Diversity Statement (please provide insight. Thanks!)
Last June, I went to North Carolina to attend my brother in law’s wedding. While enjoying an extended family dinner, the conversation turned to my Cherokee heritage. The discussion of Indians prompted an unexpected reaction from my husband’s 6-year-old cousin. He looked at me shocked and declared, “I thought we’d killed all them.” Everyone laughed except me. I am no stranger to such modern reflections of the “Savage Indian” and other various stereotypes. The common belief I combated growing up on the plains was the notion that American Indians were “worthless, lazy drunks” in the words of an unnamed peer.
But who I am is not dictated by prejudice; rather, my identity is one part where I come from and one part life experiences. My Grandmother, **** , was born and raised on the Cherokee reservation in Oklahoma with her 4 younger siblings. She was a strong woman, whose father died of a heart attack when she was 16. **** dedicated her life to teaching and her legacy has a huge impact on my mother, her daughter, and the rest of our family. Even though I never had the chance to meet her because she died young of cancer, I am proud when I recount her success in competitive swimming and the family yarn that she was compensating for our ancestor named Chief “Swimmer Too Late.”
My father was born and raised on a Cheyenne Indian Reservation farm in South Dakota. He is the middle of nine children who shared a two bedroom, one bathroom house where ice formed on the inside of the windows during extreme prairie winters. He encountered tragedy when his mother died of cancer while he was still in high school. Life was hard on the farm as a poor harvest meant they must live largely on potatoes until the next one. About half of the people in my father’s native county are still below the poverty line. The reservation was and remains a difficult place for youth to grow up. While attending the Eagle Butte Reservation School, my father witnessed stabbings and a classmate hung from the ceiling in a basement room. I am saddened by the struggles but proud of the triumphs of my family and people.
Growing up off-reservation did not sever my connections to my Native American heritage nor did it protect me from many of the struggles characteristic of modern American Indian life. I continued to return to my Grandfather’s farm and the land my father and uncle farm together. Witnessing the poverty on South Dakota reservations, I volunteered during school breaks from a young age. My older sister and I taught ourselves the written and spoken Cherokee language each time we received the Cherokee newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, able to read some of our people’s news in our people’s language. However, not all my experiences were positive.
My family adopted *****, an Oglala Sioux, when she was 2 because her mother had been jailed for driving drunk with ***** unrestrained in the back seat. Neglected as a baby, **** did not speak or smile when she came to us at age 2, and she cried for hours each night. We had a bond from the beginning, I learned a lot from her in those early years as she learned to speak with me and became a vivacious young woman. It broke my heart when she called to tell me that my mother had been put in jail for breaking down my brothers door and beating him with a screwdriver and that she had witnessed the turmoil. My younger brother and mother had clashed many times before, often over his drug use and delinquency but this event had an impact on all of us. ***** has struggled since the incident with drinking and other problems. The identity and family conflicts that caused me to seriously contemplate suicide as a teenager has driven many of her issues and my goal has been to help her identify positively with her Native American heritage, seize opportunity and succeed. As a competitive club swimmer, I tell he she is continuing the family tradition and making great grandmother proud.
These experiences have given me a unique perspective to share about the community I come from and the struggles that we face together. I seek to continue to bring diverse concerns and perspective to my school, work and my community. I want to continue to be a leader and a role model for girls like myself and (my sister) who struggled to find their identity and opportunity in the world. With my background and experiences, and a great graduate education I will have even more to contribute to the Native American community and society at large
(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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