Don Standing Bear Forest Metis/Mi’kmaq/Abenaki/Huron/Adopted Gwich'in Athabaskan
When I was a young boy, my grandmother shared with me about our family heritage and told me, “Never forget where you came from.” She was personally proud and filled with love for who we are as Native peoples, but one statement she made haunted me for many years: “Don’t tell anyone about our Indian heritage.”
During 1975 I moved to Alaska to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks. While attending school in Fairbanks I reconnected with those who had a relationship with their surroundings and their creator, the Athabaskan people. Spending time in the woods, relating to creation, brought a bit of confusion to me as to who I was.
I’ll never forget the day during the spring semester of 1976. While entering the student recreation center, I heard the drumbeat of a native drum group and froze in my tracks. My legs became like Jello, I had to grab a railing. I could have been there for five minutes or fifty, my heart beating to the drum, the voices of the singers blending in a familiar haunting way. As powerful as the experience was, I tucked it away in the recesses of my mind and went on.
I returned to the University to finish my college education in 1988. My advisor and professor asked me if I would be interested in doing a research project for Tanana Chiefs Conference. I felt honored. Undergraduates as a rule are not considered candidates for research. The research involved conducting an overview of Alaskan tribal court systems in order to produce a guide for tribal court judges. I wrote two chapters of the five chapter handbook. As I started in this project, my grandmother’s teaching from long ago were ever on my mind. I called my father and told him that I had been wondering about something. Before I could finish, he said, “Maybe it’s the same thing I have been wondering about.” He pursued documenting our genealogy which verified our tribal affiliation.
Since then, our family celebrates our God-given heritage and culture through ceremonies, art, dance, and music. Our whole family is involved, siblings, nieces and nephews, and of course mom and dad. We are members of the Sou’West Nova Metis of Nova Scotia, Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia, Abenaki of St. Francis Quebec, and Huron. Mom and dad started to make regalia and passed on their techniques to each of us. I started working with natural and raw products making necklaces, deer and moose hide pouches, dream catchers, just for family and friends.
During a remote “looking for moose” trip, my partner made the statement, “Why don’t you do artwork?” My response was, “I can’t draw a stickman.” He said, “Creator does not want you to draw a stickman.” Returning home with a collection of resources, I began my journey into creativity.