“Walking. I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” Linda Hogan, 1947
(I have been told that my ancestors love me, they walk with me, and sacrifice for me. I never really understood the gravity of this statement until the Yappalli project and walking the Trail of Tears.)
In 2013 and 2016, I walked across Arkansas with Choctaw women and Indigenous allies, in the steps of my ancestors. We walked the Trail of Tears holding a vision of health for the next generation. I did not know what to expect on these journeys, but I wanted to represent my tribe and my ancestors with honor, humility and respect.
In 2013 I came to understand the depth of the love and sacrifice my ancestors have for me, on a hot fall day in Camden, Arkansas. I was carrying the grief of 175 years of historical trauma. I was in a place where my ancestors walked and were treated with hate and disdain, treated as less than human. I was weeping with this understanding of the horrific treatment my relatives endured, of what they went through for the survival of the Choctaw people . . . for my survival.
I sought refuge from the heat of the day under an old oak tree and silently wept. An elder come up to the tree, touching it with great reverence. She told me that the Choctaw ate acorns, that this tree was old enough to have been there 175 years before. She told me that she imagined that our ancestors might have sought refuge under this same tree, just as I was seeking refuge.
In that moment I felt 175 years of historical trauma transform from grief into gratitude.
I suddenly felt immense gratitude for all I had, for the opportunity to walk the Trail of Tears, for the Yappalli project, for all the opportunities I have been afforded, and for the love of my family. But mostly I felt the deepest sense of gratitude for the sacrifice and love my ancestors had for me.
In 2016 I was able to revisit Camden, Arkansas, this time with the company of a group of Choctaw elders. I shared with them my story of healing in this place, they shared with me the same expressions of love for their ancestors and the struggles they were experiencing on this journey. We cried and we laughed, we shared songs of Yappalli and we bonded as sisters, aunties and relatives. They could feel the continued healing after 175 years of historical trauma, and I could feel the love of these women and our ancestors.
I now know what it means to have my ancestors walk with me, to be the result of the love of thousands. I know that I am not alone; I know that I am loved. I now must pass this love on the next generation, to make my sacrifices for the health of the People, for I have the responsibility to create a better world for the next generation, just as my ancestors did for me.
Chi hullo li!
By Danica Love Brown, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma
Doctoral Student, Portland State University, School of Social Work