, Salem, MA


November 26, 2012

Column: Finding myself

What started at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions of first Americans to the establishment and growth of the United States has — since 1990 — resulted in the entire month of November being designated Native American Heritage Month.

We all have different origins and come from different parts of the world.

My name is James Young, and I am a proud Native American from the Mikmaq Nation and a member of the Potlotek Reservation, located in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Adopted by a white family in Lynn as an infant, I returned to my reservation for almost a full year after graduating from Salem State University in 2011, anxious to discover who I really was and where I came from.

What I saw and heard horrified me, especially the tragic stories of the Native American residential schools and the crimes that have taken place on reservations. I also noticed a lot of depression and anger among many of the reservation’s population. The pain they feel in their hearts could be seen in their eyes. Through their anguish, however, I could still feel the love my people have for their culture.

Despite profound sadness at their current condition, Native Americans still stand tall and proud.

We have a strong but sad history that even to this day we have trouble letting go of. The richness of our beliefs and traditions — and how they guide individuals in a spiritual way — is what sustains us today.

On my reservation, lively events teach our children, and even outsiders, about the Mikmaq culture. My relatives want people to understand their spiritual awareness, too. One of the biggest spiritual events is at the St. Anne Mission, an important pilgrimage site for the Mikmaq. The event, one of the major ones for the Chapel Island reservation, helps Mikmaqs maintain their spiritual well-being and renew their cultural ties.

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