I write this in Sarajavo age 29 and approximately seven generations after the genocide of Dine people along with many other indigenous peoples. I find myself disappointed with my major lack of understanding before coming on this trip. I see myself as an advocate for indigenous people and seek social justice for marginalized groups but yet I have been so oblivious to the genocide that has taken place in my life time. Yet I expect it to be common knowledge that Indigenous peoples exist standing strong with strong ties to the land and to our languages and traditions. It now seems unfair for me to expect that from people coming from all backgrounds to know my history when I literally had no idea where Bosnia was on the map prior to graduate school. Many times, during this experience I have felt the pain of my ancestors and recognize the lingering pain and suffering that many indigenous communities are forced to live with and struggle to understand to this day. It is known that historical trauma exists amongst indigenous people but it is denied continuously or seen as a historical event that took place and we now have to move on. The simple fact that there are no accurate numbers associate to represent the lives lost, pictures or videos to reveal the horrific events makes it easy to dismiss the suffering of indigenous people. Structures have been built and roads have been paved with no awareness or care of the traumatic events. We are now a burden to the systems that have been created through the treaties that are constantly being broken. We have census numbers to identify us as indigenous people similar to the way Jews were numbered during the holocaust. It is a fact that if I choose to have a family with someone who does not identify as Dine my great grandchildren will not be able to attain a Certificate of Indian Blood or CIB as Dine (Navajo). The wounds of my ancestors bleed through the systems of oppression and it’s a continuous fight. The battle to simply exist as indigenous people is one that will be life long and true for my children.
I find myself shedding tears as I acknowledge and appreciate my new perspectives. I sat here for days trying to find the write words to express the beautiful moments we spent with the survivors. Their dedication to our group specifically has been incredible and the generosity they have provided has made us feel welcome and safe here in Bosnia. They have allowed us into their lives and created an authentic learning experience for our group. It has been a whirl wind of events that we continue to process and comprehend. Talking with the survivors has helped me to understand the tragedies that took place on a deeper level. In the first few days we were able to meet Hasan a survivor of the genocide who stayed with us for what felt like half our time here. When first meeting him, we knew him as the author of his book Surviving Srebrenica. It was unbelievable reflecting back on the content of his book while shaking his hand. When he spoke, you could feel the kindness in his heart and good intentions. I could see the trust and respect that he had for Ann immediately and we soon found this was true for each person we met in Bosnia. Hasan was definitely an unexpected support to each of us gently explaining and mentally preparing us for what would come next.
I will never forget the survivors that I was privileged enough to meet from Tuzla visiting the International Commissions on Missing Person’s to the Women’s association. Our days felt like one very long emotion fill day but sitting with Saliha, Nora and Mafia mothers and sisters of those killed in the genocide brought me back to the moment. We sat in Saliha’s shade house awaiting our home cooked meal embracing the beauty around us. We ate amazing food prepared just for us and after listened to their stories. They each spoke with so much strength and did not shed a tear, while I sat there holding back my emotions with watering eyes. As I sat there I became overwhelmed processing their stories thinking about my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and what it means to be a Kinyaa’aani woman. I spoke to Saliha, Nora and Mafia about where I come from and I asked how their belief systems ensured their survival and through this conversation we felt a connection with an over powering amount of emotions that lead to tears from each of us. Later they each looked me in the eye and hugged me with so much love and compassion as my grandmother would. The whole evening is one I will hold dear to my heart and also learned that I need to be more understanding of others.
I come from a collective culture that is influenced by the individualistic westernized culture, which makes it hard to be understanding and compassionate of those who show hate and deny your existence. Especially for those who tell you we are all people, this is true but having respect for where each person comes from is what I feel we lack as a culture in the states. Hearing over and over we are all people and hearing we are not any different is disrespectful to groups who are different. People were forced and are being forced to assimilate in attempts to erase the differences that clearly exist. There is so much separation along with hate and revenge seeking it is overwhelming to think about. It all comes back to the lack of love and respect.