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. I don’t know if this will be helpful, or completely not, but – in Asian weddings the bride will often wear a “Western” dress for the ceremony and first half of the reception, then change into the cheongsam/qipao for the second half of the reception. Then, have a separate traditional Tea Ceremony wearing one of the Asian dresses. [[This is just regarding the attire as you mentioned your dress]].

    It’s not at all “weird” or disrespectful to do it this way, and from my experience, the guests understand and appreciate how the different traditions are incorporated.

    So – again, it’s not a Native American tradition but maybe that will be helpful to you? But feel free to disregard this if it’s not helpful. *shrugs*

    Also, do share what you decide to do on OBB, I know we would love to hear from you again.

  2. I’m sure you remember me telling you that my fiance is Native as well, Comanche to be exact and his great-great grandfather is Quanah Parker. His grandmother was his granddaughter and he grew up as a Native who happened to be mixed with white. We’re going to have plaques made by him that are just slices of wood (cross-section of a tree) to not only honor his trade as a carpenter also painted with the Comanche nation symbol on one and the TX flag on the other (that one being my side). I can’t wait to see pics of your wedding and I love your progress updates!

  3. I understand completely! my fiance and I are going through the same thing right now. We’re trying to incorporate our native heritage into our ceremony. I’m having a more traditional lace dress but I think we’re going to walk the seven steps together.

    something like that. we’re also going to have a handfasting to incorporate some of my celtic heritage.

    I hope you figure everything out and have a beautiful wedding that means everything you wish it to. Blessed be you and your loved ones.

  4. I am a Native American and one of the last generation of native children adopted by an anglo family. I love my family with all my heart, but being American Indian has made my life an in-between place. However, I like to think about the issue in the following way: Native people historically were not culturally isolated. People married and had children with others from different tribes and regions and later, with people of other races. Different tools, foods and cultural practices were traded and used and adapted to the culture of each tribe reguarly. I was raised to understand that American Indian culture is not static and that the general culture of the United States is not only part of the Native American identity and culture, but that Native American identity and culture has influanced the dominent American culture as well, it is just a matter of studying it and seeing the give and take in each cultures’ makeup.

  5. truly thought-provoking post – thank you!
    I have to echo the others who have said to do what feels right for you and your partner because a wedding is a about being wed to one another. it’s all about you! (both of you, of course)
    that said – remember Laura’s incredible buckskin-infused wedding wear:
    create your own version of perfect!

  6. You write beautifully. Truly lovely way of describing your tight spot.
    I feel myself to be in a similar spot at times. Both my fiancee and I are from Oregon, and our parents are East Coast Jews. Out here we have grown up with more assimilation and have constantly had to balance American traditions with Jewish ones. It is something I often struggle with, but I do my best to accept myself at any given point I’m at with the struggle. Sometimes I choose to observe more, sometimes less.
    I grew up in an egalitarian Jewish tradition, which has specific wedding rituals, and my fiancee prefers some more traditional versions of the rituals (less egalitarian). I get the feeling that the practice you get at balancing yourself during your wedding planning will prove very useful for the rest of your life.
    And keep writing! 🙂

  7. what you have expressed is exactly how I feel on a regular basis. I myself have chosen to intergrate aspects of my native culture into a more traditionally western wedding. I would like to use Navajo wedding baskets for my flower girls though there will be no corn meal in them. I plan to ask my grandmother if that’s ok. I also want my wedding party and all my wedding guest to do a round dance that I am hoping to write. Round dances are a very modern thing and really couldn’t be touted as Navajo but I myself am very rooted in Pow Wow culture and love round dances. I also am trying to work hard to forget my partner’s cultures. In the end there will be about four cultures to incorporate maybe even five if you count American Culture in general.
    Thank you for speaking of inbetweenness it’s a big deal and as a child I often struggled with the idea of which group do I belong to I am hoping this is a day that I am finally able to reconcile being Black, Navajo, and a reluctant American. I am also hoping to join with my partners cultural identities as well because if we ever have children I want them to feel embraced and apart of all of their cultures. I do not want my children to feel that they I have to chose like I did. I instead want to instill them with the knowledge that they are all and one can not be chosen over the other, something I didn’t learn until after I entered into adulthood.

  8. My mother was native, Lakota too. We are probably even distant cousins. I however do not look native but am very proud of my heritage, no matter what shit I catch for it. My maternal grandmother and her mother, Onchi, use to take me to powwows when I was little and I always loved the beading. My plan is to wear one of my late mother’s beaded barrettes in my hair, probably a blue one. Maybe even stitch my veil onto it.

  9. I understand completely. I’m a member of the Diné (Navajo). This discussion is something that you make with your family and your fiancé. My husband and I talked for months about the direction of our wedding. Whether to play it simple with a contemporary American wedding or to put in the work for a traditional Navajo wedding. We decided the latter because that is who we are. We felt it respected our family, our history, and the Holy People who had given us life. Just like in a church wedding, we felt the honor to be recognized by our deities. Faith directed our decision and made it the most intimate and honest part of our relationship together. We had to build a log hogan, go through several prayers, and prepare gifts to give away (the brides family gives gifts away, no gifts are given to the married couple; very different I know).
    But just like every other bride, I wanted a white wedding dress. So we decided to make up for it at the reception. Putting all our money into the wedding, I bought my dress online, a sample sale. It was beautiful. I loved my wedding and reception. Things that we couldn’t have done during the wedding, we made up for the fun at the reception.
    My only concern is to be cautious. All native peoples I know, including your tribe, are sensitive to appropriation and inaccuracies. If you have more questions, I would talk to your elders. But have fun, be yourself, and good luck in your wedding planning.

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