Ikakiimaat – Try Hard

I have stared at a blank page in Microsoft Word for months trying to come up with words that epitomize chaos. The inability to defend against microaggressions is a skill that I was not prepared for coming into my senior year. So I retreated into my shell, as the fire ants found a way in. “Spoopii” is the nickname my father gave me after a slow entry into this world. Turtles have been apart of my identity ever since. I used to have a book mark—now lost through my own displacement—that explained the qualities of wisdom, patience, knowledge, and perseverance that the turtle brings into the world, embodying what I have always scoffed at as unattainable for myself. But the shell, I had that, and a love of mud and water, I had that too.

The truth is, it has taken me a long time to identify the other strengths in myself. A lot has happened since I wrote last. I must admit that organizing a symposium for a national conference—the first conference I had attended since I was assaulted—took a toll on my mental capacity to truly enjoy various creative passions I hold, one being writing. If I was going to finish this school year, something had to take a back seat. I apologize to my editor for that. I continue to be in a precarious position. Why? Because as much as the trauma in my blood and memory tells me to stay hidden, I am fighting torpor, I am crawling on the path I have set. The only preventative measure for drowning, however, is learning to tread water.

On hiatus, I’ve participated in some exciting opportunities: I am the Northwest representative for the AIHEC Student Congress; a recipient of the Best Undergraduate Oral Presentation award for the Montana chapter of the Wildlife Society; an honorable mention for the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship program, described as “a significant national achievement.” Further, I have been honored to speak on three different panels—two at my own college and one at AIHEC (thank you to my editor). I have been in New York City to help the American Indian College Fund put on their annual Flame of Hope Gala and I have been awarded a 40K, two-year Graduate Sloan Fellowship to attend the number one ranked wildlife biology program in the U.S. at the University of Montana. For the summer, I have secured an internship in my homelands working with the Iinii Initiative—a culturally restorative Blackfeet bison conservation program.

I couldn’t have imagined any of this four years ago. Blessings upon blessings upon blessings and yet I am barely making it from my pillow to class every morning. I am staying late at the student senate office because my house is a mess and the kids are yelling all, the, time. My partner and I don’t get alone time, the strain of extra-curriculars and a relationship where only one is in school is taking its toll. It’s the eleventh hour though. Every night I have to remind myself to turn in my assignments, even if they’re late, and that I don’t have any more PELL—you have to graduate Celina. Our dog nudges this turtle for a quick walk outside and then it’s back inside the shell. Xena does her job as an emotional support animal. Mental health is a crock of shit in some circles, but in my culture, dogs are special and if I need her to have a title so I have that special companionship, I would do just about anything for my 80-pound puppy. Depression is an ugly place to call home…but turtles can carry an island on their back. I can only ikakiimaat.

Celina Gray (Blackfeet and Little Shell Chippewa) is a student at Salish Kootenai College and the mother of twins.

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