In my younger years, one of my struggles was reconciling the two spiritual paths I was put on, traditional Roman Catholicism and traditional Native American ways. Over the decades I finally put that struggle to rest and found a way for the two to make peace in my soul. It was about focusing on the common ground rather than the differences, and then giving the differences over to the Creator and putting my trust in the Creator who knows my soul and my fate even better than I do. That was my choice and my road.
But of course there is no such thing as "Native American ways" really, as each tribe had its own, and sometimes even within each tribe, there were elements that were contradictory and mutually-exclusive, such as the purview and rites of certain clans, societies, etc. That is really the issue with becoming an initiate of anything, there is a price and there are restrictions and rules to follow (but then, so it is with life, and in our mainstream society as well).
In Hawai'i, my thinking about such things was clarified by Uncle Butch, who talked about there being three parts one's spiritual life was sourced from and rested on: Ke Akua (God or the Gods, both Christian and pre-Christian), the ʻĀina (the Land), and Nā Kūpuna (the Ancestors). One needed all three in one's spiritual life, like the three legs of a stool- without one leg, you would tip over and fall off. This resounded deeply in my soul.
I am enrolled in the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, but there are no fullbloods left and doubtfully any 1/2 blood Ioways (yes, many 1/2 blood of Indian blood mixed with other tribes, but no 1/2 Ioway only that I know of anyways). Even the 70-80 year olds are mostly 1/4. I myself am 1/8 Iowa by blood, though I also have other the blood of other tribes in me --Sauk, Oto, Omaha, Menominee, Yankton and Santee, Ojibwa and Lenape through my father, and Choctaw through my mother (the tribes I know of anyways).
We Ioways were a small tribe to begin with, and disease killed off most of us in the early 1800s, and intermarriage in the late 1800s dwindled the blood further. I am not dark-skinned or dark-haired, so that even though I was brought up believing Indian ways, I have not often been accepted as Indian by many in my younger years. Yes, those who got to know me, got past my outside eventually, but it took time, and identity for a young person is a crucial issue and a source of much pain and soul-searching.
I remembered one time in 1980 when IAIA took a busload of students from IAIA to the NM state fair in Albuquerque because it was "if you are Indian you get in free day." Of course one by one we go through the gate, but I get stopped and asked suspiciously "you're not Indian..?" Of course I always wondered if I had been Mexican, they would not have stopped me (leaving aside the issue that many/most Mexicans have a predominance of Indian biology in them) but also if I had been Italian or something. That was kind of a turning point in my attachment to my "I'm Indian" only-focus, and made me newly interested in my other tribal ancestors who assumed the Bear spirit and warred on the Romans.
Hey, why would I want to be in a club that doesn't want me? Over and over, through the years, similar things happened, my "Indian-ness" questioned based solely on appearance (some think I might be Mongol!). I noticed that many "pale Indians" end up dying their hair black, and then growing braids, changing their names, or wearing Indian-looking clothes to emphasize to others the validity of their "Indian-ness." I found that pathetic. After a while, it was like "whatever." And so I got turned off of "being an Indian artist" and left IAIA, or going to powwows (although Irma was there at the one we went to at the AIM powwow in Fort Snelling, and saw my right hand transform into a bear's paw complete with hair and claws as I was dancing....as did dozens of other freaked-out onlookers at Fort Snelling). So to this day, I assert and know I am Ioway and I am descendant of Bear (hey I have the card, the ancestors, cultural knowledge,community acceptance, etc. if that's your bag) but I leave it to others with their own prejudices and issues to decide if I am "Indian" or not. To me, I'm just me. That's hard enough.
So beginning in my late teens I had also began researching my Euroamerican roots, the deep roots, as most of my European ancestors were here in America by the late 1600s and early 1700s (only one Irishman came later, in the 1840s), and I found many strains I have begun to connect with as well. The internet has helped make some genealogical connections to the first Dutch settlers in New Netherlands, Pennsylvania Germans, the first French settlers in New France, Scots-Irish ancestors in the Carolinas and Appalachia, Cajuns, and more. So even though I might not have been born in Montana, even my white side is "old American."
God, Land, Ancestors. How does one find one's way, how does one find or build a path, with those three essential elements? I do not believe in "throwing away" parts of oneself, or taking on someone else's ancestral ways simply because it attracts me or appeals to me. It is within you, but it also extends way beyond you. It is not entirely subjective (subject-centered) but it affects many others, those who came before and made you who you are, and those who will come after you. It is a grand narrative, and you are an essential page of that story. But you are only a page. Without you, the story would be different. But without you, the story would continue.
One can be "adopted" by another, but one cannot "adopt out" oneself. It doesn't work that way in life.
So the first step is take account of yourself as you truly are, as you have come to be, not your wishes. What is Fate?
What do you think about God? What do you think about the Gods? Are these irreconcilable in your own soul? If so, you must choose. If not, you must reconcile them. What do you owe each other? What is the relationship? Where do you go from here? What do you do today?
How about your ancestors? Do you know them? What do you know about them as people? Remember they are always in you, they continue through you. The ones you loved, the ones you hate, the ones you forgot or never knew or who are lost to time. They continue through you. How do you live with that? What relationship and responsibilities do you have, to the living and the dead? What is your family "story"? Who are you really? Who or what is "you"?
What do you know about the lands your ancestors took shape in, were born in? The spirits and substance of that land is as much a part of you as your ancestors are, proven in the ancestral stirrings you may receive in going to a place they knew once but you have never been to. And yet, now you are in a new land, a land that belonged to someone else's ancestors. How do you reconcile that? How do you construct an agreement, a new relationship with the new land, and with those who came before and who are merged already in that land? And the longer you live there, eat from it, take care of it, bleed and bury your ancestors' bones there, then you too are "of that land"...and yet...
Finally, beyond this gradual unfolding, this uniformitarianism of erosion and deposition of identity and responsibility, there are also punctuated equilibrium, cataclysmic events.
One's family is destroyed. One is abandoned or adopted or kidnapped or betrayed. One can be chosen or adopted. Migration, warfare, destruction and splintering and shattering. Bad things happen. Rape, incest, murder. Radical shifts from forces outside oneself can occur, tectonic shifts. And then the earth stops moving, the dust settles, and life begins the process of repair.
And how does this all fit into the idea of God/s, Land, and Ancestors? And what Path results? Where does the Journey lead and what Story is unfolding?