November was National Native American Heritage Month.
In celebration, we wanted to share the experience of Steven Shepard, one of our Vision Science PhD students:
“Being Black and Native American, my life and identity has had more questions than it does answers.
My known Native lineages come from my maternal side of the family with descendants from the Cherokee and Yowani-Choctaw tribes in the Southeast and Midwest regions of America. Sadly, my family knows very little about our history and culture as traditions failed to cross generations due to poor bookkeeping from oppressors and complex relations between Black and Natives communities themselves at the time.
Thankfully, my family was at least fond of cameras, and we still can try to fill in the gaps of our ancestral tree from the photos that have survived the centuries.
Every year during the holidays, my mother and I will rummage through old sepia photos on tattered paper and scratched metal plates from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s amazing how the clarity in familial stories emerge from connecting the clues given in the low-contrast monochrome images, solving an incredible ancestral puzzle. Though I may not have fanciful stories of tribe leaders, warriors, or healers, my experience has given me a strong curiosity to uncover my multi-generational mystery. This strong curiosity that I have to discover answers about my own history is the same curiosity that fuels my ambition to discover answers for the future through research as a graduate student today.”