Photo Courtesy of Angela Demaree

Native American Heritage Month: My Native Journey to Islam

Growing up as a Bodewadmi, also known as Potawatomi, we didn’t live on the reservation, and being a Native was nothing more than our parents enrolling us in the tribe and getting our Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) card. We attended yearly regional council meetings and occasionally a family-reunion festival, better known as Powwow.  

Photo Courtesy of Angela Demaree

My family didn’t teach much about our tribal traditions nor did we have any religious teachings except a random Sunday School that we were sent to so that we could give my mother a break. 

I was a perfect example of a lost soul.  

It wasn’t until I reached my 20s that I found myself seeking answers. Who am I? Where do I fit in? I read extensively about my history and tradition and learned of the amazing line of indigenous people I am from. I now knew my identity; a Native woman. But, I had yet to find my place, religiously.  

I am someone who feels an intense sense of calm and belonging when I am out in nature, this is where I feel most connected to my native roots, but this did not answer the call of my creator. Still, there was something missing.

Each week I would go to a new church and try out different denominations and each week coming up with that nagging empty feeling until I discovered Islam.

I asked a friend who was Muslim about Islam, and she directed me to the bookstore and I purchased a book about the history of Islam and an English/Arabic copy of the Quran.

I was hooked. Every feeling I was seeking, every question I needed answered was right there in front of me! I knew at that moment what my full identity was: A Native American Muslim.

I was never really overwhelmed like some new Muslims are by all of the “do this, don’t do that” and tackled each new lesson and challenge with a smile on my face. I knew that I wanted to be the best version of myself that I could be and do everything I can to please my Creator. 

This also meant I left behind any ways of thinking and actions that were either not allowed for Muslims to do and/or say, along with whatever was frowned upon.  

I started wearing a hijab and modestly dressing a couple of weeks after reverting to Islam. I saw a sister wearing and thought she was the beacon of beauty in my eyes, and I aspired to be like that one day. 

Within a few years, I felt even more confident in who I was and had also started to wear abaya and niqab. I felt like a queen. My heart was singing, and I felt this strange sense of protection that I didn’t know was possible from just a few articles of clothing. 

Photo Courtesy of Angela Demaree

Transforming from a rocker girl who played her guitar with a cigarette hanging from her mouth with numerous piercings and tattoos to a woman who was covered from head to toes was a big change. And it was not something that most of my family members and friends took well. No one really understood, and they couldn’t because this was my journey.  

I lost many friends and family members who were anti-Muslim, and have caught a fair amount of slack for “forsaking” my native traditions and identity — which we’ve already established they did not bother themselves teach to me. 

Transforming from a rocker girl who played her guitar with a cigarette hanging from her mouth with numerous piercings and tattoos to a woman who was covered from head to toes was a big change. And it was not something that most of my family members and friends took well. No one really understood, and they couldn’t because this was my journey.  

As a Muslim, I am still very much a Native American woman, even if you don’t see my braided hair or see me in a jingle dress dancing in a Powwow. I am that woman; just a version that I believe is more pleasing to my Creator.  

I try to represent Islam in the most honorable way so that people around me can see beyond the veil into the heart and words of the one speaking with them, hoping that it will remove some of the negative thoughts they might have about Muslims and Islam.

Quite often, I am the very first woman they have ever seen that is draped in a black abaya and niqab. It is my duty to make a good first impression.  Alhamdulillah, I would say 95 percent of them are very respectful, and I am thankful that Allah has made it easy for me.

I get asked all the time where I am from, and I say, “Kansas.” This answer is not usually enough to satisfy their curiosity, so they continue with a line of questioning to establish my parents’ country of birth. And their questions keep rolling until we reach the “I am a Native American Muslim revert” answer. 

I get it. It is hard to establish where a person is from when you can only see their eyeballs. I absolutely love it when people tell me to go back to my country — the ones that make that other 5 percent. Little do they know who is behind that veil. If they only knew!  

I get asked all the time where I am from, and I say “Kansas.” This answer is not usually enough to satisfy their curiously, so they continue with a line of questioning to establish my parents’ country of birth. And their questions keep rolling until we reach the “I am a Native American Muslim revert” answer. 

There are things that I have left behind along the way in my journey, like my guitar playing. It was hard to let go as I had been playing for around 15 years and loved it — but with great sacrifice comes great reward! 

As far as native traditions, tobacco is considered sacred. It is used in prayers as well as gifting and favors. I gave up smoking. I acknowledge its importance within the Native world, but I no longer use it. 

The same goes for smudging yourself and your home, along with some other “superstitions” like not looking into a mirror on a stormy night for fear that a spirit will look back at you. Ayat al-Kursi is my BFF in any scary situation. Islam has an answer for almost every situation!  

I would love to pass down my tribe’s history and stories to my children, as well as what I have learned as a Muslim. And, most importantly I would love to teach them that being a covered Muslim does not have to limit anything you want to do in life. You can swim, hike, run, lift weights, compete in sports, etc. As long as it does not compromise our religious duty, DO IT, GIRL! Stand tall and proud!  

Being a Native American Muslim woman gives me a unique identity and one that I am proud to carry around every day. Never stop learning and be seekers of truth and justice, and lift up the voices of others.