Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
Op Ed

What Native American Heritage Month Means To Me

The importance of being humble, quieting the mind and listening to nature.

Like her mother before her, Angela Kingsawan has her daughters, including the youngest Elena (pictured here), work alongside her in the garden. Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz/NNS.

Like her mother before her, Angela Kingsawan has her daughters, including the youngest Elena (pictured here), work alongside her in the garden. Photo by Ana Martinez-Ortiz/NNS.

Kuira (Hello). My name is Angela Kingsawan. It is Native American Heritage Month, and I’m honored to share my perspective on why this month is significant to me.

I identify as a Native American woman, although my culture and upbringing has been very different from other Native people in Wisconsin. My mother is Rarámuri, and she grew up in the Southwest and Mexico. She moved to Wisconsin after marrying my father. I wasn’t raised in what would be considered a traditional Native American way, but I was raised learning traditions from my culture.

Even though my mother was so far from everything and everyone she knew, she stressed the importance of knowing who I am meant to be through our culture. Every activity and every story while growing up was a lesson. Some of my earliest memories are in the garden with my mom.

My childhood was the beginning of my training as an herbalist. We spent all of our free time outdoors in every season. During those times, I was taught the importance of being humble, to quiet my mind and listen to nature. My mother continually instilled values of respect for others, food, land and water to me. We always had a garden and meals centered around fresh foods. We did, however, have a lot of trial and error. As my mother learned about the ways and foods of Wisconsin, we grew our knowledge together.

In our family, children are expected to learn by working alongside the adults. I have continued that expectation with my own three daughters. Like me, my daughters have been raised on the South Side of Milwaukee. I have made it a priority to connect them to our culture by sharing teachings and maintaining a lifestyle close to nature. We grow all our medicines and a great deal of our food. Each of the girls helps in a unique way to maintain our urban garden and our way of life.

It is because of the encouragement of my children that I began teaching about Indigenous foods and medicines in the community. It was also through their prompting that I eventually formed a small business, Yenepa Herbals LLC.

I struggled internally with forming a business, because I wanted it to function in a way that maintains our Indigenous values instead of only being driven by profit. When I finally moved forward, I decided to just let the business be a reflection of me.

I grow or ethically wild harvest every plant I use. Everything focuses on seasonality. When my harvest runs out, I either shift the recipes by wild harvesting or wait until the next growing season. Clients have come to understand my way of doing business. My daughters tease me because I am always willing to barter with community members. I take time to have consultations, not only to get to the root of the issue, but to truly get to know my neighbors. I’m not worried about competition because I feel there’s enough room for everybody.

The choices I make on how to run my business don’t make sense to some people, but that’s because it is continually growing and evolving with me.

As a Native woman, this is part of my decolonization journey. It is important for me to shift the ideas of success that mainstream society dictates upon us. I regularly re-evaluate my mindset, how I treat myself and how I interact with others.

The decolonization process is difficult and painful, especially for communities of color, but I am becoming a whole person because of the path I’ve chosen.

This month as we reflect on Native American heritage and how cultures have been impacted, I hope each of us takes a moment to reflect on our own journey. When we open up our mindset and become a little uncomfortable, we can change in amazing ways. We are all meant to walk in beauty. I hope to meet each of you on the Good Path.

Angela Kingsawan is a local herbalist and entrepreneur who uses her Native heritage to inform everything she does. She strives to share her knowledge of herbs and plants as part of her journey on the Good Path.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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