"There's A Heartbeat To Wind River That People Don't Know About"

Oct 4, 2019

Growing up on the Wind River Reservation, Gabby St. Clair and Angelo Sage say that their families, traditions, and languages gave them a sense of belonging. But they both attended high school in predominantly white Reservation border towns. For Wyoming Public Radio's "Belonging" series, they sat down to talk about how the love and support of their tribal communities - St. Clair is Eastern Shoshone and Sage is Northern Arapaho - helps them through life's challenges and pulls them to stay here in Wyoming.

Gabby St. Clair: As of right now, honestly, Wyoming kind of feels just like a home to me. And I guess it's just through ancestry. You kind of feel like you belong here. Your people thrived here, it's our Reservation. I don't know, what's your perspective on that?

Angelo Sage: My take on that is, my specific belief on why I don't want to leave Wyoming is that back on the Arapaho side, on the Wind River side anyways, that's where my home is. I want to give back to the community. I want to start a small business. This is my home, I'd rather not be anywhere else. Everywhere else is kind of overrated.

GS: So you went to Riverton, that's my rivalry high school. But both [Lander and Riverton High Schools] are predominantly white. How was Riverton with that?

AS: So before I came to Riverton I was actually on the Reservation at Arapahoe school. Once I got into middle school, I was in Riverton all the way up to high school. I faced adversity along the way, but I had a good time. And it also helped build my character as well because I also was a little bit insecure about myself ,but I overcame all these odds and I'm better with myself and more content with myself now.

So how was it on the opposite end in Lander? How was the rivalry taken down there, because here in Riverton, some people got really stoked about it but for me, I really didn't care.

GS: I mean as an athlete that's one of the main things we strive for is to beat Riverton in the dirt. But that actually brings me to a great point, that a lot of the racism I experienced was in sports. And I don't know, you just gotta, when people try to call you something, try to get at you negative just because of the way you are, just because of your race or the people you hung out with or your ways, man - it kind of just bounced off as an athlete. But during school I never really had a problem. Everybody was pretty nice. And it was kind of like we were, not really the superheroes, but everyone knew the Natives because of the way we played sports. And as giving people, people saw that because when we had senior nights, they noticed that all the Natives usually gave out gifts to everyone, not just the coaches but their whole team. And I think throughout the years it's just kind of evolved to like, more diversity in Lander. And I really like that.

AS: I wish I could say the same thing about Riverton ... Riverton wasn't too bad. There was occasional racism there but it's all just a matter of that they were taught that, they're ignorant to the fact that there's other people out there besides them.

I feel a sense of belonging in my tribe because our ceremonies and a lot of our activities are community based. When I help in the sweat, it's an open thing where we express ourselves and talk about how we feel. Everyone gets an opportunity as well from being a nec hiinen, which means "water man" in Arapaho. Even in Sundance we can help with that, help our families. Shoot, even with Powwows you can help out with them, you can dance in them. My culture makes me feel secure, safe, strong, connected. I feel that I know myself better.

GS: Man, I sure wish I could say that I culturally connect like that. Because man, if I could go on the Powwow trail I would, but there's just not enough time. I'm kidding. But the sense of belonging I get is especially when we use our own language. And it's honestly kind of sad, but it's also kind of upbringing in a way. Because you want to keep your language, you want it to stay here. But it's like, we're losing so many Native speakers day after day and it's crazy. I guess in that cultural perspective, I can see that. I mean that's so cool that you're speaking Arapaho! I think that's so dope, man. You introduced yourself in Arapaho. I mean I could've in Shoshone, but I mean, I guess that's what makes me feel like a belonging.

AS: So growing up on the Wind River Reservation, what was the best part about growing up there in your opinion?

GS: Man, the scenery. I guess words can't explain it. You just gotta be part of it, you know what I mean? Like, you just gotta be part of the community in order to experience how it is. And not many people get that. Tourists come through, and I hate tourism season, trust me. But like, there's a heartbeat to Wind River that a lot of people don't know about. And I just love it, it's a positive one. And it's just that sense of home, I guess. It's just that nice feeling. I don't know if you get the same feeling. Do you?

AS: Well my favorite part about growing up on the Reservation was just having that really good feeling of actually knowing that I have a lot of family. Having all the cousins, a bunch of grandmas, it's just the best feeling in the world. It makes me want to tear up, because I'm thankful to have so many good artists and inspirational people in my life.

Savannah Maher is a Report for America Corps member, you can learn more about the project at reportforamerica.org

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Savannah Maher, at smaher4@uwyo.edu.