- We Will Always Be Here: Native Peoples on Living and Thriving in the South by Denise E. Bates
FOR CENTURIES NATIVE PEOPLES in the South have struggled to maintain their communities, hold on to their homelands, and continue to pass on their ways of living and being in the world to new generations. Despite forced removals, terminations, land-grabbing state and federal policies, Jim Crow segregation, and targeted racism, Native peoples have continued to live throughout the South in substantial numbers. Sometimes, their languages and specific cultural practices disappeared as they were forced to assume identities as either "white" or "colored." In other cases, tribal entities reasserted themselves from a terminated status and pursued federal or state acknowledgment as tribal nations during the era of self-determination. Often, their histories of thousands of years were reduced to mere footnotes in the larger American saga, and they were characterized as people of the past.
Books like We Will Always Be Here are essential to reversing the many stereotypes and the sense of invisibility experienced by southeastern Native peoples because we've so rarely been asked to tell our own stories or speak in our own words. From Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia the voices of contemporary Native people are gathered here, unfiltered, many for the first time, giving voice to the complexities of their lives and demonstrating that there is not just one story but a multitude impossible to reduce or generalize. Some contributors are Native leaders; others are tradition keepers, activists, or educators. Some offer recollections of hard-working grandmas who raised them to love a river like a relative or taught them to stand up for themselves. Others express the pain of having to attend boarding schools far from their communities and cultures or of being part of the group that desegregated their local schools and the prejudice they encountered. One whole section of the book considers identity and politics from multiple perspectives; another focuses on the roles of culture, language, and traditions as these are perpetuated and revitalized today. A final chapter points us toward the future, encompassing the visions and hopes of the contributors for their communities as they begin or continue efforts to improve their lives. [End Page 207]
These are stories of persistence in the face of incredible opposition and difficulty, of personal strength and community resilience despite racism and poverty, stories demonstrating how Native people have always relied on one another—what we called "making do"—regardless of their tribal status. They are stories of people struggling for acknowledgment, people continuing to practice cultural traditions, people sharing, building, traveling together. Ultimately, this is a book about hope and continuance. People of all ages, from many tribal communities. All of them speaking out. [End Page 208]
KARENNE WOOD (Monacan) directs Virginia Indian Programs at Virginia Humanities and has published two books of poems.