by Mariana Harvey
Since time immemorial, Indigenous people have celebrated storytelling as a way to connect the present to past lessons and future dreaming. Narrative sovereignty is a form of land guardianship, and Nia Tero supports this work through its storytelling initiatives, including the Seedcast podcast, as well as in this monthly column for media partner the South Seattle Emerald.
(In Ichishskíin) Ínknash waníkxa̱ Mariana Harvey. Washnash Yakama kníck.
I’m Mariana Harvey. I’m an enrolled member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation. My bands are Klickitat and Sk’in-pah. I am also Táytnapam, Spokane, Choctaw, Swedish, and Black. Culturally, I was raised Yakama in the City of Seattle. Being Yakama and an Urban Native is how I orient myself in the world.
I am the wild foods and medicines program coordinator for Garden Raised Bounty, or GRuB, in Olympia, Washington. I’m an íła (mother), and I have a beautiful 2-year-old son named Áyut as well as a loving partner named Itsa. We all live together in the lands of the Squaxin Island, Nisqually, and Chehalis peoples, currently known as Olympia, Washington. I am honored to share a little bit about our journey re-Indigenizing our lives through parenthood.
The revolution, as they say, starts at home. When I was pregnant, I started to ask more questions about my grandmothers. What were their lives like? What was motherhood like for them? I’d grown up knowing that my paternal grandmother went to boarding school and that Ichishskíin was her first language. Due to the violence, trauma, and assimilation of boarding school, she did not pass on her first language in our family. It wasn’t until I was on my own motherhood journey that I really sat with these stories, sat with and appreciated the strength of my grandmother for all she went through raising seven children after what she had been through as a child herself. I had a moment where I realized, “These are the traumas we [today’s Indigenous families] are trying to heal from today.”
As Indigenous peoples, there are many moments like this. Stories about personal, familial, and collective histories show the roots of trauma that we’re still dealing with, including being forced from our lands, losing our languages, and enduring many other assaults on our lifeways, all stemming from historical and ongoing settler colonialism. All of this trauma has trickled into our families, including mine.
One of the most beautiful things about babies is that they inspire us to do our best and in doing so, to heal.
Even before he was born, Áyut inspired Itsa and myself towards self work, an investment in ourselves, but also an investment in our collective future and communities. We did our best to show up more for ceremony, live our culture day in and day out, and learn our languages. Itsa and I have been more motivated to learn and share both of our Indigenous languages, Nahuatl and Ichishskíin, in our home each day through conversation and also through song. Some of my son’s first words were chúush (water) and túta (father), both in Ichishskíin.
My partner and I focus a lot of energy on our son, raising him so that he has a healthy relationship with the land we live on, so that he protects it, honors it, and knows how to be a good relative here. Our traditional foods are leaders, and we follow them into the seasons, honoring the gifts that they give. In my Yakama community, we have a ceremony in which we give a baby their first traditional foods so that they become acclimated to their lands, because they are a part of each other. As Áyut’s first teachers, a big part of our walk as parents is connecting him to the gifts of the land and letting him realize his responsibility and role as a human on the earth.
One way we helped to develop this way of being was through a protocol in my community that says the parents do not gather food during a pregnancy. Because we’re growing a life, it’s counterintuitive to take a life. Instead, our community gathers for and takes care of us.
When Áyut was born in January of 2019, one of the first things that we gathered together as a family was nettles. Of course, when I say “gathered together,” I mean he was in a stroller, tucked into his blankets, while I gathered. I took a break from work and travel for three months after I gave birth, and when I returned to work, I began bringing him with me. Wrapped up next to me in a sling, he helped me teach about the gifts of plants.
For me, being a mother has meant staying humble and continuing to learn from the ways of my community, from our elders, and from the land itself. In our house, this has led us to parenting practices that are sometimes counterculture to the modern mainstream, including utilizing a cradleboard, breastfeeding into toddlerhood, and sleeping in a family bed. I cannot call my pediatrician for advice about using a cradleboard — they do not have this knowledge. Once a pediatric dentist felt compelled to warn me against nighttime breastfeeding, despite what I and my community know is right for us. As an Indigenous family, we are sometimes still forced to face the expectations of others, and while we are blessed to be able to check in with those who are willing to mentor and guide us, we often have to sit in discomfort and do our best to use our hearts and minds to center the well-being of our son and our family.
It’s important for me to say that I hold no judgment about the parenting practices of others, Indigenous or not. I only know what is right for my family, and I feel fortunate to be among those who support me. For those separated from their communities by distance or other circumstances, the good news is that there is a whole world of online support out there for you. When I was preparing for my home birth journey, I not only learned from my Indigenous midwife and nearby loved ones, but I listened to home birthing and Indigenous parenting podcasts, including the one by the Center for Indigenous Midwifery, with whom Itsa and I shared our own personal birth and parenting journey. Other great resources include Postpartum Healing Lodge, Indigemama, and Indigenous Motherhood, all of whom can be found on their websites as well as through robust and informational Instagram accounts. Lastly, if you’re in the Pacific Northwest, Daybreak Star Doulas serves Indigenous birthing families in King County with amazing pre- and post-natal care.
Now that Áyut is older, he is a much more active participant in our traditional foods gathering than during that first trip gathering nettles. The older he gets, the more he’ll be able to learn and know the plants. The bigger he gets, the more he’ll be able to step carefully and to carry what we find; he’ll better understand the reasons — and the responsibilities — behind why we do what we do.
This piece was written with support from Itsa Shash (Mexica/Apache), who is Mariana Harvey’s partner, as well as a túta (father), Storyteller, Poet, Musician, Massage Therapist, as well as Julie Keck, a Consulting Producer at Nia Tero.
Listen to Nia Tero’s latest Seedcast podcast episode, which is based on an essay previously published on the South Seattle Emerald by Inye Wokoma (Kalabari/African-American), a Seattle-based journalist, filmmaker, visual artist, and co-founder of Wa Na Wari.
Mariana Harvey is a citizen of Yakama Nation, an íła (mother) and an artist with a passion for protecting Native foods and medicines and sharing their gifts in community. Mariana co-led Native student buffalo harvests in college which sparked her journey into Tribal Food Sovereignty. She worked for seven years serving Native youth in leadership development initiatives nationally with the Native Youth Leadership Alliance and Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Youth. She is a founding development team member of the Tend, Gather, and Grow curriculum. Mariana holds a B.A. in American Indian Studies.
📸 Featured Image: Mariana with her son Áyut. Photo courtesy of Mariana Harvey.
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