I am not a spokesperson for Native America. Or even of the tribe from which I descend. As was taught to me from my time in the American Indian Movement, "I am but a humble human being," but my Aniyunwiyah (Cherokee) roots have guided me on a journey to give something back to my larger Native community. I have spent my life receiving blessings as I have traveled across this immense country, interacting with elders, activists and day-to-day people from hundreds of tribes. I have been in ceremonies, been shown things, been asked to stand on the land and hold it in opposition to any desecration by corporations or government entities, or by any people who have no respect for our sacred ways. As a member of AIM security, I have laid my body on the line in defense of the People.
As a mixed-blood, non-federally-recognized Native raised in the city, I have seen what many from my walk of life have not. I have been tested and challenged at times, but mostly welcomed and thanked. So when an opportunity arose for me to give back to my Native community, I had no hesitation.
Throughout my adventures, I was blown away over and over again by the lack of respect shown to Native Americans and our causes by the dominant society. Everything from the use of our imagery for their sports mascots, to their desecration of our burial grounds to be replaced by things such as golf courses and housing developments, to just common misperceptions held by most Americans, I felt it a duty early on to help turn that tide. I have noticed that the misnomers of the larger society have permeated the thought processes of the much-smaller Native population. Most Natives do not speak their language any more, or think in terms that our ancestors once did. Many use the invader-inspired names for their tribes, instead of their own indigenous tribal names.
As a young kid, I had always sought more knowledge about Native history and cultures. I would attend Pow Wows and scour through the items vendors had for sell. From time to time I would see maps of the traditional territories of our tribes, but thought they looked incomplete, and the names mostly inaccurate. I filed away the idea of one day creating a more authentic-looking one myself. Years went by as I looked from time to time for a better map. One day I decided, "It’s time to make a REAL map of Native America, as WE see it." It started with four poster boards and a rough pencil drawing of the United States. Over the next 14 years I would create the Tribal Nations Map.
I spent countless thousands of hours pouring through books, investigating in library archive buildings, making phone calls and traveling to remote reservations in the spirit of creating the most thorough map of Native America in existence.