Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Honoring my roots

When I was born in Cleveland Ohio, July 26th, 1967, I was born to an Omaha/Shoshone Bannock woman, named Lucille Levering. I did not know about my native roots or tribal background until I turned 26. I was adopted and lived with great parents, and family structure in Peninsula, Ohio. They also adopted my brother right before me, who is of Dine/Lakota descent.

After graduating from Gannon University in 1990, I moved out to New Mexico, serving in the United States Air Force at Canon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico. I always knew that if I moved to the great Southwest, I would more than likely end up meeting more Indian people, and perhaps learning more about my heritage and culture.

One time, while I was in Albuquerque, New Mexico for the Gathering of Nations powwow, the largest powwow in North America. I befriended an Acoma artist, and he encouraged me to make an announcement for my family, someone from the Omaha tribe. He said, certainly, someone would come forward and claim me. I did not want this, not because I did not want to know, but because I did not think this was the proper way to go about this kind of thing. So, very shortly thereafter, I picked up the phone and called the Omaha tribe, where my adoptive father enrolled me, even though I did not know where the blood lineage (maternal or paternal) came from. The enrollment officer told me she would look into my files and see if she could contact my mother or father. Very shortly thereafter, she called me back and told me she knew who my mother was and that we were related through my grandfather.

All of this news came so fast and unexpectedly, but that's how life is, isn't it? I went back to the Omaha tribe for the first time in 1993, met my mother and twin brothers at the airport, and drove up to Macy, Nebraska for the first time. They had a big community gathering for me, and I spoke of how I wanted to be named and blessed into the tribe. They were surprised that I knew of this ceremony.

I used to work with my mother as a baker at a Boy Scout Camp in Peninsula, Ohio, from the time I was 12 and through my teen years. The boy scouts lore and much of their philosophy is adapted after American Indian culture, particularly living in the outdoors. My mother and I worked in this old building at Camp Manatoc, and it was the dining hall that hosted hundreds of scouts. In the attic of this old wooden building, was a huge thick, green bound book about an Indian tribe in the midwest. The dining hall director gave my mother the book, so I always looked at the photos and tried to read the names. After I graduated from college and went into the military, my parents gave me the book.

Years later, little did I know, that this book was the first comprehensive ethnological study done on an Indian tribe, and it was the Omaha tribe. It's funny how the irony of life stares you in the face, and sometimes, if you are aware, you begin to understand it, and embrace it.

In this case, it was not ironic. Out of all of the Indian tribes in all of the USA, there are approximately 550 federally recognized tribes. The chances of that book finding it's way into my home, was a blessing by the Creator early on in my life. It was a message to me that one day, I would find my native roots, even though, as a young woman, I had no idea that my ancestors in this book were calling me....calling me to come home.

After that day in 1993 when I met my family, it's as if a missing link or part of a puzzle had been found. I was blessed into the tribe as "Ponca-sa", an old name that means "white or pale Ponca". The Poncas were closely related to the Omahas. From that day forward, I began to understand more fully my purpose on earth. It is difficult to explain the significance and impact this discovery had on my life. But, most importantly, I knew my native roots, and I was grateful to my adoptive family even more for always supporting me, and allowing me to discover and explore life, always encouraging me to "become" whatever I choose in life.

My relatives prayed for me, and blessed me, and it gave me inner strength and peace. I truly believe that the naming ceremony and being welcomed into the Omaha tribe laid the perfect foundation for me for the rest of my life.

This photo was taken by the world famous female physique photographer, Bill Dobbins, in 2002. Bill encouraged me to compete in bodybuilding--so I did, and the following year, I added 10 pounds of muscle to my frame and won my first show ever, the Mid USAs in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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