The One that Ran Away

by Dana Marie Mejia | The Philippines

“Without your language or your land, you are not who you say you are.” Loretta Afraid of Bear, Oglala Lakota

If someone were to ask me what the American image would be, I would enumerate certain iconic structures like the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and the Golden Gate Bridge. American landmarks and traditions are two distinct yet connected aspects of the nation’s cultural heritage. We value the preservation and protection of our heritage because it helps define who we are as a person.

It is a beautiful sunny day and we are heading North again to the Flathead Reservation. Though it has been a tiring week I cannot stop my body and mind from excitement. We had a chance to peek in on the session of tribal government. After that we had discussion with Mr. Robert McDonald regarding the culture and politics within the area. I found some similarity in my country, our Indigenous People’s Rights Act (IPRA) law passed on 1997 which led to the creation of the National Council for Indigenous People. And just like the Native Americans, our Indigenous People have been through a lot of trauma and persecution which resulted to the breakdown of the Native family and tribal structure and weakening of spiritual ties. Like in my country, many Natives’ children were raised with little awareness of their Native heritage and became disconnected from their tribal ways of knowing.

We also had a chance to play Native American game such as shinny and stickball. I must say that this is the highlight of my day! Because I am a big fan of traditional games. Mr. Paul discussed the connection of the Native games to their cultural preservation. The game has profound spiritual, political, and social importance. It is also so fun to play and continues to be played to this day. We were divided into two groups – girls versus boys. Who won?? Of course the girls!! J Respect and trust is a big factor in playing the game. The rule of the game was modified to avoid accidents. Yeah. Accidents! Watch an American football game or Smackdown and it is quite similar to that. Knocking down your opponent to score a point! LOL

We had a lunch at Fiesta en Jalisco, a local Mexican restaurant. The food served really tastes like home. By the way, the Philippines was ruled by Mexico until the latter obtained freedom from Spain in 1821. The galleon trade established the foundation of what became a large, cultural, religious, agricultural, and human exchange across the Pacific. Well, a lot of Filipino didn’t know about that. But yeah, past is past. *wink*

Hunger satisfied we travelled to the Selis Ksanka Qlispe Dam where we had a chance to view the hydroelectric facility which is actually managed by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. The water flows continuously and will generate electricity. The Jocko River was once heavily impacted by years of mismanaged riparian areas. This affected the natural ecosystem, and one example is the bull trout population which is a native species in the area. And with the collaboration of tribal groups around the Flathead, it is now starting to return to its former glory. Taking into note that it is a great example of how watershed management should be.

So now, is it worth it to preserve our cultural values? Well, ABSOLUTELY!

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