Charitie Ropati

Charitie is a rising sophmore at Columbia University. Along with being a student at the university, Charitie has marked herself as an individual who tenaciously pushes for change and inclusivity as she sheds light on the pressing need for education and representation for Indigenous Peoples. As an Indigenous womxn herself, Charitie leaves no territoy uncharted and has changed the way many students on campus engage in conversation surrounding BIPOC communities, especially those of an Indigenous background. She ispries us here at Brazen to use our voices to speak for those with words unspoken, and it was more than a pleasure to work alongside Charitie for this project.

Many people ask me who I am. That’s something I’m still figuring out, but what I do know is that writing is healing for me. So read my words.

I remember my white teachers’ surprise when I told them my culture and my people, came before my very own name. I mean, what do you expect of those who have no understanding of community or lineage. I am a 19 year old queer Yup’ik and Samoan women that comes from strong and powerful matriachs. Everything that I am, I learned from my grandmothers and mother. 

I never saw myself in what I learned in the classroom, in media, or in cheesy coming of age movies. In nothing. 

Being Polynesian and Alaska Native, navigating spaces that were never built for me, on land stolen from those that came before you, were realities that I’ve known my entire life. This is a letter to my younger self. 

A letter I wish I could have read when I was younger.

Dear Yup’ik and Samoan girl,

If you could see yourself now, you would be so so proud.

Do you remember watching Whale Rider growing up? You saw a little Maori girl. Paikea, navigate Pasifika and become a leader amongst her people.  

Being indigenous is  living in a world where your narrative is already written for you. But Paikea showed you how you can unapologetically be indigneous in a world where your people were never meant to survive and overcome rigid gender stereotypes that were the result of colonialism. 

This isn’t a story of sadness or happiness. It is a story of survival. 

What do we say to those whose ancestors faced mass genocide? What do we say to those whose oppression is as present as the air we breathe?  

We were never meant to survive, but we did.  

We were not supposed to be here.  

These are the words my elders told me through their silent tears and blank eyes. 

I look to my people and I see resiliency.  

Their wrinkles tell the story of the traumas inflicted by colonization. Their silence and tears represent the shame cultivated by schools and missionaries that stole their families, homes, and identities from them. However, they also tell the story of their survival.  

In a world that intended to diminish us, we must remind ourselves that our very existence is the refusal and resistance to systems of oppression.  

Look to their grandchildren, look to those who survived after them and you will see the traditional songs of my homeland as powerful as they were before the Russians and missionaries first stepped onto Alaskan soil. The beating of the seal drum is as faint as the water hitting the rocky shore, but it is there. The songs of my people rising and becoming quieter, yet finally healing. 

It’s hard to break generational cycles of violence. It’s hard. At times it feels impossible. I don’t really have an answer because that is something I am still trying to navigate. But what I want you to know is that you are not alone in your experiences. Look to the matricarchs, look to your friends, look to your community. You’ll be okay.

You were told that power determines representation. Everything that you saw, heard, learned reinforced that very idea. But I want to tell you and remind you that you do not need validation from white audiences and institutions who serve to make white people comfortable with the fact that they continue to benefit off of genocide and slavery. So, please continue to dream. Your people can live in the stars, can be superheroes, can water bend. You are capable of so much. Do not live up to eurocentric standards. 

We have always been beautiful.

I wish that I had read this poem many years ago but I want you to read it today.


Joy Harjo – 1951

for Audre Lorde

“This city is made of stone, of blood, and fish.

There are Chugatch Mountains to the east

and whale and seal to the west.

It hasn’t always been this way, because glaciers

who are ice ghosts create oceans, carve earth

and shape this city here, by the sound.

They swim backwards in time.

Once a storm of boiling earth cracked open

the streets, threw open the town.

It’s quiet now, but underneath the concrete

is the cooking earth, and above that, air

which is another ocean, where spirits we can’t see

are dancing joking getting full

on roasted caribou, and the praying

goes on, extends out.

Nora and I go walking down 4th Avenue

and know it is all happening.

On a park bench we see someone’s Athabascan

grandmother, folded up, smelling like 200 years

of blood and piss, her eyes closed against some

unimagined darkness, where she is buried in an ache

in which nothing makes sense.

We keep on breathing, walking, but softer now,

the clouds whirling in the air above us.

What can we say that would make us understand

better than we do already?

Except to speak of her home and claim her

as our own history, and know that our dreams

don’t end here, two blocks away from the ocean

where our hearts still batter away at the muddy shore.

And I think of the 6th Avenue jail, of mostly Native

and Black men, where Henry told about being shot at

eight times outside a liquor store in L.A., but when

the car sped away he was surprised he was alive,

no bullet holes, man, and eight cartridges strewn on the sidewalk all around him.

Everyone laughed at the impossibility of it, but also the truth.

Because who would believe

the fantastic and terrible story of all of our survival

those who were never meant

to survive?

Read it again. 

You were never meant to survive.

But you did.

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