My name is Amber Christina Peretz. I type these thoughts while sitting on the carpeted floor of my cozy Montana home; music playing softly, a candle burning its gentle light.
I’ve come a long way to arrive here at this particular moment. Physically (I moved here from Florida), emotionally (2020 was hard for everyone), and spiritually (a story for a different time).
For years now I’ve identified as a teacher. First of little humans in elementary school, then later of undergraduate students who were preparing to become teachers of those little humans.
I’ve come to understand that mainstream notions of school & learning focus solely on knowledge that is found outside of ourselves (forms of knowledge that are deemed worthy by western, capitalist-driven notions of truth). There is no room to look inward. There is no time.
I spent 27 years going through the motions of this type of knowledge. At 28 I finally paused long enough to take a deep, long, honest look at the life I was living- and I called bulls***. On the lies that were fed to me. On the definitions of success that were told would make me happy. And on the superficial ways in which I had come to know myself. I learned that in a society that is constantly competing for power where rich white cisgender men are consistently on top, I could not even call reality my own.
So, I decided to stop. To pause. To slow down. I refused to follow a path which was not “aligned to my soul’s deepest yearnings” (language which came from a June 2021 CHANI Virgo horoscope). I figured that if I am ever to be regarded as leader or an influencer of young humans and/or others, then I owe it to them (to the world, the universe) to know myself first.
So, during the summer of 2021 I quit my PhD program, accepted a position working on the ground with communities fighting for socially just change, and moved out to Montana. With that decision to quit came an unwavering truth that I am a forever student- that I will never cease to learn. My path is my life, not some end goal. For the first time (ever) I put myself first. And with that choice, I know I am preparing to serve others in ways that will make real & genuine change.
Which brings me to my current AmeriCorps VISTA position at Montana State University Billings Native American Achievement Center. The Center’s vision states that it is “…dedicated to providing the best support by empowering our Native student population in their individual, social, cultural, and academic development.” A vision that is embodied by the day to day work of the Center’s small, committed, & mighty team.
In a world that is so white-dominated and white-centered, I am gifted the opportunity time & time again to notice who I am and who I become when my white racial identity is the minority* in the room. I am faced with tough questions like:
Do I belong?
Do I laugh at jokes I don’t understand?
When is it my place to say something?
When is it time to be nothing other than a thoughtful and active listener?
Questions that only I can answer. Questions that continuously help me to discover who I am. Questions that quite possibly all humans might benefit reflecting on.
One of my co-workers recently said, “If you can’t feel yourself, how can anyone else feel you?”
It stopped me in my tracks because these days I so desire for others to feel the real me. The amber who is confident in her being; in her power; in their authenticity.
The Native American Achievement Center is a gift. Every day I give thanks for my work family- a team who constantly reminds me that it is okay (no, necessary) to go slowly, to have honorable intent, and to embrace humanity as we do what is sacred work.
The Center is a daily opportunity for every MSUB student, faculty, and staff to come back into relation with themselves, with others, and ultimately, with the earth. My hope is that the individuals across MSUB campus (who are all a part of our work family) come to wholeheartedly acknowledge and appreciate this gift.
Joy Harjo writes that, “This is about getting to know one another.”
It is my hope that we do.
*I recognize that use of the word “minority” is inherently tied to dynamics of institutional or systemic power in which those of marginalized racial identities have less. However, my use here is intended to describe situations in which, quantitatively speaking, my white identity is not reflected by the majority of those humans who are in the room.