A Witch on Stolen Land

Driving through Wyoming last week drove home how much I had missed the land I grew up in.  At a rest stop I collected sprigs of sagebrush.  The familiar scent of Russian olive trees hung heavy in the air.  The wind sung to me through the aspens.  I left Wyoming twenty-two years ago and it was calling me home.

My longing is tempered by years of learning about social justice topics; especially colonialism and this country’s horrifying treatment of indigenous people.  The knowledge that I live on stolen land colors my dreams of the future.

As we drove, Charlotte pointed out places to build a castle.  “That’s part of the Wind River Reservation,” I told her.  “I don’t think the Shoshone or Arapaho would appreciate us building there.”  The entire trip back I was aware of all the reservations we drove through, all the casinos we passed, all the roads and creeks and passes we crossed that had “Indian” in their names.  I come from a place that has herded various tribes onto parcels of land and monetized their very identities.

If I am allowed to move back to Wyoming, how do I, as a witch, practice without adding to the harm already done.  The question is especially tricky as I have no cultural heritage of my own to fall back on.  My sister did the Ancestry.com test a year ago.  Genetically, we’re a mix of Irish, Western European and British.  That knowledge doesn’t give me any real answers, though. In the same way that I don’t feel part of football culture just because I am American, I don’t feel any more connected to those cultures just because of my DNA.

So where does that leave me?  I can make sure that I don’t appropriate any Native American spiritual practices, something I strive to do anyway.  But I don’t know if that is enough.  Do no harm doesn’t delineate levels of injury.  I feel a responsibility to go beyond, to do more than just the bare minimum.

I’m not quite sure what that will involve, or how it will look.  As I figure it out, I’ll write about it here.

No Easy Beauty

Charlotte and I pulled into Bolingbrook just before midnight last night. It was the end of a 2,400 mile journey that took us to Wyoming and back again. With the exception of the 2 1/2 hours we sat in traffic due to construction and accidents it was a good trip.  We drove out to Laramie to drop off my husband, son and the cats.

My husband, Stephan, has a new job in Laramie and we’ve signed a lease on a house.  After a day of getting them settled, Charlotte and I loaded back into the Jeep and headed out on the road again.  We swung up through Worland to visit my grandmother.  That added half a day to our trip, but I hadn’t seen Grandma since 2008 and I wasn’t about to skip a chance to see her.

Charlotte and roach in Wyoming
Charlotte and I take a selfie in the Big Horn Basin.

Driving through Wyoming I got to show my daughter all the things I loved about my home state.  I wasn’t trying to convince her to want to move there, I just wanted to give her an insight into where her mother came from.  Charlotte kept pointing out places where we could set the castle I plan to build one day.

The drive also gave me a lot of time to process what’s been going on.  Where I grew up is not an easy place to love.  You have to look for its beauty and if you can’t find it, the land doesn’t care.  I watched the landscape roll past us, desolate but dotted with life determined to thrive.  I thought about how I had been raised to know that life isn’t easy and won’t hand anything to you.  With that in mind, I was taught, I was supposed to be grateful for anything life gave me and not complain.  Never ask for anything more, was the prevailing wisdom.  It took thirty plus years for me to unlearn that second lesson.  Life might not be easy, but that doesn’t mean I can’t fight for what I want.

Grandma, Grandaughter & Great Grandaughter
Grandma, Grandaughter & Great Grandaughter

I’ve got two more weeks before I get an idea of whether or not my relocation petition will be granted.  I’ve spent almost six thousand dollars on this fight, and I will spend thousands more to finish it.  I am not trying to take Charlotte from her dad, I’ve been adamant from the beginning of this legal battle.  I’ve stated that I would work with him to make sure they have time together.  But I can’t let him have full custody of her.

My ex-husband is a homophobe who has not supported our daughter since she came out as a lesbian last year.  He hasn’t taken her mental health issues seriously, ignoring and denying her repeated requests for help for months until I intervened and got her into therapy and on medication.  In the past he preyed on an underage girl, chatting with her about masturbation and being “friends with benefits”.  The list of reasons why he can’t have her full time goes on and on and on.  Charlotte needs to have a relationship with her father.  She also needs to be protected from him.

Life isn’t easy.  Neither are the decisions I have to make.  If the relocation isn’t approved I will remain in Illinois.  I’ll get a studio apartment for me and Charlotte.  My husband will remain in Laramie.  His new job pays more than his previous one.  There are opportunities for advancement there and he will be enrolling in the Masters program for Health and Kinesiology at the University of Wyoming.  My friends and family in Laramie have already set to making my guys feel welcome and loved.

Charlotte and Ben scrambling over rocks. My kids are part goat, apparently.
Charlotte and Ben scrambling over rocks. My kids are part goat, apparently.

This will be an extreme hardship on all of us.  I’m going to suffer financially.  Charlotte will still have to deal with a move as we won’t be able to stay in the surrounding area.  My son will not have his mother.  My husband will have to be a single father.  My daughter is worth fighting for, though.  She is worth suffering for.  I’ll be beside her, looking for the beauty in the bleak scenery for as long as she needs me.