In my doctoral research, “The Earth is my Elder: A Methodology for Reindigenizing Xicana Indígena and Split Feather Birth and Mothering Practices,” I explore how diasporic Indigenous mothers are remembering, decoding, restoring and restorying their Indigenous culture of birth and mothering. Generations of colonialism, migration, denial and hiding have left me, and many other diasporic Indigenous mothers, bereft of cohesive community and Eldership. We exist in racialized brown bodies without access to traditional knowledge keepers, healers or culture bearers. This lack of access to cultural resources, and community Eldership, reduces individual’s resilience in the face of traumatic experience as well as in coping with the stress of motherhood. I will build on the work of Jeannette Armstrong, Patrisia Gonzales, Leanne Simpson, Linda Smith, Susy Zepeda and others by using ceremonial remnants, Elder epistemology, and community relationality as regenerative tools in creative cultural restoration. My research responds to the question; how is it possible to use the limited fragments available from Elders along with listening to body and earth relationally within diasporic community of Indigenous women, to remember, recover and restore what has been lost?
Susy Zepeda describes a method for constructing decolonized memory and knowledge by enacting forms of remembering through art. She identifies collaborative sacred ceremony across generations as a means by which hidden stories are remembered. (Anzaldua, 1987, 2015; Zepeda, 2014) I hypothesize that ancestral memory is uncovered in the performance of ceremonial trauma resolution, or trauma-driven performance protest which leads to further re-membering of ceremonial wisdom that holds potential to restore and revitalize healing practices of new generations of Indigenous mothers and, as a result, their diasporic communities. (Aldama, Garcia and Sandoval, 2012; Taylor, 2006) As a Xicana Indígena (Mesoamerican Indigneous woman), I also identify as a Split Feather. Split Feathers are Indigenous people who have been separated from ancestral people, lands, language and culture (Locust, 1998) through myriad practices of colonial genocide such as geographical displacement, intergenerational trauma, Indian adoption policies, cultural shame, residential and boarding schools, globalization, NAFTA, dispossession, outright massacres and the current forced (im)migration of people south of the Mexican border heading north. (Lewis, 1999; Smith, 2005) Even when Split Feather people do uncover evidence of Aboriginal ancestry, we often face the difficult journey of tribal reconciliation and belonging. However, Split Feathers may also carry an ontological and epistemological memory despite physical and cultural separation from their Indigenous ancestry. (Waters, 2004)Paragraph
Drawing on the rich legacy of curanderismo, Mesoamerican folk medicine, and other Indigenous healing practices in my diasporic Xicana and Split Feather communities combined with the restoring and restorying of an Indigenous paradigm of relational, personal, fluid, circular, process-based, affective, poetic, embodied and holistic methodologies, I offer an interpretation of the Mesoamerican concept susto and limpia, (Avila, 1999; Gonzales, 2012) I posit that while the soul loss of susto may correspond to the concept of trauma as currently held in trauma theory, limpias are nothing like contemporary treatments for trauma. Drawing on the recent work of Indigenous scholars Joseph Gone, Eve Tuck and Natalie Clark who critique trauma theory as it has come to be deployed as yet another tool to perpetuate colonial domination, (Clark, 2016; Kirmayer, Gone and Moses, 2014; Tuck, 2009) I further trouble the location of trauma in the individual by asserting not only an oppositional socio-cultural focus, but also the need for a grassroots re-membering and re-imagining of the effects of, and response to, colonial violence across generations of Indigenous people. The temazcalli, like ceremonial limpias, is at once preventative, restorative and re-generative. I consider susto and limpia, and the temazcalli, to be more than research methodologies, but living practices of trauma healing that protect and integrate fright (trauma) and the consequent soul loss, not as a metaphor, but as reality.
My research is fundamentally personal, process-based and primarily located in my own community. (Absolon, 2012; Anzaldua, 1995, 2015; hooks, 1994; Simpson, 2011, 2014; Smith, 2012; Wilson, 2009) More than an ethnographic participant in the community where my research occurs, namely at the fluid intersection of the diasporic Xicana pueblo and Split Feather communities, I follow in the footsteps of scholars pursuing highly personal work in excellent and inspiring ways such as bell hooks, Leanne Simpson, Gloria Anzaldua and many others. My work aims to creatively expose personal process, emotion and to amplify voices outside (and before) academic claims to intellectual property. Building on the politics and ethnography of refusal (Flowers, 2015; Ortner, 1995; Tuck and Wang, 2014), my work aims to reverse the Eurocentric and Colonial Institutional gaze such that the institution itself is framed, rather than the victim, in order to clear space for Indigenous bodies, minds and hearts to occupy the still predominantly inhospitable space of academia.