Shanta Frazier: a colourful history of Indigenous Americans

“Native Americans living in the NW held a prayer meeting, tribal elders talked about issues of oppression, discrimination, violence, kidnappings and so forth,” says Shanta Frazier.

The Cincinnati-based author and documentary filmmaker was born in northern Ohio and raised in the ’90s on tribal reservations.

In her new book, Moonshine Dance, she reflects on her past relationship with the land she calls home.

In Colorado, her mother’s side came from the “snow warrior tradition”: In 1864, with help from the US army, the village of Sun Woman burned to the ground. Many members of the tribe came to the Colorado Plateau to survive in Pueblo, Fort Lewis, Rifle and other towns.

In North Dakota, her Native American father was part of a school reunion for war veterans. “We all sat around and went to dinner and laughed and cried and remembered the war,” Shanta says.

READ: Where the stories of Indigenous peoples come from

Thirty years ago, Shanta’s Native American ancestry was questioned. “We would be treated poorly, ridiculed, made fun of and treated as relics.” As a result, Shanta found herself separating from her race and culture.

But she grew stronger as she began reconnecting with her homeland, and more than a decade ago decided to find her father.

Born in the early 1900s near the Missouri River, he and her mother spent time in Minnesota, moved to Iowa and returned to northern Minnesota in 1937. Shanta never met her father, but had photos of him and his family.

A native of North Dakota, Shanta met some of her relatives during a retreat north of the border. She says: “At that point I realised the American people had a very different relationship with indigenous peoples than Native nations.”

READ: Finding out more about your relatives on YouTube

Shanta’s visits to the Bakkey Institute in the Bécere – a cluster of more than 500 former US Indian reservations – were key to reconnecting with her culture. “I could literally be in front of my family, from any tribe – from my Pawnee, Ojibwe, Shaktoolik or Iroquois, and I could speak without shame, I could understand things and everyone understood me.”

She’s made a long-term commitment to the land of her ancestors and people’s futures.

“We are in a moment when we are on our knees,” she says. “We’re taking a deep look at the challenges that face our nations – that’s a hard thing to do.”

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