BC. Take a minute and look through them, especially if the only Native Americans you have ever seen were in Westerns.
After seeing a slim picture of the issues and challenges the Carrier Band faced, I was forced to ask a simple question:
“Where did this all come from?”
Since then I have been always interested in Native American and First Nations issues. I have always felt my time on the reservation was not a coincidence and that Native American communities would be a larger part of my life. Over the last several years it has always been in the back of my mind and my heart.
As I began learning about Western culture I realized how much that culture shaped who I am, how this culture shaped my experience of faith, and the pitfalls of both. As I served urban youth in the poorest part of my hometown I realized some of this experience would track with a lot of urban Native youth who have adopted the same hip-hop/rap/gangster culture as their own. As I entered a Twelve Step recovery in 2008 for my own addictions, I realized dealing with my own addictions was the first step towards helping any other addicts, including those in Native American communities. As I began to wrestle with my family issues and struggle with the abuse that went on in my home and worked towards forgiveness and reconciliation, I began to have a better understanding of what these words meant and what it means to work through painful memories in your family and community. As I embarked upon my spiritual journey last year after having radical encounters with the Holy Spirit I became more in touch with the spiritual realm and began to take the spiritual realm far more seriously, something Native American communities have always done. As I studied at Fuller I have come to a very different understanding of the Gospel, what it means to follow Jesus and a fresh perspective on the intersection of culture, religion, justice, faith, and our relationship with the land.
Perhaps most importantly, as I have studied here at Fuller I have time and time again applied my research papers and assignments to Native American culture and communities as best I can. This was a thinly veiled excuse to study Native American culture and history more. This has made more increasingly aware of the history of colonialism and its impact upon Native American communities.
I began to understand, perhaps for the first time, how large and complicated the answer is to my simple question, “Where did all of this come from,” in regards to issues I saw in Ft. Babine, really was.
“This,” meaning the challenges faced by those in Ft. Babine and many other Native American communities, came from a complex web of events that involved countless injustices. Genocide, broken treaties, attempts at forced assimilation, the ecological destruction of the ecosystems the Native Americans depended upon, government paternalism, environmental racism and injustice, forced conversions, forced relocations and internal displacement, and culturally appropriation (like this) are just some of the reasons for the challenges faced by Native American communities.
Perhaps most confusingly of all, all of these issues are essentially invisible to the mainstream dominant culture of the United States. People act and think as if Native Americans no longer exist and racism and discrimination that would not be tolerated against any other group in the United States is for some inexplicable reason acceptable when applied to Native Americans.
Perhaps most insulting of all, when faced with these issues, some in the dominant culture simplistically blame Native Americans and suggest there is something morally, spiritual or intellectually inferior with Native Americans, and this is what has led to their present challenges.
[On the next page I start asking the question, “How responsible am I for colonialism?”]