Shanice Is A Native American
Today, roughly 30 percent of the 5.2 million Native Americans in the U.S. live on reservations. What’s it like to grow up on one? Shanice, 18, shares her story.
By Shanice Britton, as told to Jane Bianchi
The summer before my senior year of high school, during a four-week science program at the University of California, Davis, I was eating in a cafeteria with some other high school students, and this one girl asks me: “Do you live in a teepee?” It was such a silly question that, at first, I thought she was joking! I said, “Are you serious?” She said, “Oh, wait, I’m sorry. Is that something I shouldn’t ask?” She wasn’t trying to be rude, so it didn’t bother me. I just said, “No, I have a house with electricity and running water. I’m not disconnected from the world!” But the truth is, I did grow up differently.
I’m a Native American, and I’m from a reservation in Covelo, California, where seven tribes live—including the two that I’m part of, Wailaki and Yuki. A reservation is a place that’s reserved for Native American tribes by the federal government. About 56 million acres in the country are held for Native American tribes. Some reservations (like the 16 million-acre Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah) are huge, while others are just over one acre in size. Mine is on the smaller side.
People often have misconceptions about what living on a reservation means. Some think, for instance, that I wear a headdress and moccasins every day. In reality, though, my life probably looks a lot like yours. There are paved roads and restaurants. I watch Finding Carter and wear jeans. Oh, and I’m obsessed with basketball! I was named MVP of my league senior year, and now that I’m a freshman in college, I play intramural hoops.
KEEPING TRADITION ALIVE
Even though I consider myself a typical teen, there are definitely ways that my life has been different. The reservation is an hour from town, so not only is there a strong community feel, but there’s also a big connection to the land. Our house is surrounded by a mountain, a river, and a farm. We have 23 animals: 10 chickens, 4 goats, 4 dogs, 3 cats, a guinea pig, and a horse. It’s not just for show! We collect eggs from the chickens, use manure from the animals to fertilize soil, and pick fruits and vegetables from our garden.
I’ve also learned how to hunt and fish. When hunting for deer, my tribe has two rules: 1) Never shoot a doe, because she might be pregnant, and 2) If you kill a deer, find a way to use all of it.
My tribe is also known for its weaving and beadwork. I love making all sorts of fun accessories, like earrings, barrettes, and necklaces—it’s my way of relaxing at the end of a long day. When I’m at school, I wear my beadwork around campus. A lot of kids will ask, “Where did you get those earrings?” When I say I made them, they can’t believe it! It makes me feel special.
A STRONGER FUTURE
Going to college has been a big change for me. There were only 25 people in my graduating class, and now I go to school with thousands. On my reservation, I was surrounded mostly by Natives, and at college, the Native population is only 0.07%. It’s intimidating but also exciting.
I’m studying to become a veterinarian—there aren’t any on my reservation. If an animal gets sick, you have to drive an hour to get them help. My goal is to open a veterinary clinic that will help my reservation prosper.
It’s actually pretty rare for teens from where I grew up to go to college. We’ve been plagued by poverty—and that’s pushed many toward drug and alcohol abuse. But I’m determined to become a positive role model for my reservation. It’s important to me to eventually return to the rez and invest in my tribe’s future.