The in-between place: wedding planning and my Native American identity

Guest post by FraggleRocks Dahlia

My fiance and I are Native people. Our ancestors lived here for… who knows how long. We are bound to this land in a way I can't even explain.

My first trip back to the reservation when I was a kid was almost like a religious experience for me. The land is old, and as a ten-year-old kid I could feel it. It was like nothing I had ever felt in the city, with its ever-changing way… new people… new buildings… the land is unrecognizable, and it's always changing. The land the city is built on seems to forget as it plunges into the future.

But the Plains… oh, that was a different story. The land out there hasn't changed, it looks just like it did 300 years ago when my people lived, loved, and died there.

Nighttime is when you could really feel it. They told you not to pick up anyone walking along the road at night, they were spirits trying to find their way home. There was a heaviness that was always upon the air, but at night, it grew and intensified a thousand times. Maybe it was the humidity, the silent lightning storms, or the way the wind just died at night, but the land was still, no cars, no trains. Some spirit swept through the land and settled around us, almost as if reminding us who we were. And I understood this was home. Even if I never lived here, this is where I came from.

Fast forward to my early adulthood, and I'm feeling like a traitor.

I work, I eat, I sleep. I consume. I make money catching shoplifters for an old American institution — a department store that throws a parade every year. My fiance fought for the United States in a war for who knows what. He now works protecting the assets of a casino. We rarely practice the old ways, but we're still tied to them… especially when planning a wedding.

We are both proud of our Native heritage. My great-great-great-great-grandfather is Red Cloud, the last of the indian chiefs to surrender and be put onto a reservation. He did great things trying to protect his people and his way of life.

However, sometimes we are not sure if that is who we are. Well… that is who we WERE, but is that who we ARE? This question has come up a lot in my wedding planning.

Buckskin wedding dress available here

Especially with dress.

I would LOVE a buckskin dress, but I would also love a lace dress. We would love a traditional wedding that incorporates both of our traditions, but is that who we are? We'd love to get spiffed up in a dress and a suit, and we'd love a wedding that reflects US as individuals, not as a culture. I think that's what's so difficult about this. We KNOW the answer, but we feel like we're betraying our past.

My fiance and I, we feel it would be almost a sham — a theme wedding, a costume party — if we had a wedding where we did bits of both traditional and modern. We would feel it insulting to our heritage, but at the same time, we feel it insulting to our heritage to have a modern wedding.

So, this is our in between place.

I think every Native person has one, and I don't think it's limited to weddings. Now that I'm thinking about it… I don't feel like this is limited to just Native people… what about children of immigrants? Others?

The in-between of the past and future is the present. Presently, it is my job to figure out how to balance the two so that maybe my children won't be so confused about their identities.

Are you in an in-between place?

Comments on The in-between place: wedding planning and my Native American identity

  1. Wow. I’m not Native, and I have nothing to contribute to your dilemma (maybe ask older members of your community their opinions?), but I have to say that your description of the land is so beautiful. I’ve felt that in the desert and the reservation, and it’s why I love the West/Southwest so much. Thank you for putting it into words, and best of luck with your planning!

  2. Echoing Heid above, I have to say that I’m not Native and cannot speak to your conundrum, but I felt that Plains spirit in me the first time I saw the sandhills. And I knew that was home. And later this year, I’m finally FINALLY moving out there to be home.

  3. I’m adopted from Honduras. I’m of Mayan descent and grew up in a city with a high population of immigrants. I have a great love especially for asian culture (most of my friends were asian). I’m hispanic but I want to be dressed like a Hindi bride. I want a whole roasted pig like a Chinese bride. I’ll be jumping over a broom at the end of my ceremony. I want to incorporate Jewish customs due to a dream I had the night I got engaged. Things are always harder when this happens. I wish I could honor the Mayan heritage I have but I have no idea how. It would feel odd if I did it. Don’t worry. You’re not alone at all.

    • I’m Honduran and of Mayan descent too but I was raised in Africa through my childhood then Europe through my teens. My partner is of Irish heritage, raised in the U.S.

      We’re trying to incorporate Mayan, Celtic, African (and Steampunk) aspects because they are a part of us.

      The effort will be worth it though, I think. Whether we honour all our parts or focus on one, whatever decision we make will be what we thought was right at the time so no one can blame us for that.

      <3

  4. Yes, third-culture kids. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid

    I have always been in between. It’s not an easy place but it has a lot to teach about questions and life and culture and home. And at a certain point being in between feels more at home that being settled into one identity or another.

    There are plenty of people who do two weddings. Would this work for you? You can have one of the celebrations smaller and more private (even as private as an elopement with a photographer and priest) and the other the full social event. Or you could have the two ceremonies on the same day with a dress change? So it wouldn’t be one ceremony with everything mixed but two very separate ceremonies.

  5. Perhaps you could incorporate traditional Lakota beading into a gown made of European textiles. Or use all white beads in a traditional star pattern. The groom could do the same using traditional Lakota materials to make a waistcoat to go under a more European style suit.

  6. I completely understand how you feel. I also think that this is something that is felt by children of immigrants. My parents were born and raised in Mexico, but my siblings and I were all born here. Spanish was my first language, we spent our summers in Mexico, yet I know I’m not fully Mexican because I am also American and vice versa. This comes with a lot of guilt that you are forgetting one part of yourself if you embrace the other. It also comes with rejection because my family in Mexico sees me as American while my friends in America see me as Mexican. As I’ve gotten older and this is finally becoming my life, I can’t stop thinking about all of this. I guess that it’s because as I get closer to my wedding it feels as though I now have to choose. So what’s it going to be? Are my children going to know the comforts of a homemade tortilla, home remedies, and the heartache of Vicente Fernandez? Or are they going to know the taste of meatloaf, use antibacterial everything, and sing along to Elvis? Who would I want to win a the world cup? I guess that fact that I am trying to answer this question with a soccer reference shows who’s winning…

    • The World Cup reference is what I’ve heard described as “the football test”. You’ll always know which city/country/culture you REALLY consider home when their football teams play each other. LOL.

    • Mexico. Definately Mexico.

      If America won the world cup I think the rest of the world would die of shame.

      • But then again, I wasn’t even aware that they had a national team. I’ve never seen them play during the world cup!

  7. I think I know how you feel, although I may not have a right to…Is there a possibility of making a trip to the reservation to consult with elders or tribal leaders or whoever the keepers of the culture are? Or if not a trip, getting in contact somehow and asking for their advice? I think that would be the most respectful way to do things, to yourselves, your heritage, and to those who live the traditions you wish to honor.

  8. Dear FD –

    Thank you for such a beautiful post. If you ever were inclined to become a writer, I believe you would be wildly successful. Your writing definitely touches my heart.

    I think trick is to find a way to honor your heritage and the memory of those who came before. Honor the land and the spirits.

    It’s not so much WHAT you do or how you dress, it’s what is in your heart. How can you incorporate traditions that are meaningful to you both? If it feels like playing dress-up to wear a buckskin dress, then don’t do that. But you might find a blessing or ceremony that you want to use instead because it feels right.

    Ultimately, I guess that being an OBB is a lesser but similar experience as being Native in a modern world. As brides, we each have to figure out how much tradition (cultural or modern) will determine who we are. My best advice on all counts is to always follow your heart.

    Best wishes to you and your future husband!

  9. I’m in a similar boat. I’m a 6th generation Métis living in Manitoba Canada. Since my ancestor have been in the country for so long, I tend to call myself Heinz 57 (I’m Métis, which is a mix of Ojibwa and French (settlers), some of my ancestors are also Irish, English, Spanish, and the list goes on…)

    My FH is also in the same boat. Comes with a family heritage that have been around for so long.

    So as the wedding plans are coming along, I’ve struggled to find which ancestry to honor and which to drop, it’s not an easy task. We’re going to try to amalgamate what we can, as that’s were were raised (with a bit of everything) and incorporate what we can.

    Trying to find our “true” selves in this 3 ring cirrus called a wedding, is a consent battle, especially if you focus you’re attention on all the bridal magazines. But I also find that we’ve discovered and also solidified so much in ourselves that the struggle is completely worth while.

  10. This sentence really resonated with me: “Presently, it is my job to figure out how to balance the two so that maybe my children won’t be so confused about their identities.”

    I’m black with a white mother- and a white fiance. I’ve spent most of my life feeling in-between, and I’ve made the decision to never have children, so that I won’t ever pass that feeling along to anyone else. It’s something my fiance doesn’t understand, no matter how hard he tries, and it hurts him.

    In-between-ness is a painful feeling to wrestle with for anyone, and everyone does it in different ways. Kudos to you, Dahlia, for being so open about your own process and thoughts.

    • I’m also mixed (Mayan, Basque, Moorish, English). I’m glad you wrote your post because I feel similarly conflicted about children and I never hear anyone else mention it. My fiance is a very white Irish-American. I realize my children might likely look “completely” “white” (whatever those two words mean), and I would be sad about not passing along the visible evidence of my Hispanic culture. On the other hand, I’m not sure I would want to pass on my mixed heritage either. We might adopt non-mixed children so that they’ll never have to wrestle with the issue.

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