Claiming Culture

by katherine moore



As the biting wind of last April blew my hair across my face, my hand was clenched around a pinch of tobacco. My cousin Lilly huddled next to me, our frozen breaths blending with the pipe smoke from the elder chanting a prayer in front of us. We endured the harsh wind to be a part of the Spirit Pole ceremony, to join with our community in spirituality and solidarity.

This is what it’s like to be an American Indian. This is the culture, the tradition. Yet still I struggle with the title of Native American.

My great grandma was a full blood Native American—half Ojibwe and half Cherokee. Her hair was the color of onyx and her tanned skin showed every wise wrinkle as she aged. And here I stand today, having hair dull enough to dye purple and skin that freckles when I go out in the sun. I do not have any of Great-Grandma Irene’s traits, except maybe the heightened risk for alcoholism and diabetes. I do have bluish-green eyes, unlike her dark coffee ones. However, though I have struggled with identity, I have never let how I look effect how I see my culture.


Cousin Lilly grew up on the reservation, but I never lived there with her. I never learned to make dresses or shawls, so I didn’t have anything to dance in at the powwow last summer. So I borrowed Lilly’s pink jingle dress, which shone in the sun and rattled with each bouncing step. I spun, bounced, and frolicked to the beat of the drums. It was a celebration of sobriety, and a clear sense of elation surrounded the community. Support was passed to those who’d stayed sober, whether for a year or a week. I stood with the community, gathering around the people that we loved and helped them with the problems that they were facing.


Later, during that blustery April day, I walked around the spirit pole, placing tobacco at its base. I said a silent prayer. People followed to the spirit pole. The familiar sweet scent of tobacco was released in the wind with every offer. Lilly was standing next to me, her sweatshirt draped over both of our shoulders keeping us warm. The people surrounding me were not all familiar. There were strangers, family, and friends. But we were all together, releasing our tobacco, listening to prayers, standing in unified community.

I still am not sure if I can call it my culture, but it is the culture where my heart rests.


Katherine Moore

is a 16-year-old student at Superior High School. She is an avid reader and writer, as well as an advocate for social and humanitarian causes. She enjoys writing for her school’s newspaper, The Spartan Spin, acting in Superior’s mock trial team, and spending time with her family and friends.