The frameworks for in search of ourselves, we find each other come from both Cherokee and inter-tribal epistemologies. Some are based on my personal cultural understanding and others are based more broadly on the wider scope of Indigenous research methodologies presented by knowledge keepers in their specific tribal communities. The frameworks flow in and out of the exhibit, with every piece holding some of all. Every aspect of this framework exists in a circle, each being dependent on one another, and should be approached non-linearly.
Perception is the moment in which we realize there is something different, an awareness of otherness, but is, simultaneously, the realization of sameness, an intrinsic or inherent tie to something or someone. It is a sort of metaphysical beginning understanding of self. Perception is realized through multiple avenues and varies person-to-person. It is influenced by intersections in our ways of knowing and being. In this state of awareness, questions are formed in which we begin to ask ourselves where we come from, where we belong, what we believe, what we value, who we honor, who supports us, what we steward, what we hope for, and what we dream, to name a few.
Perception begins early for many people, especially those coming from decentralized ways of being and knowing. I believe this is true for many reasons, but most certainly due to the perception of otherness. One of my first perceptions of Indigeneity was in sports, specifically basketball. My family would take me to Tahlequah (the Cherokee Nation Capitol) to watch the Sequoyah basketball teams play and I remember being excited to see myself reflected on the court, on that platform, even at a young age. I was able to perceive that sameness because I had previously perceived my otherness in relation to the people I existed alongside outside of that space.
Perception can come in many moments, through many channels. I believe perception of self happens in experiences with other people, present or non-present. When I say present, I mean we can perceive ourselves in relation to another person who is physically alongside us. When I say non-present, I mean that a person is not physically alongside us, but still able to communicate with us, like in a writing, a song, a movie, or even now, in this writing. The person is not with you, physically, but their knowledge, presence, legacy, etc. has helped you become more aware of self.
I see perception as happening both within and beyond the general senses, therefore I see it as something that has the ability to be found beyond cognition, into the supernatural. I say supernatural to create a better understanding for the reader. My understanding of the supernatural is different than some, coming from Cherokee oral traditions, narratives, and stories where life, death, land, people, and animals are all expansive and our belief systems ad values are tied up within them.
Self-location refers to personal perspectives, our relations to people, places, and things, and the experiences with all of them that help us understand them better. It is an adaptable way of thinking about location, that is less geographic and more relational.
In reference to self-location, I refer to the answers of the questions asked at the point of perception. Identifying what we value, what we believe, and who our community is are all important parts of self-location. The answers to the questions do not come to us informed by a singular part of ourselves (i.e. race, culture, class, gender, etc.), but through the intersections of all of these things.
Knowing where our perspective comes from and why is incredibly useful in being able to ground ourselves in relation to others. Growing up and to this day, my father never lets me leave his presence without saying, “remember where you come from.” He isn’t just referencing the place I come from, but also reminding me to remember how I became who I am and who helped me get to this understanding. This idea of knowing where you come from is especially poignant in Mvskoke elder and U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo’s poem, Remember.
Remember the sky that you were born under, know each of the star's stories. Remember the moon, know who she is. Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the strongest point of time. Remember sundown and the giving away to night. Remember your birth, how your mother struggled to give you form and breath. You are evidence of her life, and her mother's, and hers. Remember your father. He is your life, also. Remember the earth whose skin you are: red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth brown earth, we are earth. Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them, listen to them. They are alive poems. Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the origin of this universe. Remember you are all people and all people are you. Remember you are this universe and this universe is you. Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you. Remember language comes from this. Remember the dance language is, that life is. Remember.
Self-location also references the relations we build with others. We are able to see ourselves more clearly when we are in relation with others because we are able to recognize our differences and similarities in perspectives. We are able to find intersections and how we do not. In short, the development of strong relations with others acts as a mirror in which we see parts of ourselves that might have otherwise remained unknown.
We are able to locate ourselves more fully when we identify the land and spaces within which we built our understandings. When I speak of land, I speak with the understanding that it is part of me and I part of it. It is my kin. Just as I would sit and listen quietly to an elder or peer pass down knowledge or stories, I listen to the land. In this process, I am able to identify the places where my knowledge was formed by land and our shared experience. This shared experience that helps locate self can also encompass the shared experience between self, land, people, animals, etc. These experiences help to map oneself, to use your own understanding as a location from which to start moving beyond self.
Within self-location, one begins to think about the relations that are built with others, person-to-person. Within community relations, I am actively grounding myself in the knowledge that comes from experiences and interactions within broader community. The idea of collectivism over individualism is an important aspect of this framework; a responsibility to the whole.
Communities come in many forms, but I like to think of mine in the forms of familial, tribal, and intertribal as it relates to my sense of Indigeneity.
My familial relationships consist of my blood relatives, my clan, and my ancestors. My tribal community consists of those who participate in the teachings, beliefs, ceremonies, etc. of the Cherokee and Muscogee tribal nations. My intertribal community consists of the broader Indigenous peoples that exist in relationship with me, nationally and internationally. All help me ground myself in Indigenous knowledge.
I would be remisce if I did not include all my relationships with communities that align with other, intersectional parts of my existence. My relationships to communities beyong strictly Indigneous also inform who I am and are part of the collective conversation of how we move forward, together.
Past and Future Honoring
Past and future honoring is the practice of looking backwards and forwards, simultaneously. This is based on the Iroquois teaching, adapted by many tribes, of seven generations, in which we honor seven generations before us and seven generations after us with what we do, presently.
Honoring those who came before can look like implementing traditions, ceremonies, and ways of knowing that were built on ancestral knowledges. Honoring those that come after looks like continuing to build on ancestral knowledge, while also building new traditions in the mindset that you, yourself, will someday be someone’s ancestor. Subversion, intervention, and adaptability are all ways in which we can honor.
Reciprocity is the cyclical nature of giving and receiving. From both a personal and research-driven perspective, Indigenous reciprocity is a state of being and it is not tallied or measured.
I recognize that in popular culture, giving and receiving is of an equivalent nature. I give you one dollar, you give me one dollar. However, that is not the case for this specific framework. There are things that are immeasurable, but we must still find ways to honor the gift. For example, I repay my grandparents for the cultural knowledge they shared with my father, that in now passed on to me, through memorizing the stories and implementing their knowledge in my own work and practices today so that others might also learn.
Another aspect of reciprocity is honoring those who helped you come to new understandings, supported you, offered you opportunities, etc., by giving credit to their knowledge and relation, as well as offering a similar support to more who may need it.