On the Power of Dreams

One of the recurring themes of this blog thus far has been “this work is hard.” A popular meme in my circles is that it’s important to always be kind because everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. This is true even in tribal communities, where more often than not everyone seems to know everything. It keeps us polite at tribal colleges—we’re sympathetic to each other’s struggles and we all know that everyone we’re talking to is tired and overworked in some way or another. We try to support, encourage, and help each other, as we would hope someone would do the same for us if we needed it. But I think a valid question, and perhaps one that does not get asked often enough, is why—why do this?

For me, the answer has always been complicated. I was managing a bar in Chicago and was halfway between a double shift, eating a cold lunch at my station, when I saw a video of an old friend getting arrested at Standing Rock. Earlier that day, I had read an article about climate change and it made me cry on the train thinking about what sort of world my niece and future children might grow up in. I had protested a lot, written a lot of letters, sent a lot of money, but I was acutely aware that I had reached the end of what I could bring to a righteous fight. I had no skills and no credentials, and that made me deeply unhappy.

But so what, right? A lot of people are unhappy. A lot of people wish they could do more. A lot of people wish they were something they are not. Why put in my notice that day to a job where I was making an okay living and where I had a career path in hospitality? Why leave a major metropolitan city to live in a place that doesn’t even get a dot on the map? Why do any of this when most people, confronted with the same problem, accept it as the way life is and move on? That was a valid option. And at the time, I didn’t have an answer.

Earlier this year, I realized the answer. I had been asked to go to New York to help raise money for the American Indian College Fund. The moderator asked me what I see as the future of Indian Country. Like I always do when someone asks me a question, I tried to give it some real thought but found I did not have to.

I see beautiful, well-managed lands where our resources are protected according to our responsibilities. I see places with warm, safe housing based on Indigenous designs, drafted and built by Indigenous hands for Indigenous communities. I see those communities powered by renewable energy and with tap water that is clean. I see happy Indigenous children on their way to immersion schools that teach our ways alongside Western science and math. I see high schools where you harvest wild rice in between geometry and Indigenous language. I see robust tribal colleges where you never have to choose between academic success and being who you are. I see tribal clinics where our people receive top of the line medical care balanced with Indigenous wellness. I see a world where we have won these fights, all of these fights, together.

When I say that I can see it, I mean it. It’s real. It’s there. I can almost touch it. Every day that I go to school, or when I go away to meet other students, I feel very sure that the people I meet can see it too.

That future is on the other side of all this work, just waiting for us to get there. All we have to do is make the journey.

Jasmine Neosh is a student at College of Menominee Nation.

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