Urban Indian

by Melissa Goodbear

I have felt the discrimination against me from others. They try to cut me down by calling me a city Indian or a wannabe Indian. I’ve always felt like I had to prove I was just as much native as a brick wallreservation Indian. If you say otherwise, you better be ready to back it up.

I never had the opportunity to learn my language or much of our tribal traditions. If I wanted to learn, I had to pursue the knowledge on my own. Yes, my mother taught me how to dance and some of our beliefs, customs and small words, but living in the cities has made it harder for me to raise my own children in our ways. There’s not much tradition I can pass on. We are in a class by ourselves.

We live by through-ways of city life in order to survive—buying materialistic things to measure up to society, have we lost our true identity? The music, clothes, and other things that the city says we have to own to be accepted.

If I practice any of cultural ways, people tell me that they too are part Indian. They ask questions. Do we still live in tepees? Do I know a person they know who is part native too? They ask as if I know every native person out there. I think they ask because they’re shocked that our people have endured. The history books that we grew up with say we are no longer here.

I look forward to the times I can celebrate my heritage with all Nations. Where my music, clothes, and sense of humor are accepted and shared. Where my children can learn more about our culture and grow to hold the same sense of pride that I do.

I’m proud to be Native American. I’m proud to be me. So when people ask me, “What’s your nationality?” I say, “Urban Indian,” because I won’t let anyone else define me.

Melissa Goodbear is enrolled in the Menominee Nation. She attended school at UWM and retired from the Air Force as a combat veteran. She is married with 5 children and lives near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.