Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Woman Across the Water

Posted

Warriors sometimes come in unexpected packages.

Her Native American name is Woman Across the Water. Audricka Young has a quiet demeanor; she is gentle and humble, and this belies the fact she is a warrior, a mountain mover, like the water whose persistent waves change rock formations. 

Young is living a life now she never would have imagined as a child. She sits on the council of chiefs of her tribe — the youngest female to do so — in a place of honor typically reserved for older members. 

Young holds the positions of education director, storyteller, ceremony holder, water protector and language keeper for her indigenous culture. Young says each position holds, “certain responsibilities and certain blessings.” 

Originally Young’s people are from Louisiana. Her earliest years were spent in Fort Worth. Her family moved to Granbury the summer before her kindergarten year after the death of Young’s 13-year-old sister at the hands of a drunk driver. Young’s parents wanted the safety of a smaller community. The kindergartner attended her first day of school on the day of her sister’s memorial. 

Only vaguely aware of her heritage growing up, Young remembers an elementary production for Thanksgiving where she was cast as a pilgrim. Something about it didn’t feel right to her. It was then that her parents shared about her heritage.

Her parents explained that Louisiana was a melting pot of cultures: French, Black, Creole, and Indigenous cultures. They explained that some of these various heritages were part of her own identity. 

“I started to connect to my heritage for the first time when I had to be a pilgrim and that is when I figured out that there was a whole aspect of myself that I was not connected to. I didn’t fully understand what that meant to be connected to my Indigenous culture at that time.”

Her Indigenous heritage comes from Young’s father’s side of her family. “My father was raised in the generation where you wanted to be anything other than Native. He lived his life that way. It wasn’t until I began reconnecting with my heritage that he started to reconnect.”

The information that she carried these Native genes appeased Young as a child but as she became a teenager, she struggled with spiritual identity, “I wasn’t sure where to plant my feet.” She felt she had the freedom to explore in a way her father didn’t due to the time period in which he grew up.

Young became even more interested in her culture after the birth of her first daughter Annalise followed by daughter Juliana. Raising her children created a desire to pass on heritage to the next generation. This prompted her to explore more. It was then she began to attend Powwows. 

For many years Young remained a volunteer. Traveling to indigenous functions was more difficult when Young’s children were growing up. Since they have grown, Young is able to spend more time on advocacy and policy change for Indigenous people. 

Besides her two biological children, Young and her husband Steven took in many youth over the years — some for a short time and some for longer. All of them she considers her children; 11 of them, all now in their twenties. She now counts two grandchildren as part of her legacy. 

Marsha Grissom of Premier High School found a safe place in the Young home to refer at-risk youth of Hood County who needed a place to feel loved and supported. The Youngs also offered this tender care to Native children through the foster program. 

The Indian Child Welfare Act assures that Native foster children are placed with Native families to encourage support for their heritage. Additionally, the Youngs took in a barely-adult young man of Native descent, whom they consider their son. “He needed a mom, and I needed a son.” explains Young. 

Young took the task of nurturing the culture of each child seriously even in her cooking as she prepared meals such as Indian fry bread, etouffee, gumbo and Jamaican jerk — a full range of culture for the tastebuds. 

Young has a heart for children of all cultures. She calls young children “babies.” At local events such as the Texas History Stroll, Young can be seen preparing Indian fry bread over an open fire for these “babies” as she makes food, fills bellies and feeds curiosity with her stories of Native American heritage. 

There is a grace about Young, a compassion and yet pain beneath the grace. Young shares about atrocities committed not only against Indigenous people but against other minorities as well. Tears fill her eyes as she struggles to put the stories into words. 

“We wanted badly to do away with the Native Americans. It was almost impossible for a Native American to say they were Native American. If we could learn from that, then all people could embrace their culture. And it wouldn’t have led to so many dying if they could just be proud of who they are.”

Young has used this heartache to fuel her passion for advocacy. She speaks at events, lectures, colleges and more. She protests both on Native lands and in Congress as she supports legislation to protect and provide for Native people. 

It has been just two short years that Young has been able to more fully commit herself to this pursuit, but she has come far. Before she was able to advocate to the level she does now she had to prove her lineage. 

Young has a cousin in her tribe who felt Young’s gifts would be beneficial. The process of becoming an official member of the tribe entailed using the tools of Ancestry.com. Never one to waste and with a heart for all people, Young now uses this knowledge to help others both Native and nonNative find their lineage. She has worked cold cases, helped with adoption cases and assists people find their ancestors for the purpose of health analysis. 

Paperwork ensues after the initial proof of DNA, but that is not the hardest part of embracing Indigenous heritage. Tribes are understandably protective of their heritage and knowledge. It takes time and commitment to be brought into the fold. It takes a servant-hearted attitude that works where needed. 

“I learned through volunteering at Powwows and public events. There are opportunities to volunteer inside the reservation, digging wells, repairing homes, building homes. It takes diligence. You must prove yourself.”

Now there is no stopping her. Young counts Native people across tribes and across the nation as her friends and mentors. She counts these “Elders” as her spiritual advisors as she serves the Indigenous culture and sits on her own tribe’s council explaining, “Not everything has a black or white answer.”

Young is a member of the Natchitoches Tribe of Louisiana. The tribe is one of many that, though recognized by their state, is yet to be federally recognized. The land that is owned by the Natchitoches is the same land they bought many years ago when the white settlers began selling the land. 

Becoming recognized at the federal level is a main goal of the Natchitoches. A federally recognized tribe receives protections, health care and other benefits as well as a reservation designation. 

The council of chiefs Young sits on “is the democracy of the tribe, the governing body,” Young says, adding, “More importantly, the council is the middleman between Congress and the tribe,” to decide on such matters as where money is allocated. 

Young sits on council monthly. Some of the meetings take place in person, and she makes the five-and-a-half-hour drive to participate. Some meetings take place over Zoom, and they vary in length. “It depends on what we are bickering about. This last one was just an hour, but when you get the building committee and land committee and all the committees in there, they can take two or three hours,” Young said.

In her role as Water protector, Young remains committed to clean water for all. “Nothing is more humbling than watching a 90-year-old woman or babies carry their own water.” This role requires quite a bit of travel as she both goes to sites where water is threatened and to capitals and Congress to protect these water sources.

Young also does water blessings. “All Native Americans believe water is life. So we do water blessings to give thanks. It’s a ceremony to honor the water. I sing the water song and pray,” Young explained. 

As Education Director, Young assures that children receive proper historical information as well as informing them of current events. 

In her role as Storyteller, Young shares through oration the stories of Native American cultures which she is quick to point out, vary from tribe to tribe. Even being counted as a member of the tribe varies according to the tribe. 

Young as Language Keeper is the only one in the tribe to speak the language of the Natchitoches people, “No matter how much of your Native tongue you know — use it.” 

Ceremony Holder is a position that helps to facilitate the ceremonies of the Natchitoches people. Young is careful to explain that the focus of a Powwow is the drum circle where drummers, singers and dancers celebrate. This is different from a Native family gathering which is the same as a big reunion with food and games. 

Young plans to tirelessly keep advocating, to keep educating and to never give up the fight for Indigenous people to be properly recognized and to get the respect they rightly deserve. 

“We are the only race that has to provide a blood quantum like dog or cattle. It’s on the Indigenous person’s I.D. Mass extinction was the goal. They wanted the number to be zero. A dead Indian is good business for a government. No other race, past, present or future has had this,” Young said, adding that the Constitution of the United States referred to Indigenous people as “merciless Indian Savages.”

“A true first American, Audricka presents more than history. She shares her heritage for the day, and she petitions the government for the recognition of her tribe. I’m most impressed that she works all year to have the resources to continue that struggle. Her dedication makes her a history hero,” said Peggy Purser Freeman of Young. Freeman is a local historian and member of the Daughters of the American Revolution. 

Young took her “Daddy” along with her on her last trip to the Natchitoches land. Seeing him embrace his heritage has been one of the most rewarding parts of her journey,

“I think he has embraced it more and more — just seeing how his demeanor and approach has changed. He now wouldn’t step on ants. Says, ‘look out for the greats.’ These things are phenomenal to me.”

Her dream going forward? “All of our hopes and dreams. I want to help carry my people as far as I can. I want to be there the day we are recognized. I want to stand there. Yes, I am owning that. This will happen and I will be there.”

To contact Audricka Young for tribal storytelling, Indigenous education, cultural advising, freelance genetic genealogist work or water blessing call 682-205-9941 or email havemocswilltravel@gmail.com. Website havemocswilltravel.com.