Please allow me to introduce the one and only Juan Mancias.
My first memory of Juan is him cracking a joke about farting in the sweatlodge and it smelling like lavender. I have no idea when this happened in our relationship. I think it was actually a running joke. Anyways, he was a foggy, vague presence, as friends of your parents often are to a preteen. He became a distinct human for me then and memories cascade from there.
He is a very big person, probably still the tallest person I know. He's kind of loud and expressive, not noisy but resonant. Very different than the dry-humored inward men of my family. He is a force of nature. The jokes about lavender in the lodge were pretty characteristic. He laughs and cries easily.
Adults talk about how kids watch everything an adult is doing. That was true for me with him. I really watched Juan.
Waiting for Juan was a big part of my childhood because he was supposed to arrive at 6pm and then it was 10 pm and he still wasn't here. He was supposed to arrive in the morning but sometimes/often that would turn into the afternoon or the next day. I was waiting because in addition to the possibility of his very handsome teenage son coming with him, he was one of the few people in my life that held a position of authority and I looked forward to being taught and bossed around by him. Being able to hold a position of authority with me was and is rare. As soon as he arrived, then we would know how to build the fire, how many rocks, how many people we were feeding, the color and number of prayer ties or flags and meaningful work would start.
With that meaningful work, the teenage drama would fade, the biting conflicts with my parents would fade, and I felt like myself.
Even now, on the rare occasion when I have a lull and I know I need that meaningful work, he is the first person I call.
He was the first person I saw actively processing and healing trauma for himself. He talked about things that I had thought no one could talk about. When he would talk about racism, and genocide, and justice, it was personal. As a white kid I was familiar with the topics theoretically but seeing the impact alive in a human I loved, wracked my heart. He talked openly and often with tears and visible anger about what he and his family and his people have and were enduring.
He was talking about white privilege and I'm white and he's angry and he's hurt but he's not angry or hurt at me, instead he's teaching me things and bossing me around like I'm his niece. I knew that I wasn't separate from what he was angry about but he kept his energy toward me clean. He let me know and see what he was carrying but he didn't put it on me. This was probably why he held the authority in my life that he did. His role in my life and how he treated me was never mucked up with whatever he had going on in his trauma or struggles.
As a parent, I do my very best to emulate this. It is not until now being triggered AF by my 10-year old that I fully appreciate what it means to take responsibility for my own shit even if it's not my fault that I have that shit, to begin with.
In his presence, the idea of spirituality and social justice as subjects or categories fell apart. That people should be treated well and provided for, that there are deep wounds in our culture that can and need to be mended, that doing that mending is prayer, that prayer can do that mending. And that all of this in addition to the cooking and working and laughing and raising of babies and protecting the earth and dismantling colonialism is all just living.
This lived in me as tension, it's a tension that I have learned is part of loving people who have suffered by a system that I benefit from. I feel this tension now because what I see and feel still rubs up against weird fucking programming. It's the tension of my own nature being decolonised. It's a terrible and relieving tension, like "oh that's what's going on!" followed my total heartbreak and horror.
I heard and understood from our history, yes, we mass murdered and imprisoned indigenous people but that was a long time ago during the era of cowboys and Indians and it was really just a movie and there are no Indians. This is the programming. So as a 12-year old having Juan Mancias speaking his pain in my kitchen broke a spell. Everyone else in my whole world up until that point would talk around the pillaging of sacred things, the earth, human life, but no one would speak to it, look at it, feel it, except for Juan. Juan is still speaking up for the sacred things. If you'd like to support what he is doing or learn about it. You can do so here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/dhcus-somi-se039k-village?qid=c3466491afbecec72be1384a4eefcec1