During my childhood, we spent most of our Christmases and New Years on the rez. After the New Year, I always had my own thoughts, especially being an urban raised Native kid. The first thing I remember was all the broken Christmas toys left out in some of the yards. I never got much as a kid, so I always wondered why it was like that. But it wasn’t just the toys out in the yard, it was some of our tribal members passed out in the yard. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to feed into any stereotypes. And I would encourage anyone who thinks that Natives have a drinking problem to read Cunningham’s (2016) article on drinking that found White people often drank the same or more than Native Americans. Not to mention the propaganda that was used to brand Natives as alcoholics during the 1800s. But it doesn’t negate that today, alcohol in select families seems to be a bit of a negative concentrated effect in our communities.
Our family was no different. Like some of my cousins’ toys that I saw left in their yard, I would see our relatives left in the yard. Most notably was my Uncle. It was the day after the New Year, and I was probably around 8 years old. We started to walk out of my Nana’s house to our blue astro van, when we thought we saw a bear. My Mom went out first, because at first glance we didn’t know what it was. Me and Camie said, “look at that bear sleeping out front.” But that couldn’t be right, our rez is in the desert. My Mom got closer. As she drew closer she saw it was my Uncle Lorenzo.
My Uncle Lorenzo (like my Mom, Uncles, and Aunties) had a rough childhood. They grew up in a mud house wracked with alcohol and abuse. My Uncle turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with those issues. Whereas my Mom turned to education. My Uncle wasn’t fully lost through his entire life though. He was a part of the decade of dominance at San Pasqual Valley High School, and a documentary is currently under development by Dan Golding that highlighted our reservations state football championships over a span of 10 years. He was a beast of a tackle, and the family stories of his athletic ability are spoken almost in reverence. He later became a hot shot in the White Mountains, hanging out with my parents, and putting out fires with the Apaches. But during the fire off season he would return to our rez to the same destructive friends, to the same detrimental environment, and would end up turning to the same drugs and alcohol. But he made that decision, as my Mom made her decision to get her education.
But in the New Year, and especially as everyone is making their annual resolutions that will be broken by month’s end, I am reminded that our decisions matter. Whether it’s a daily decision or life decision, our decisions are important. Sometimes our decisions are made for us through our circumstances, but like in my Mom’s situation (and my Dad’s also) they were strong enough to make life changing decisions with what they were given at a young age. If we’re lucky and strong enough, we will be fortunate to make decisions that can change the legacy and outcomes of our families. So I pray that I have my Uncle’s talent without distraction, my Mother’s passion, and my Dad’s wisdom so that I can face those decisions fearlessly, without hesitation, and have a chance to change the course of my own life. Here’s to a New Year and to the blessing of having choices with our only crazy beautiful complicated life!