When I first met my people I was twenty-four. I’d been taken away as a toddler and placed in foster care and later, when I was nine, I was adopted by a white family who lived a thousand miles away from where I was born.
In that home and the schools I went to I learned nothing about who I was as a Native person. Instead, I was made to behave and act and walk and talk as though I were white. I wasn’t, of course, but great effort was made to allow me to become a reasonable brown facsimile.
So when I made it home there was little of the Ojibway left on me except for my skin. Coming home was traumatic because I knew nothing of who I was and I believed that if my own people didn’t accept me, I would be truly lost. That didn’t happen.
I was welcomed and introduced to an Ojibway life and I took to it like a duck takes to water. I found a language a culture, a tradition, a history and a stretch of territory in northern Ontario that was my home. It felt wonderful to be reconnected.
Then I discovered ceremony. A friend introduced me to elders and traditional teachers and when I began to learn the heart of my culture I felt awake for the first time in my life. I became a regular at ceremonies and gatherings. There was nothing I did not want to experience.
But my people had been wounded. Their way had been outlawed, generations taken away from them and their culture nearly left for dead by churches and governments. When I came along with my awkward white way of doing things and my enthusiasm they called me a Born Again Indian.
It was an insult and meant to say that I wasn’t genuine, that I didn’t really fit and it hurt me greatly. But elders took me aside and told me that in our way everyone was equal and that as long as I came with an open heart and in honesty, I was worthy.
They told me that if I approached my culture in this way, with an open heart and with humility, I would be connected to it – and every time I would be “borne again” to its spiritual center. It saved me. I celebrate my traditions proudly these days. In every ceremony I am “borne again” to my identity.
I am “borne again” into the wonder of the unique spirit that I was created to be. I am “borne again” into the spiritual where there is no color, there is no skin, history, time, or judgment – borne again into the truth of us, all of us. Peace.