Pamela Peters: Leaving the Navajo Nation helped me find purpose

A view of Shiprock, New Mexico, on the Navajo Nation. Photo by Bowie Snograss via Flickr

Pamela J. Peters, a member of the Navajo Nation, was born and raised on her tribe's reservation. But moving away helped her find her purpose in life as a filmmaker, photographer and storyteller in Los Angeles, California:
As a very young child, it didn’t occur to me to question my family’s bi-cultural way of my life. But that changed when I was six. My mother and I were in our local border town of Farmington, New Mexico, and I had to go to the bathroom. As we walked past the town’s white restaurant, I saw a bathroom sign through the window, so I ran in. Almost immediately I felt a firm grip on my arm. I looked up and there was a woman—white, frowning—asking me sharply where I was going and then yelling at my mother, asking what the hell she was doing and ordering her to leave with her dirty child.

The memory is a blur of voices, but I remember the pain in my arm and the embarrassment as I stood there while the grown-ups argued, the urgency of my physical need ever more pressing, until I peed my pants.

I came to expect the slights and insults, though I never got used to them. Years later, as a teenager, I remember driving home with two friends after a movie when two trucks full of white dudes suddenly appeared. They followed us to the rez border and then turned around. We felt hunted on our own land.

When I was 15, I was assaulted, and, in a separate incident, my best friend was brutally murdered. Two other friends were killed in alcohol-fueled incidents—one was walking around drunk and was struck by a car. The other was hit by a drunk driver. These horrors left me in deep despair. I numbed myself with alcohol, and I attempted suicide.

The year I graduated high school, I was working at the local KFC and living in the family apartment. But I had recovered just enough from my earlier traumas to know that I had to leave.

Get the Story:
Pamela J. Peters: Leaving Rez Gave Me Purpose as Navajo Storyteller (Indian Country Today 7/30)

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