Tuesday, February 17, 2004
Forty years is a long time not to know who you are, but it took that long for Angie Swinger to get the courage and the motivation to walk away from her life for a year and visit her biological family on the Cree Indian reservation in Canada.
Swinger was adopted by a Jewish family when she was 2 years old, after her birth mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis. She grew up in Los Angeles.
She never thought about returning to the reservation until she was going through a divorce at age 40, adjusting to the difficult life of a single mother and her 14-year-old son began asking questions about their heritage.
"At that time, I knew who I was the way I was raised," she said. "But I didn't know the rest of me. When we went back up to the reservation, something clicked inside of me."
For one year, she lived under the guidance of her elderly aunt who taught her the ways of her people.
"They asked me why I hadn't come to visit them before," Swinger said, "but for a long time, I didn't know I was adopted."
What struck her about her aunt's way of life was how she prayed all the time.
"She prayed on all things and for all things," Swinger said. "Because they are on a reservation, they are poor, but they are more spiritual. They are poor monetarily, but spiritually, they are very rich."
When she arrived on the reservation, Swinger was intimidated by all the new faces, the traditions and the tribal taboos she seemed to break hourly. But the familial bonds formed quickly.
"They have a very powerful family unit," Swinger said. "It was something I haven't seen in the culture I grew up in."
After a year on the reservation and a transformed way of looking at her life, Swinger decided not to return to her home in Lake Tahoe, Calif. Instead, she visited her brother who lives in Oak Creek and decided to stay in the Yampa Valley.
"This must have been a holy land for the Native Americans," Swinger said. "I am so much in awe of it."
The 15 years since then have been a journey of self-discovery as she attends powwows and continues to visit her family on the reservation. She has been learning traditional American Indian leather and beadwork and has tried to instill a sense of pride in her children of their heritage.
"When I started doing beadwork, I knew it right away," she said. "I was adopted when I was 2, and I must have seen it before then."
Swinger wants to share her story Friday to educate American Indians to be proud of who they are.
"They are so poverty-stricken, and they have lost the pride in their culture," she said.
She also hopes that her story will be an inspiration for single parents to hear how she was able to transform her life during a difficult time and become a better mother.
"I know there are a lot of single parents who are having struggles," she said. "This story could give them strength.
"My whole life changed because I was able to embrace a part of me that I didn't know was missing until I went up and met with my people. Now I am a much more powerful person."
-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210
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