My experience as a Native American growing up in a metropolitan area is a bit different than those on my reservation and probably much different than those from other reservations. In the city, I attended a predominately White school in North Phoenix. I happened to be the darkest and only red/brownish kid in my class. Being what it was, one day I started telling kids that I was Black. I never seen a real Black person in my life until a few years later, or at least none that I knew about. I was telling all the kids in my class, and finally my teacher overheard me. My teacher immediately called my Mother and said, “Ma’am, it’s not a big deal, but your son is telling all the kids that he is Black. He’s not Black is he?” My Mother replied laughing, “No. He is Native American.”
That day I came home, and my Mom sat me down. She said, “Son, I have something to tell you… you’re not Black.” I was in shock! For the first 8 years of my life I was Black, and now she dropped this bomb on me. I was completely disappointed, because I thoroughly enjoyed being African American all those years. So I asked my Mother, “So what am I.” She told me, “You’re Native American.” My face lit up, and with big eyes I looked up at her and said, “Are you serious?” My Mom said, “Yes.” Immediately I ran to the bathroom and threw my shirt on the floor. I took my Mom’s lipstick and began to put on my war paint across my face. I smeared it on my chest, and I started acting and looking like what I thought a Native American did. I took a steak knife from the kitchen, and from that day on my Mom would never be able to keep a hibiscus tree. I started cutting off limbs from that tree and made bow and arrows. I would use my home fashioned bow to hone my hunting skills against the alley cats in my backyard (I never got one). I was so proud of who I was that day.
Later on I figured out that the ideal I had of who and what a Native American is and does, was wrong. Native Americans today do not run around with their shirts off and wearing war paint everywhere (although some Natives do on occasion). I realized that this very experience of being an Urban Native American in the city, trying to understand my identity, was a real American Indian experience.