An Oklahoma woman finds healing in her Chickasaw roots
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A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Time again for StoryCorps. Today, a story from Oklahoma City. That's where Shelby Rowe heads one of the country's largest suicide prevention centers. Her own story is one of triumphing over struggles that included becoming a mom at 18 and then three difficult marriages. Today, in addition to her work as an advocate, she's also an award-winning artist. At StoryCorps, Rowe talked with her friend Johnna James about drawing strength from her roots as a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
SHELBY ROWE: I left Oklahoma for a cute man. (Laughter). Most of my tragedies start with a cute boy. And honestly, I didn't think I would ever go back home because when I would accomplish things, people that knew me growing up would be like, oh, Shelby, you know, you're doing so well for a teen mom. And so I was like, I just want to do well, period. But when I got divorced from Mr. Charming, I spent a lot of time thinking, OK, who am I? Where do I come from? Because I didn't grow up in Indian country. I wasn't raised in the traditions. And so I didn't know if I really belonged. Would they be like, who is this person from the city coming and trying to fit in?
But I moved back close to Chickasaw Nation. And as soon as I got there, I knew I was home. And then I thought, OK, I don't have anything connected with our culture. And I was really hungry for that. But, like, I'm not very good at dancing. I can't paint. And I'd already given up on language. But then I was walking around an arts festival, and I found a table with some beaded hatbands. And I was like, oh, that kind of looks like a spreadsheet. I'm good at spreadsheets.
JOHNNA JAMES: Yes, you are.
ROWE: I was like, I bet I could - I could probably read a pattern. And so I bought a little, child-sized loom, and I thought, I'm going to try this. And that was my thing. You know, I do have PTSD, and so sometimes, I have a hard time telling the difference between things that happen 20 years ago and things that happen this week. But I realized pretty quickly with beading, all I'm doing is counting beads. I can't let my mind wander, or I'll mess up. And I'm sure it's no surprise to our ancestors because they knew all of this before there was therapy. It's a source of grounding, a source of pride just knowing this is me. This is who I am, a part of the unconquered and unconquerable Chickasaws.
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MARTÍNEZ: That was Shelby Rowe with her friend Johnna James at StoryCorps in Oklahoma City. The interview is archived at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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