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Think Global, Act Local: Belonging Isn’t A Destination

Photo By Gary Ussery

Faithful Readers:

As we enter this month filled with reflection and gratitude, I wanted to hear from someone that I am grateful for having met in my early community engagement years. These times of uncertainty were not the easiest but being around him and getting to know him made me feel more at home because he made me feel like I belonged here.

It is with great honor and pleasure that I present to you James Whirlwind Soldier. Society would describe him as a mixedrace Sicangu Lakotah registered with the Rosebud Indian Reservation. I prefer the words of Gaël Faye, a Rwandan-French author and singer, who in his documentary “Quand Deux Fleuves se Rencontrent” lyrically illustrates how “when two rivers meet they only make one and by fusion our cultures become indistinct, they interlock and fit together to form a block of Humanity…”

Whirlwind Soldier believes business benefit from the integration of lessons learned from Anthropology, and that with diversity and inclusion comes innovation, value and joy. He currently works as a training consultant for Goldmark Property Management. He serves on the Professionals of Color steering committee within the FMWF Chamber of Commerce and the TrainND advisory board. 

I always feel rejuvenated when I visit with him because of his unparalleled precious care towards anyone sharing their story with him: he will give you his undivided attention because in this moment, you are the most important person in the room!

The Red River Valley is fortunate to have an agent of change like Whirlwind Soldier leading by example and living his Human-Centric values on a daily basis! Until the next time our humble paths meet,

Stay Radically Optimistic!

Alex Cyusa

“As I experienced certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways have been accustomed to them. The input is eventually anticipated, and even missed when absent.” – Lt. Commander Data, USS Enterprise

Fargo is a very welcoming place. Whether it’s 1 Million Cups or Brewhalla or Bluestem, you will find people who are happy to see you. And in these places, when talking to those who are happy to see us, our conversations have their own momentum and trajectory. That’s how we know we belong; these interactions have lives of their own. But of course, there are also those other experiences, where we feel like an outsider, or at best, an imposter.

The subject of belonging is especially confusing for a half-breed like me. My mother is white, and my father is Lakota. I’ve been referred to as an Apple. It means that I’m red on the outside and white on the inside, that I’m not a real Indian. That I don’t belong. Truth be told, I’m actually not that red on the outside, I’m more of a light brown. Or maybe a jaundiced olive.

I’ve also been referred to as a Pretendian. I’m reminded that I’m not THAT dark or that I “don’t act Indian.” Well-wishers ask me why Natives would “choose to live that way” or why they “won’t pick themselves up” because they feel safe asking me things that they wouldn’t dare ask a “real Indian.” They feel safe making racist jokes in front of me. Or they will criticize Native people and say, “but I’m not talking about you.” The problem is that you are talking about me. But you are also telling me that I’m not Indian enough. You’re saying that my mind is betraying my heart.

In spite of my Apple status, the U.S. government says I actually AM a real Indian because of my blood quantum. It’s a fancy pseudo-objective way of defining Native-ness. But this just confuses me more.

It was made clear early in my education that I was not white enough for the whites, and not Native enough for the Natives. And sometimes I was too Native for the whites and too white for the Natives. As is often the case, my acceptance was more about who I wasn’t rather than who I was. Because of all this ambiguity, I was able to skip along the border between the two ethnicities, and in the process, not belong to either. This served me well for a while, but forced me to ask, “whom should I be?” and not “who am I really?”

So, to whom do I belong? What box do I check? The government says that my blood quantum qualifies me to check the Native box. But when you’re both, what do you do? Do you choose based on how you feel that day? Do you roll the dice? Do you listen to those around you who are so quick to tell you what you are and are not? My conceptualization of belonging relied on how I defined myself and with what demographic I felt most connected to. As an adolescent, belonging felt like a choice. I belong to a group because that is where I want to be.

But then I grew up. As certain doors opened for me and others closed, I recognized that I wasn’t in control of where I belonged. Sure, my persistence could inevitably lead to acceptance by a group. But the final decision to offer belonging comes from others, on their terms.

Belonging doesn’t come from blood quantum or being qualified to check a certain box. Belonging comes from others valuing your presence and contribution. Belonging is feeling like part of a group because you ARE part of a group.

We all want to feel a sense of belonging. Of inclusion. Belonging and inclusion come from others accepting us as part of their group until the line between them and us blurs and disappears. As Commander Data of “Star Trek” said, it comes from those around us recognizing and anticipating our input patterns and missing those input patterns when they are gone. In this way, we cannot control our own sense of belonging. It can only come from the community and the people that care for us.

So, alas, we are only partially responsible for our own sense of belonging, regardless of how much we want to be part of any group. But that doesn’t mean we’re helpless. We can do two important things!

1. Fake it ‘til you make it! There are so many amazing groups, associations and clubs in the Fargo-Moorhead area if you want to belong, show up! Contribute! Engage! There is something for everybody, but you can’t win if you don’t play.

2. Belonging is a universal human desire. Everybody else wants it as badly as we do. Everybody else feels like an outsider. Do your part to make others feel welcome. Listen intently to those around you. Appreciate their contribution and make them feel welcomed.

So, yeah, I’m an Apple. But when I ask the question again, “to whom do I belong?” I say I belong to my aunties and uncles. I belong to all my brothers and sisters. I belong to my mother. I belong to my friends. I belong to my wife and my doggies. I belong to the organizations that I serve. I belong to Fargo and Moorhead. And they belong to me.

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