by Charitie Ropati
Editors: Sarah DeSouza & Lia James
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Waquaa, wiinga yupiuga, yugtuun uguvaa. Camiunga Karianaaq, Alaska.
Hello, I am Yup’ik and my native name is Uguvaaq and I am from Kongiganak, Alaska.
I first want to acknowledge that the following words are my own. I do not speak for every Native American. I do not speak for all Alaska Natives nor do I speak for every Yup’ik person. I speak on behalf of my own experiences as an Indigenous woman and the ways I have processed and learned from elders and the matriarchs within my own life.
Whenever I write or introduce myself to others, I do so in my native language because it was something my ancestors weren’t always able to do, the words that roll from my tongue are the same words that my great grandmother spoke. Words built on generations of survival and resilience, words that I will pass to my children; just as my great grandmother passed on to my grandmother, and then to my own mother.
Quliiraqa – “My Story” in Yup’ik
Growing up, my mother would gather me and siblings in the living room and would tell us that if someone ever touched us inappropriately or made us feel uncomfortable that we should tell her. She would tell us not to do drugs, to not drink, and to focus on our education. It became a mantra we would repeat to ourselves every day. I was five years old the first time I heard it.
When I walk down the street as an Indigenous woman, I am ten times more likely to be murdered compared to any other demographic. I live in a city, ranked third for the highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, in a state that ranks fourth in the country. I was never shielded from this; it has always been my reality. Every day, I wake up with the knowledge that if I ever go missing or murdered, my case would get no media coverage and if violence were perpetuated by a non native, I would not be able to prosecute them because of my tribal membership. These are things I’ve known my entire life, but I thought I could escape my reality by going to school over three thousand miles away from home. What I didn’t realize was this was something I could never escape.
I was raped, violated in a place I thought was safe from the realities of what it meant to be an Indigenous woman in a country that thought I didn’t exist anymore. I was naive. I remember friends who told me they thought all Native Americans were dead until they met me. I remember them snatching things away from me to demonstrate how “the colonizers came to my land and stole my peoples lives.” I realized that wherever I went, I would never feel safe. That despite every step I took to raise awareness about the issues my people faced, I would never feel comfortable, or seen.
I went from writing about the invisibility of missing and murdered indigenous women to becoming invisible myself. A pain so deep, that it became almost ancient. Pain I faintly recognized; stemming from generations of silence and erasure. Becoming nothing but a number in a colonial construct created to decimate my people, until we became nothing but a black and white picture in a history book made to make white people feel as comfortable with the fact that their existence is biological warfare.
My existence and who I am has been defined by “proving” to non-natives that I’m still here, screaming, bawling to be seen and to be heard. And coming to the cruel reality that it may never be enough because your own friends can say some of the most violently racist shit, turn against you and then abandon you.
This is my reality.
Healing doesn’t happen overnight. Coming back home to Alaska helped me, touching the earth and breathing the air that my ancestors once touched and breathed themselves brought back hope that I thought I lost. My life, and my existence, is a living testament to those that thought we would never survive, we were still here. We are still here. I repeat this to myself every morning. I found hope. I learned that there are those who will always dignify you, those who see you, those who hear you, those who recognize you. Keep those people close to you.
I will not be silent.
Healing starts when you tell your story. This is mine.
Quyana, thank you.