Interview with Colette Denali Montoya

Transcript:

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Good. Oh, no. Okay, perfect. So thank you so much for joining me today for the "How We Remember" Indigenous archive project. So, this is something I haven't been doing but I'm also going to say the date and time because I realized I need to say that. So it is September 21 2023. And it is currently 3:51pm. And Colette has filled out a consent form. So would you mind stating your name, age and current occupation?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

My name is Colette Denali Montoya. I'm 40 years old, and I am an academic librarian, archivist and oral historian. I affirm that I filled out my consent form. Yes.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Thank you. So to begin, would you mind telling me your Indigenous background and where you grew up?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

So I am enrolled in the Pueblo Isleta. My mother is three quarters Isleta, and one quarter from the Pueblo San Felipe. So I am 3/8 Isleta and 1/8 San Felipe Pueblo. Uh, my father is a settler of white settler ancestry, some of which is French and more recent, they arrived after World War One. And then the rest of his family are old stock. Like British American who came in the 1600-1700s to the Northeast. Yeah. That's where I'm from. Okay.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

And so how was your indigeneity a part of your life as a child? And how was the history of your community passed down to you?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Um, my indigeneity as a child, so I was born when my parents were in graduate school, they were both at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. I was born there. And then because of my parents, academic careers -- My dad's professor, my mom has done a lot of adjunct teaching, and she has largely worked in Social Policy and Public Policy. So we moved around quite a bit as a child. But throughout all of it, we've always been in a very strong connection to home to our communities. In New Mexico and my family there. My grandmother before I was born, remarried a man from Ohkay Owingeh, which at the time in my childhood, it was called San Juan Pueblo. It's just north of Espanola. So she lived there. And the rest of my mother's siblings are largely scattered around Albuquerque and Santa Fe, she had one sibling who lived in Texas. Yeah, so but my family is largely like they, most of them on that side are in New Mexico. And then in my generation, as we become adults, some of us do look a bit further afield. But I have no memory of a before knowing my home. And I've always had a strong connection to home. Which I love. I love that I know, so intimately my community, right? Even though I've had, you know, I've lived away. And I used to when I was younger, I think of myself as a diasporic person, but the more and more that I think about that term, largely, like influenced by the fact that my former spouse is an immigration scholar. I, my relationship to that term has changed quite a bit.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

I think that's a really interesting, you know, note you made because I tend to also refer to myself as part of the diaspora and I note a couple other people, younger people were like in their 20s, or just starting their academic journeys do the same. But it's definitely something to think about and to wonder, kind of, like, you know, why are we identifying that way? What does it mean?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Alright, I have turned off my notifications. I think like, I forgot to do that, like turn off and on every device. Thank you, I apologize.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

So is there a specific memory from your childhood maybe related to a significant person, or a practice that sticks out to you?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Quite a bit, and I'm not sure like how familiar you are with Pueblo people. But we are already very private about our culture, and our beliefs, our ways of doing things. So yeah, I do, I have very specific and strong memories. I'm just like, I've tried to think of some of that, that feel more comfortable sharing. And yeah, I think, for me, it was just such a part of everyday life. Even when I, even living away from that, I never really questioned my identity as a Pueblo person. There was a time when I was quite young, the first first or second grade, when I came to understand that I was Indian, and also like, this was in the 1980s. So that terminology was a little bit different. And it has definitely like you know, fluctuates in between communities and temporarily, but um, I knew I was Pueblo. I knew I was from Isleta, I knew I was from San Felipe, I did not fully understand that I was Indian. For me, like my idea of Indian was very colored by just like mainstream American media. And when I had that realization that that those identities overlapped, or me like, oh, that doesn't make any sense. We don't look like this, like, this like stereotypical archetype at all right? We don't have like, I mean, the horses are there, and even our hairstyles, like are different, right. So I remember experiencing some confusion, but a lot of my earliest memories of home and of indigeneity are very place specific. Like I remember being at peace days, I remember being like on the plaza and watching the dancing at a very, very young age, like to the point where you know, there's very, very early memories where you can't you can't there's it's just kind of more like a vignette and less of them are...

 

Claire Lavarreda  

almost like a feeling.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Yeah, yeah, I remember I remember placing my hands in the sand and like seeing that one of my hands and then looking at my family next to me and their hands and think about how like, my skin is so much lighter. And at the time, I was so young that it didn't really big trigger to kind of deeper thought. But yeah, as as time went on, I definitely especially as an elementary schooler living in Wisconsin, came to understand my sense of indigeneity. And the sense of as juxtaposed with the local Indigenous communities, because a lot of like, most of my Indigenous peers that I encountered in Wisconsin were Oneida or Menominee, and then later in college Ho-Chunk and Objibwe. Yeah, I guess like I had a had a lot of what now might be called microaggressions, or bordering on, just like, you know, racist experiences as an elementary schooler. But I was young enough, that while I found it profoundly disturbing, I don't think I completely understood how harmful they were until I was much older. Right. And there's two in particular, that stick out again, for my first my first grade, so I didn't go to kinder, I skipped kindergarten. That was my first time in like a school, although I had gone to Montessori School as a young child. Before, before elementary, but um, that fall of my first grade here. The high school that was like, you know, for the same district, as my elementary school, had homecoming parade, and the team that we're playing was the Indians. And they had a float where they were, they had, like a, an effigy of a Native person. And I don't remember if it was like in a new sort of flames or something, but I found it very upsetting. And they're like, there are all kinds of signs, like kill the Indians, and scalp Indians. And this is 1988. So like, I feel like people should have known better. But also I was five. I don't think I had a lot of context or like, I found it disturbing and I told my mother, who was quite upset, and I believe it like she wrote to the local paper and did contact the school board. Yeah.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

No, that I mean, that's just, I mean, not only would that be horrible for an adult, but especially for a kid when you're still trying to figure out who you are and where you are. And like how you you fit in the rest of everyone to see something like that. It's just, it's just not great.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Strange. You mind if I tell you about the other incident?

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Oh, go ahead. Yeah, I was gonna say -- that's the next question. Anyway.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

So the second incident like that, you know, that really stuck out sticks out to me from elementary school. And I actually have a photo of this that I should email you later, but um, I had as many schools do, like the Thanksgiving celebration, I don't remember like, exactly the context of of what we were doing. But people were in class, we're making like construction paper, like pilgrim hats at the buckle. And I think like, the little white collar. And like, because I was quite young, like, I don't think I really like, I didn't really I didn't know the story of Thanksgiving. And actually remember, like, when I first started talking to my mom about this, like, that day, I completely conflated Columbus and the Pilgrims like, like, I was really confused. I don't -- there were three boats that -- like it was taught very poorly, like whatever was conveyed to the class, but we're supposed to make these hats and collars and belt buckles and my teacher wouldn't let me. She's like, you're an Indian, you need to make an Indian vest and a headdress. And um, I just remember the feeling of being different. And also the feeling of like, but like at home, we don't wear our like headdresses and vests so I looked didn't really know what I was supposed to do. Right? Like I did the best I could and I remember just remember feeling different. Very different and even now like of course, I have much more like, I can evaluate that that incident differently. But as a little girl, I think I was six. Definitely just like I just remember the feeling of being like, Oh, I'm different. And I already like this is Green Bay, Wisconsin a suburb of Green Bay in the 80s. I remember there were two, there were twin Asian American boys in my class at first grade, but they ended they ended up skipping a grade and I don't remember the next time I had appear a classmate of color until I switched schools in middle school. And it was really it was really-- it's isolating. I remember there was a girl in another class when I was in third grade, who was Hmong and a lot of Hmong community members in northeastern Wisconsin did like they were Hmong community members were brought over, often sponsored by Lutheran churches, just after the Vietnam War, but I don't I don't really remember meeting other like Native kids who were local. Very often, when I was between the summer between second and third grade, I think I did like one of the summer programs at the university at UWGB. And the one I chose was Oregon Trail. And I chose it because it sounded fun to me. I didn't, I don't think I knew what the Oregon Trail was -- like we basically -- like it was a group of kids. And we like decorated like red little red wagons with like prairie schooners, and like, pull them around campus. And they were like the teachers have like set up like different parts of campus each day to do different stuff on the Oregon Trail. And we talked about it. And we never talked about Indigenous people at all, I have no memory of that at all. But the last day of camp, there was like a party and like people, you know, you could bring your parents and that was -- it turned out that one of the girls in my class was Oneida, Indigenous, and she came wearing regalia. And I had no idea that she was Native. Like even as like a little girl, six, seven years old, I had no concept of the diversity of appearance among Indigenous peoples, and to me, I just remember be like, wait, but she's, like, looks white to me, like are you know, I don't know, if I even knew the term white.  It was so white that were you know, where I lived? Um, it just like, I completely baffled me, I did not get it. I don't remember. Like, if I talked to anyone about or anyone, like tried to explain that, to me, makes no sense. Right?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

And then, yeah, just sort of having, you know, wanting to be like knowing that your community or Indigenous peoples can look different have different skin tones and everything, but the same time as a child being told that there's one way, you know, Indigenous people look. And, you know, not understanding...

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

You like, you know, I'm Pueblo, and our community is not, not we haven't we don't have as much admixture as communities in the Midwest or northeast. So for me, like, pretty much my entire family looked like a stereotypical Indian as I would have used the term back then. It would have been very jarring.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Yeah, I was gonna ask then, knowing your experiences from childhood, like elementary school and to middle school. Did your relationship with your indigeneity and your identity change as you entered high school and teenage years?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Yes, I was very fortunate for every summer from the beginning as a rising eighth grader on to go to residential camps, like on campus camps through ASES, American Indians Management, Science and Engineering Society. And every summer, the camp would be in a different campus. And so like when I was rising, eighth grade it was Wisconsin. And then the following year was in Seattle, and then Iowa and and then one of them was in New York, upstate New York. And that cohort, many of us continued throughout the entire program that we'd see each other every summer for multiple weeks. And I think each year, the program got a little longer until like the, you know, when we were about to finish high school, it was much it was several weeks at each camp had a different theme having to do with science. And I remember feeling really unsure of myself the first year, like I felt at home with my family, and in my community when it'd be home in New Mexico. But in terms of like, what does it mean to be Indigenous when I'm not at home? That I was -- had no experience parsing out until I tried to go into camp. And this camp like they usually be like 40 Kids, I would say about 40 and I have so many fun. For those who haven't, I'm very fortunate that, like just my own practice daily practices of letter writing that I got from my settler Grandma, I kept in touch with so many people and many of us are still friends and like see each other. Even though the first camp we met was the summer of 1985. That's amazing. I know, we've known each other very long time. Most of my life at this point. But yeah, at those camps, I met Native kids who looks all different from each other. I remember being very struck that first summer by all the Lumbee kids because I had never encountered anyone Afro-Indigenous. And it had never occurred to me even at like 12 years old, that that that those identities could overlap. I also had never heard, I guess, like, I don't even know if I knew what a federally recognized tribe was, like, it just like wasn't on my radar. But I learned from the Lumbee kids about like, what state versus federal recognition means. I remember think it was really strange, particularly, you know, I think a lot of my dissonance was with the Lumbee students, as most of the other students who are from like, the Midwest or the southwest, right, right. So like I had, I had experience with those, like cultural regions, at least. But the Lumbee kids, I just, most of the kids at camp were Baptist Christians, and very open about sharing about their faith. And I remember thinking like, that is very baffling to me. And I was raised atheist. I think like my father, my settler, father, his, he comes from a long line of like, secular humanists, I was raised without in terms of like, European religion, I was raised without, without a religion. Alright, so, um, and while later, like, I came to understand my community's relationship with Catholicism as a, as a young person, I was very much parroting what I was taught by my father and his family, which was that like, people who follow religion, particularly Christianity are doing so because they're like, their minds are too weak to make decisions for themselves. And they need they need some kind of comfort, because they're not smart enough to, to handle the world on their own. Which, of course, now I look back, I look back, and I'm like, I was saying, like, repeating these kinds of minds to my peers, and it must have been so hurtful to them. Right away, and just but I came to really grapple with that later. But like, as a young person I do. Oh, I can't believe I said that kind of thing to like, my classmates who I'm sure I'll be felt like others by the fact that like, for many of us, not just my self, like, it's your first time learning Afro Indigenous people. And just being you know, I didn't know, I didn't know that could happen. I mean, obviously, it makes no sense. Right. But I had no idea.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Right? Right. Well, when you haven't been, you know, exposed to that, or really thought about it, it's a precedence, to think of especially in the United States, there's this really big belief and like, you're really only one thing like, you're Indigenous, you're black, you're white, or you're just mixed, I feel like having very prominent identities or like overlapping identities is still kind of a struggle for a lot of Americans, I think.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I don't think it was for me as well, like I've talked about in some of my other talks about like, how I thought, like, as I was coming out to myself as a young person, that I that I couldn't possibly be gay, I was gonna be okay. Like, I wasn't gay, because I'm already Native. And that you could only have like, one other thing. And the way I thought of it was, you know, like, in school, like, you never had like two specials, we call them like music or, or jam or art in the same day, you could only have one special at a time. And that was like, okay, my special is that I'm Pueblo. So I'm okay. I'm just like, maybe I just don't like boys yet. Right. And I could like kind of in my interior self, like, pushed down this like, nascent attraction to girls because when I was a kid, it wasn't like, sexy. But I just I didn't get it. Like, I just, I just didn't like boys and like all my peers, like in middle schools, but you know, it kind of really kicks off. You're just like, boy, crazy. Many of them, not all of them. And I always I don't see it. Yeah, like, I guess, like, I don't feel anything special toward boys at all. I'm just broken and I was just like, Okay, since I'm already Native, like, it's gonna be okay. I just have to wait. It's just like, hasn't happened yet. And I remember like, reading like, "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret," and how they're all like, you know, everyone gets their period at like a different time. You never know what's going to happen. I was like, Okay, that makes sense. Like, I'll start liking boys at some point. And it's I don't know if I'll ever know when it's going to happen. It still hasn't happened, but <laughs>. 

 

Claire Lavarreda  

And so that's something like interesting that I also wanted to talk about, was how was it navigating? Before you knew maybe it was identity? How was it navigating, though, you know, being attracted to women being a lesbian, you know, and then also grappling with your indigeneity as, as a teenager, because I know as a child that's so difficult to pin down. But maybe as a teenager and into adulthood...?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

It was kind of funny, because I think a lot of my, like, there was always like these moments of like, these catalyst moments, right? It's like, Oh, something shifts, and you understand it differently. And for me, like I started to have these kind of like romantic dreams about Jodie Foster as an elementary schooler. That was kind of like the first hint, right? But then, as middle school we're on like, I had like big, what are now very obvious to me, as crushes. But I had feelings or like something special like that I would feel about a one of my classmates and then another one of my classmates at when I switched schools. And I was just like, like to be near them. I loved when I would like, pass them in the hall and get all giddy, but like, because I had no real familiarity with queerness, which like, at the time, that wasn't a term that was really used in the early 90s. You know, that I grew up hearing, even in a negative way. I just didn't know what I just like, didn't know what it was. I just like, oh, I guess I just like really admire them. Like, I like them. But I was like, but I don't want to be like them, I like, I just like, it didn't make sense to me. And I do have I have an Uncle, my late Uncle was gay. And he was actually like a close friend of my father. When he was an undergrad, he lived in Washington DC with his partner, my mother and I, you know, I grew up around them. I never never thought that he was gay because I didn't really know what that was really. Until I was I was eight. And my mom took me to Washington, DC, she had a conference like a math conference, and I stayed with my uncles. And I asked them like, why do you sleep in the same bed? Like you guys feel? Why do you have to share a bed? Like it's even kind of like, why would you do that? And I don't remember which one my Uncle David or Uncle John Franco, they said, "we really like to cuddle, cuddle with each other. We just like love it." And I was and that made so much sense to me. Like that was like, that moment really sticks out in my mind. Like, okay, so when you're gay, it can just mean that you just like really just want to cuddle with like someone who shares your gender identity. I never would have used that term at that time. Right. Um, but then I had really catalyzing like year. In early high school, I lived in Ukraine, with my father. He had had a Fulbright Fellowship, he was studying Soviet Dissident Literature and teaching at a school in eastern Ukraine. And the school like it started with like preschool, you could get it go all the way up to PhD. And I went to the Elysium, which is like the high school and my father taught at the university level. But I started that year, that in that time period, that particular year, when I was there, I spent a lot of time alone in the first first tie, like the first period of adjustment. It was winter when we arrived is very cold. And I had been living in Wisconsin, but even so like Eastern Ukraine was something new. I remember like the hairs inside my nostrils freezing. Like sometimes I would get caught because yeah, lashes would freeze or like I really like I could not figure out how to keep my glasses from fogging up like it was seen inside because it's just too hard. Yeah, my Russian wasn't very good. At that time. I like spoke very minimal Russian when I arrived. So I spent a lot of time alone at home. And I remember looking at this, like I'm Rolling Stone magazine with Fiona Apple on the front, and her hair was like splayed out. I was like, Oh my God, she's so beautiful. Oh my god, and then that all of a sudden it hit me I was like, oh my god that like might that probably means I'm gay. And all of a sudden, like if I felt like it was everywhere like that confirmation bias is everywhere. Worst day like my dad, and I went to Amsterdam, and I remember going to the Van Gogh Museum. And there was like a special exhibit on Paul Gauguin who like paints all of these like Polynesian women, like many of them naked and just you know, and I love that I love it so much and like I always had love Gauguin for that reason. And but all of a sudden I was like, oh, oh no like and walking through that that show at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and being like, what if people can tell by how long I'm spending in this room, I better make sure I don't look too fast. And you know, all of a sudden I was very self conscious about it. Came to know much later in my in my life, that Gauguin was like a gross pedophile. These are all like 12 year old girls essentially that he married, and like abandoned his family. But at the time, I thought it was so beautiful. I had never seen naked women like women's bodies that looked like me. It was really profound, especially at a time in my life. And I was living in Eastern Europe and I never saw --  so few people who look like me, other than Roma, Roma folks, and often people would clock me as Romani. This, like in the metro or whatever. And I remember feeling really indignant about it, because of course, like, the Romani population are so stigmatized. And I didn't have the context. I didn't have the context and understanding of like, why I felt that revulsion when people thought I was Romani. I'm not you know, you're really defensive. But that was really about that period of time, period of living in Ukraine in high school. I think often when you were removed from your environment, that's when you see when you can see things about home much more clearly. Right, right. And I started to understand more the way that other folks think of Native people, not just in the US. I spent a lot of time in Germany. My father is a Professor of German. When I was in Germany with him as an elementary schooler. I remember going to Playmobiles, like a big set of Playmobil. And I got like the Indians. My dad got me the Indians, I think, because he thought like, oh, you know, my kid is Native, she'll like this. And now when I look at them, that particular set, like I still have it. It's so weird. There's like a teepee. But there's also they have, the child has a kachina, there's a totem pole. There's like, the grandma's like weaving a rug on a Navajo loom. And this is like, all in the same set. And ...

 

Claire Lavarreda  

just get together.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

But also, just like, I just like, I still was having so much dissonance over. Okay, so I'm Pueblo. I know, I feel like I have a general handle on being Pueblo and what that means, and like our ways of doing our doings, and our clothing and our food, it doesn't align even a, like a very, very little alignment with like, this mainstream stereotype of what an Indian is, especially in Germany and Ukraine. People were very confused by me. I mean, or they at least they expressed that to me, and in Ukraine that just like how you don't look like your dad, or like, you look like your dad, right? But you're, like, darker? And like, there's something you know, like, right, like they did, because also, you know, like, just like wouldn't ever occur to someone in the mid late 1990s In Ukraine, like, Oh, our classmate is Indigenous.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Right, right.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

It just like didn't occur to them. And, yeah, so I started to really hone in my internal sense of identity living in Ukraine in high school. I think a lot of it was healthy. It was really, I was very fortunate that I had like this kind of space. Where I was definitely no, I was like, on the outside, like, especially in the beginning, when I couldn't really speak Russian. Where I was just like living so internally, and that's such a big time, by the time of flux. For most people, like when they're young adolescent...

 

Claire Lavarreda  

right? I mean, I feel like teenage years are more confusing and difficult enough. And so then you add being in a different country, and there's no one that looks like you. I mean, I feel like that would be such a a difficult and also very transformative time. And I had never really considered which I think it's so great that you brought up maybe other like in nations perspectives on you know, Indigenous people was there a lot of like, so any representation in media or just like a confusion across classmates, or just general public understanding?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I don't know if I ever saw me at that age, like that time and Ukraine. I do remember that. That pit you know, people didn't bid didn't know the word like Indiana-ski or I was Indiana-skya. But yeah, I don't I don't remember ever like really seeing anything depicted. But people definitely knew what it was. I don't know like how I'm like, I'm not totally sure because I want you know, I wasn't like acculturated, as a young person there. People were often very interested. They were like, Oh, how do you say my name in Indian, that kind of thing. But it was even more removed when the folks would say that back in the US because it's like Ukraine. And my grandmother, my father and I went to Crimea. For vacation, and there, there's their Crimean Tatars so they're Muslim. Um, the Muslim community, and we were spending time in  Bakhchisaray, it's like it's a community with Crimean Tatars I think, primarily Muslim, it was at that point because remember, the Soviet Union had not had not ended that long ago. So there was definitely kind of like a state of flux in terms of religion and spirituality. But I remember like, we went to  Bakhchisaray. And it's got like this, like, I don't know, there's a mosque and like, kind of historical site slash tourist trap. Here's, like a harem. They called it garem. I'm actually don't know that much about it. So I'm like, I don't want to, you know, describe it in a way that's like, not appropriate. But what I had heard at that time, it was the harem. And then there's a fountain in their beautiful fountain. And apparently, that was the fountain and Pushkin's poem, famous poem, The Fountain of Bakhchisaray. Which I had learned in that school. But I remember being encouraged by people at that spot. Because they have had to like to dress up in the hair and clothing and get your photo taken situation. They're like, Oh, you're perfect for it. Right? You'd be so perfect. And I remember feeling weird. And we didn't do it. And I can't know if it's because like too expensive or like, but I do remember like that being like, Oh, that would look so great. And like the hair and clothing. Because you're the insinuation because I'm brown. Yeah. But I came back to the US for college. Yes. So that was No, you're good. I turned off all the notifications. Why does it still say Do Not Disturb us on? Oh, you know, because it's my partner. And I have her Oh my God. Oh, Verizon. Oh, yeah. And that's totally no problem. Hang on. Let me just tell her. I apologize. You're totally fine.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

These are not like super formal anyway. So like I've had people need to take a call and stuff. That's totally fine.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Okay, sorry. No problem. I turned it off. And I was like, oh, yeah, it's because of that makes sense. Yeah. overrides all did not disturb just in case.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Yes. In case of emergency. I think I'm pretty sure I have like my mom on that as well. Like, just in case.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Yep. Yeah, let's keep going. Yeah. So...

 

Claire Lavarreda  

um, I was the next question was going to be when you were talking about how you came back to the US for college.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

So I know, I wanted to tell you my very last high school camp experience. Okay. So the last summer of ASES camp, the rising senior, I think you could go this summer after senior, but I didn't. This was at a university private university in upstate New York. And part of the program it was different than other years is we have a good group time in the evening, and there was like a facilitator. I don't know if he was a therapist, or like a just a community member, he was non Native. And we would just talk about issues like we did that, you know, that like exercising sometimes have kids do where they have like a teddy bear and have to pretend it's a baby and take care of it for a week. So that we don't like get pregnant. That kind of thing. It was like that kind of thing. And part of it was just that we'd left like, we left like, no, we'll have like a little mailbox and you could leave each other we can call them like warm fuzzies or something. Right, like leave each other notes. That was like part of it. And this was like in a big room in the in the building the dorm building where we stayed. The girls were like on one way and the boys on the other. And he said some this this was facilitator said something that made me really uncomfortable because at this point, I was already like, I understood myself as gay and I had not I don't think I told anyone at camp. Right? That but because he said that it made me really uncomfortable. And I did tell some friends. And what and they and they were they asked me like, you know, so much more of them at that age, right? What I wanted to do about it, and I was like I think eventually like I came to understand, like I wanted to talk to the facilitator and tell him that I had been hurt, that he had like made this it wasn't necessarily homophobic, which is weird. You know, I don't remember what the comment was. But I remember being like, it made me feel uncomfortable. And so I came out to him. I told this facilitator like oh, like, I you know, I'm gay. I don't know what word I use then. And like that really upset me, and he was nice, he seemed receptive, but I don't think anything of it. And then like the next time we had the big group, we're like all going around circle sharing, like our high and our low, you know, that kind of thing they do in that kind of setting. And he's like, he's like I learned recently that like that there's someone in our group who is gay. And he's like, if that person feels like they want to stand up and share, I encourage you to do so we'd all love to hear from you. And I didn't move. I didn't do anything because I was like, Oh, this is so like, what? And then one of the boys stood up, but one of the Lumbee boys, he stood up as like as a joke. And because he's very, you know, masculine, like in the way that like, high school boys are like defining masculinity, right? hyper masculine posturing, and he's like, Well, I'm gay, haha. And like, you know, a bunch of people laughed, a bunch of people are uncomfortable. And then he sat down and like, the moment could have passed, and then I was then I said that I said it. I was like, No, it's me. I'm the one who's gay. And it was, I remember, I just, I just remember the quiet in that moment, and then the next day, like a lot of my peers, because we all remember, we've all known each other for several years at this point, left me warm fuzzies. But there were three, three friends I had that summer who were just like, so caring and loving in that moment. And that time because I think like we still had a few weeks to go left over time there. Right. I felt like I completely lost faith in that facilitator. I don't remember their name. I hate it. I hated that. I hated being in that space. That's horrible space. Because yeah, I was suddenly aware that like, what if there were other things? We were talking about that like, that other people had experienced that I just like I wasn't aware of, because I just didn't know.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Right, right. I mean, one that was like, exceptionally brave of you to stand up because I just think it's for an adult to put someone in that position or anyone in that position, but but to put someone who you're supposed to be like guiding and like, some sort of like supervisory facilitator and then to, to put someone out like that. I feel like it's just so irresponsible, and it kind of feels intentional. I mean, obviously.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

right. So strange, because I was like, wait, what? Because this is like, this is 1998. Okay, yeah. So like Elen had come out the previous year. It wasn't like, like, gay people were very much a joke. They did come up like The Birdcage movie had come out with Robin Williams, and everything was just like, very campy and funny. And if and if we if lesbians were talked about, it was the opposite. They were like, depressing or kind of dour? Well, I thought, I believe right, because I didn't mean like, main imagery of lesbians was Ellen DeGeneres, who was at that time dating and engaged to Katie Lange, and um Melissa Etheridge. I had, I don't think I ever really saw queer person of color. But I was aware of being queer at that age.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Right, right.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

And I and then after that, I had my senior year of high school, I started really kind of reckoning with the way my identities intersected. I now understood you could be both, right. My parents got divorced that year, I ended up not how I ended up skipping the last year of high school, for a lot of reasons, right? One being that like, my schooling in Ukraine was more accelerated. And when I came back to the US, like, it was kind of boring. Especially because I had like, kind of gotten accustomed to the challenge of like, going to school. And like living in another country and living in another world for like, my mind was just much more engaged on a daily basis. And suddenly, I'm like, back and like, back in the US interesting, kind of, like boring. And I was really depressed, like dealing with my parents divorced, and, and so and so like, the associated like, fallout in our family, right. But I had also been very independent. When we lived in Ukraine. My father was teaching, I was just the two of us, I had like, a nanny kind of neighbor figure, Olga, who like, you know, she lived in a <unintelligible> with us. And then now all of a sudden, I'm a child again, right? Like, I have to, like, I have my mom and I'm supposed to, like, listen to her. And like, I had been like, myself, like, I hadn't had like, an authority relationship for a while. So, right. But it was in that context that I like, really was trying to grapple with these two identities. What did it mean to be both? And especially since neither one was really normative at the time now, I think like, my identity and even like my professional, but like, I think it fits together beautifully, beautifully. But that's it. 15, 16 years old. It was very fraught. Yeah.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

And very -- adding so many different, you know, personal difficulties. Again, adding not only, you know, the struggles with, with identities but also you know divorce or just getting through school and exams and friends and all the, the, all the already difficult things that are in a, in a young adult's life. And so as you moved into college as you became an adult, how has your Indigenous identity and your relationship with your community developed and changed? So kind of like where you're at now sort of thing?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

So funny like if I think back to undergrad, it has been on my mind a bit recently, for two reasons. So I went to the University of Wisconsin Madison. I was very fortunate. After, you know, my family experienced some financial difficulty after my parents divorced, so my college plans had to change. I was originally intending to go to Smith College in Massachusetts, and my paternal grandmother, who I lived with when I was young, very young, she -- I don't know if she'd retired yet at that point or not-- But she was, she and her husband, my step grandfather, my grandpa Alan, were both professors at UMass Amherst. So it just seemed like, great. And like, I felt like at that time, like, Smith College was just like the nexus of lesbianism, right? I was like, Okay, well, that's where I want to go. But financially, it wasn't feasible at that time, like this is the late 90s. Now, I know like, a lot of a lot of private schools will cover like everything, but your like expected parental contribution, but at that time, it was not the case. I was fortunate to get a full scholarship as a Chancellor Scholar at the University of Wisconsin, as it's a program for students of color. And it paid for our tuition and books. And then I had a grant from the Wisconsin Indian Education Association, though, that paid for my my dorm, like, I had no graduate, no debt. And I never had to pay anything other than just like, you know, what I what fun money and stuff. Right? Right, right, back and forth. At this point, like my mother and my siblings, my mother, my siblings lived in New Mexico. And my father was in was in Wisconsin with his new wife. But we didn't really -- I didn't not want to see him. And he didn't want to see me. So we didn't really have a relationship. But I moved into my dorm the very first day. And there was like a little gift basket on my desk. And it was like it was from the multicultural like students, because they were afraid to call them you were basically like, like a dorm, RAs, who works specifically with students of color. And they have left in this like little welcome basket. How's it go? That's cute. But then like my roommate, who is who's white was just like, hey, why didn't I get one like, and it caused some, like weird tension between us even though we knew each other. We were, you know, already. And I really, that's weird. And I also kept getting emails from from these, the MRCs era called multicultural resident consultants. And yeah, the MRCs would send these emails about, like, what was happening on campus for students of color. And what's content is a huge campus. I mean, I think there were 40,000 undergrads and grad students at the time. Okay. It was huge. And at that time, I just remember, everything felt so dissonant, right? My parents had just gotten divorced. I'm not trying to -- I don't understand where I fit in anywhere. I did go to a couple of meetings for like Native students, they have a great organization called <unintelligible>. And then there was an ASES chapter in there, too, but I wasn't in science, I studied anthropology and religious studies later. But in one sheet, it felt like, it felt like I was at the time, the only southwest student, and it felt like all of the like cultural things they were doing, which makes sense, we're about like, the Midwest. And I just like, didn't, I just didn't relate and also just like, they were all straight. And because I was like, normalizing my, my identity within myself as these three people. And again, there was the internal prejudice against Native people who, who, to me didn't look Native. Right, right. Even though at the time like, I don't think I would have I was even aware of it. Right? The difference in that like this, this was the Native group, like I just didn't belong. I ended up I went to school for two years because I started undergrad at 16. It was too young. It was the number one drinking school in the country. There's so much focus on drinking and then on football. It's a big 10 school I had no interest in either. And I came very, very depressed over the course of my my first three semesters and finally, like in my second semester of my sophomore year, I stepped out. I went home to New Mexico, and I went back I stayed home for about for about, yeah, about two years. And then I went back and when I went back, I felt I was much more prepared at that point. I was I was 19 and just entered 20 that semester I went back but um, it was too much. There's too much to be like 16 years old to be I was just too young like it developmental way too young.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Right? Right. It was surrounded by...

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

drunk football fans.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

I was gonna say like, things that you don't like. And just it's overwhelming for you know, someone who's 18 and up, but to come in 16. And again, with all of life's hardships going on, I could see how that was... was... overwhelming.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

is really weird. But when I went back, I went back to New Mexico, I lived at home. I lived in my community. I had a partner. I mean, although like, I didn't say partner. Right. Right. Right. And, and I really, those two years, were really good for me there really healing in a lot of ways. The fall before I went back to college, so Fall 2002. My partner and I, at the time moved to Minneapolis, St. Paul moved to St. Paul, to stay with their family. And we broke up after a couple of months, and I ended up... that was a catalyst that was like, No, early November early. Yeah. And I and I was like, Oh my gosh, like, what am I doing? You know, what do I want to do? I don't I don't actually know. Right? I decided I didn't want to go home. Because of my mom, like just like living at home. It was hard. We didn't live in Albuquerque, and it's like, I couldn't drive because I had gone the year I would have wanted to drive. I was already in college. And I looked at why would I have learned. So it's just kind of like I was stuck at home and like I slept... we had dial up internet, like, it was isolated. I don't want to go back. So I decided to go back to school. And at that point I was I was like the target age. And my idea of what I wanted to do had definitely pivoted. I had always, like as my first few years I knew I didn't really know like I was undeclared. I think I declared an anthro major my sophomore year, but I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was like, and now it makes sense. I was a child.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

I mean, right? Like, how would you have? How would you have known?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Yeah, yeah. How would I have known like, but at the time, I remember being like my scholarship, because it was a lot of like, you know, really, it's kind of like they pick the cream of the crop because they want to be able to say, you know, right, right? Like this, this scholarship with this, except the best students and they can say like, you know, our programming mates, but such a big difference. But they were very selective about who got into the program in the first place. And when I came back, I started I, I started at the American Indian Studies program. And there wasn't a major at the time, it was minor, right, met Professor at Deer. And she was the chair at the time. And she was amazing. I remember just like loving going to her office just to talk to her. And it's so funny, because at the time she was a professor. And then like, as far as like the remainder of my undergraduate career, what went on, I was like, I learned more and more about her that she was, you know, she's Menominee, her tribe was terminated in the 1950s. And she was part of the coalition of, of women who, who fought and they were rewarded their federal recognition in the 70s. You know, she went to UW Madison, just like I was as an undergrad, she made Columbia School of Social Work. And then in the early 90s, she ran for Congress, she didn't win. But um, she was the head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the early 90s, which at that point was like, seven years earlier. But like, because she didn't talk about it, she was very modest. And most of the other professors in that department, were not Native. I did, I did work with Professor Ned Blackhawk, whom I really admired. And I hadn't met before, because he had actually been my camp counselor at one of the Native summer camps is 13. So like, I already had a relationship with him. I took his course, his courses on American Indian history. And suddenly, things made much more sense. It was fantastic to have this courseroom from Ned that like, talked about the way that different parts of different communities on Turtle Island experienced colonialism differently because of what when they experienced European contact, and also who they were contacted by. So like, it was continental, you know, a lot of the the discourse was about like the French fur traders are there for the for the fur trade. And then, you know, in the Northeast, you know, the British, but where I come from, we were colonized by the Spanish there was I mean, I have a Spanish last name. And people would always be like, Wait, I thought you were Latina, because of my last name. And even like, almost daily, I encounter people who try to speak to me in Spanish and ask for directions. And I understand they're trying to they're trying to find someone who looks familiar is not going to you know, who's going to help them. But at the time, I was like, really resentful of it. Yeah, but that that was a really important time for me to kind of think about myself in a larger historical context. And not just as like, Oh, I'm Pueblo and these other Native people are like not and I don't know what that means, which is right in the first lecture. Two years. And then my last four years of college just like I was like, Oh, I understand myself very differently. And a lot of that is because of Ned Black Hawk and Professor Deer. Right?

 

Claire Lavarreda  

It's actually-- Oh, no, go ahead. I didn't mean, it was funny that you mentioned, Professor Blackhawk, because it's part of my readings. I just started reading the Rediscovery of America. Yes, yeah. And so apparently, he has so many others was my first time, just discovering him. And even my own professor was like, ya know, he's huge in the community.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

But he's very, but he's also a very gentle person. And what I witnessed like as under a student undergrad was his ability to teach to the group of like five or six, extremely eager Native kids in the front row, but also to understand how to teach to the non Native kids. And to do that, at the same time in the same lecture. I can't imagine what a challenge that is, like, even you know, if I think about what I do, I don't I don't lecture. Right. Right. Right. How to navigate that kind of space. Brilliant. When I was an undergrad, he published his book, like, violence and violence in the land, the one about the Americans. Yeah. And he's, and he thanked those of us who are in that class. And I was thanked in the acknowledgments. And I didn't know because the following year, like I went to the National Museum of the American Indian open, and one shift the student group, we went advanced, we got to go, we got to be there for the opening day. Wow. And I remember going to the gift shop. And I just remember, like, that deal was just so overwhelming, because everyone from like, every single nation was there. There's a parade of nations all of it. Right, right. But I remember finding his book in the gift shop just because like, I needed a quiet moment, and opening the book. And I didn't know that we had been acknowledged. And it was so cool. Like, our professor learned from us, like really grok, especially since I come from a long line of academics. Right, right. But it was really cool. To have enough there to have to have Professor deer, she had this bumper sticker on her door that said, Indian time is on time. And I remember her telling me that, that this like, for better or for worse. We live in this colonial system. And that if I want to make a change in whatever field that I was observing, like, at the time, I was really just trying to figure that out. I was like 20, 19, 20that I would have to work to be much stronger at anything, then why a white person in my same role would have to do, she's like, you're a woman, you're Native. I don't know if I was out to her. And I don't even remember that point. But she was like, you have to work really hard to to get half as far to have to be aware. Like she just like it's not fair. But that is the reality. Right. Right. And but also, for her to tell me that but for me to still see what she had accomplished and how like, brilliant career. I think I had way more of an effect on me than I really understood at the time. Right?

 

Claire Lavarreda  

I mean, she sounds like an amazing inspiration.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

She really was and she passed away five weeks ago.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. Thank you. I had no idea. Yeah.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Yeah. And I was also pretty lucky. You know, at the time, she was just my professor. And she was amazing. I think I really struggle because a lot of the American Indian Studies courses were processed in an anthropology and they were taught by non Native people. I had an experience in one of my Anthro classes with a professor who he made this comment who was he was actually the chair at the time. He taught a class on like experimental archaeology in the summer session, where like, you could learn how to do the things that like the ancient people did right? From like an all over all lots of different cultures. And someone like asked like, because he was like, kind of advertising in the class and in different lecture. He like come you know, tell us about like, some of summer courses. And someone's like, Oh, do you like tan leather at all? And he's like, oh, yeah, we do. And he's like, but it's always like it's the worst time in the course because like we do it like the way the Native Americans did and they they tanned leather with urine and it just smelled so bad. He's like, if you ever like thought to yourself like why did they wait like why did these old stories always say like any other so smelly is like it's because they were literally wearing like urine soaked clothing.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

 What? Like how can he be teaching then?! Like what are you even talking about.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I just remember be like, What? What are you even talking about? Yeah. And it is speak out in that moment. He was the chair. And I was a sophomore. Right, like, right. But I did there was an American Indian Student Services person. Aaron Birdbear. And I did tell him you Aaron advocated for me in the department, I don't know really know what happened with with that professor. But whatever I passed them out in the hallway from that point on, he always looked away, and he had been my advisor. He was my advisor. And from that point on, like, I knew, like, I think I had been kind of leaning toward archaeology. It's like I got it, something has to change. Yeah. And I took theory the next fall. I like fell hook line and sinker, sinker for oral history. Loved it. I didn't know what I would ever do with it. I didn't return to it until recently. But I just kind of at that point, because of my parents, and my grandparents on my dad's side assumed that I would just be a professor.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Right, right.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I didn't know what, it was just like, that's what you do you like go to college, go to grad school then your professor. No, like, I didn't know there were other options. I just like I didn't know what to imagine for myself. But yeah, I felt like and when I say like, I felt like I was on the outside or like the fringe of this, like Native student, community and undergrad, it has nothing to do with the other Native students. It's really just that like, I couldn't not reconcile my public identity with like, you know, the people who are from Wisconsin, and they wouldn't, they never made me feel othered know, that, right. I just like I didn't really know how to align these like spaces. Because I think for a lot of undergrads, like college is also a time like, where you're coming into yourself as an adult. Right, and like normalizing rationalizing all kinds of things. And I couldn't not figure out how to make my queer community because I was in all these Christian groups, and then my Native identity, and then my like, academic identity, I could not figure out what to do. So I just have friends in all parts. Right, right. But I will say that the one thing, I mean, there's so many things that I really took away from UW I mean, we both have both an edit and Professor do were really influential. But my understanding of myself as a person of color, there had never been anything I ever thought about, but when at a predominantly white institution, there was there was such a strong coalition and social social bond between students of color in general. And I don't know if that would have happened if I'd gone to school, like in New Mexico or anywhere else, I don't know. But But I'm very fortunate that like, you know, I was able to, I was able to have an environment where poor people of color, suddenly, were my closest friends. But I have not encountered a person who like openly identified as Native. And at the same time, I had I had a friend as Afro Indigenous, right? But also, she didn't talk about her indigeneity much. And maybe she didn't, I just wasn't ready to hear it. I don't really remember. I was like, I knew that she was enrolled. I remember seeing like, a letter to my tribe, like at her dorm and stuff, or her apartment. Right? But at that time, like the, the I knew her through my queerness everything was so compartmentalized.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Right, right, not overlapping just one one thing at a time kind of thing. 

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I mean still, it was just like intersectionality of course it existed even on the academic term existed. But that just like didn't, you know, it wasn't it was that like, experience. A version of those identities into one space had not happened for me.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

And so, now, knowing that, you know, you have your MLIS, yes, you did go through grad school, things like that. How has your indigeneity informed the work you're doing now? And how has this impacted how you feel about archiving libraries, museums, sort of this idea of academia and indigeneity?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I know it's so it's huge, right? In Washington, right. But um, for me, I feel very, very, very fortunate that the people in relation the relationships I've had, and opportunities that I've had, have, have allowed me to really explore how to how to haven't have a professional and personal life that is celebratory, and like, yeah, not just acknowledges who I am, but just celebrates who I am. And it's very much based on who I am. I went to grad school, here in New York City. One of my professors and like my intro and archives classes, I brought, we're just like, you know, it's kind of one of those like, what do you wanna learn about this semester? Why don't you involve law right, like get to know you? And I tossed out that I was really interested in learning about the process of repatriation and um, this professor said, I don't believe in repatriation, though, those people have not shown that they're capable of, of caring for of caring for these things, right artifacts, I think he said, so I think he said they need to stay they need to stay in the end museums and other institutions, for the for the safety of the objects. Like also, when they're given when they, you know, return to people, but he didn't say return I forget the term you use, right? Right. Then the whole, the whole community loses out because not ever because then only those people can see those objects. It was so and this is very first class session in the archives track. And then when I went on to earn that specialization in grad school, but I never forgot that. Yeah, it was. And the thing was, like the rest of the class and like, I don't know if it was because we were like, all trying to impress the professor, like our second semester of grad school, but they're all like, oh, yeah, that makes so much sense. What the heck?

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Yeah <chuckles>.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I finished grad school. And I've been working as an academic librarian. And I started working with the lesbian Herstory archives in grad school. So I started there as an intern there. They had sent you an email to the, to the library school listserv, student listserv, saying that it was the Lesbian Herstory Archives, they were looking for interns in library school, studying archives, or libraries, who had who are interested in working with lesbian materials that had had a contextual understanding of that community.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Right.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

had had a friend who asked me about the archives before and I never bought at this point, I think it was like, had already been living in New York City for four years. And I lived in Queens, so I went to Brooklyn. It was trendy, but I didn't really go very often. This is like 2011 and I and I applied for the internship. I had a phone interview when I was at my former wife's great aunt who she and her partner, they're nuns. I was like hiding upstairs, so I didn't have to do this, like lesbian interview in front of women of faith. But I did it. And I went to I remember that semester. Like, it wasn't really, for me really disjointed. So I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I was doing like just basic cataloging data entry type stuff. But um, the following semester, we just before it started, my internship supervisor told me that one of the other archivists, one of the archivists there, Maxine Wolf, who now I understand is like a sion of the of, of queer activism in New York City, at the time, who know, right, I didn't know, but um, Maxine, wanted to wanted to digitize the audio cassette collection. And the Archives has about 3500 audio cassettes. And they have oral histories, that's like radio programs. I mean, it's just completely beautiful collection. She wanted someone who liked archival work, but also had was interested in developing a workflow and process for digitizing the tapes. And I was sold. Yeah, I met Maxine. I remember it because it was it was my former wife, Sam birthday. And she was like, it's my first he has it. No, I really need to go with a no, like, I really want to do this. And I went and Maxine, Maxine, like kind of handed over the reins to me, like, I think she'd like understood that at the time. You know, she was in her 70s. At the time, I think that like young people just kind of are more adept with technology. And there was I had another intern who was with me that semester, I should say, first semester, and left, but I'm still working on it. And now I'm the coordinator of that collection. I became, I became a coordinator. So we run by consensus, public, essentially, our board members, we call our coordinators, and we just we, yeah, everything that runs by consensus, and it can be fractious. So lots of different personalities and identities in that in that in that group. But I became the coordinator in 2014. So I've been there for years. And now, a little over 12 years. And yeah, I think I'm very fortunate to have to have come into my professional identity in relationship with the archives. Right, right.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

That had been one of the questions and then you, you answered it right there of how has your work reflected your own kind of growing up developing it and your journey?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Yeah, and I have worked different roles at different campuses in my professional life, because the archives is is a volunteer run institution. And that's one of the principles of the archives is that, um, we don't accept funding, and that the the folks who work they're not paid. And of course, now you listen to my interview or what? Yeah, I, my beliefs and understandings of that space have like shifted in many ways. Especially I think I mentioned in that in that, recording that I feel that not offering any kind of like compensation. It really restricts the pool of people who can volunteer who are part of the archives, because you have to have enough silence feel privileged to be able to spend time volunteering as an archivist. It's not um, it's not that like speedy profession, it takes a lot of training. And even even for interns, and I've supervised many interns, you have not only have to have the technical skills for whatever project you're working on, you have to know the subject matter that you're working with. And it's a lot, it takes a long time to develop. And I think that when we went and when any Institute went like this, it with this volunteer idea, I think it's a beautiful, beautifully idealistic thing to do, because all the people who are there are doing at a very deep love for her stewarding of the stories of this community. But it definitely limits the pool of who can afford to be doing something like that. Right, right. And now we want to look at many of our older archive assets. So we call ourselves who are retired, unable to commit a lot of time. That's not necessarily true for my generation being able to retire in your early 60s. Right, right. And even less so for people with intersecting identities. So that'll be like my racialized groups. I'm very fortunate that I had a spouse who, who understood how important it was to me to be there, even though like it took over an hour on the train to get there. And when I went, you know, in my first years of working there, there wasn't even Wi Fi in the train, leaving the stations or underground. And there were also no countdown clocks. And in my first couple of years, I just loved digitizing the tape so much as you put in the tape you put on your headphones, and you're hearing this like woman voice or voices depending when it's so intimate. And I've always been a voracious reader, but there are something completely different. And much more familiar about hearing the story of a person in their own voice. Yeah. And it was in that it was in in working on that project. That one day, like many of these cases I've labeled where it looks kind of scant, right like and this handwriting, like hastily scrawled that they intend to go back and re label it, but they may not have a portable tape. And it what we have these events called at home for the archives. It's like a guest salon, right? Like a lesbian community members come in or talk about their work or whatever they're doing. And it was an at home with Paula Gunn Allen, who was Laguna Pueblo lesbian. And I had heard of her work my entire life, the Sacred Hoop, like I knew of her work, I hadn't really read it. And there she was her voice. And that recording for me was a huge catalyst of my whole life pivoting. I suddenly saw for the very first time and at this point, I'm like, in my late I don't have 29, 28, or 29 was the first time I'd ever heard the voice of a queer Pueblo woman who was open. I mean, I knew I had right. But identified that with publicly... It was profound, very profound, and to her hear her using Keres, our language, like, peppered in her poems. It shifted things for me so much. Yeah, I started to think like, Okay, I

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I need to follow some calling to me that I need to integrate all aspects of my identity into my professional work. And I think I believe it was still in grad school when that happened. But I ended up going to ATALM, the first time I got a scholarship to go to ATALM. And just I remember it was in Oklahoma that year was 2012. Right? And just be like, Whoa, but even then, I met one other openly queer person in that space. Right? Right. And, you know, time kept going, I was, you know, working in universities, one of my campuses, I put a vitrine in there, I'm like, Native Heritage Month. So it was always like, on my campus, I was always like, I just left that university this spring. And sense that like we had such a commitment on that campus to celebrate the identities and like, you know, as, as university say, heritage, right, of our of our student body, but we haven't done anything for Native students. And at this point in my life, like I'm in my 30s, right, and I'm just like, but those entities can overlap. Like we are our student body, there was still you know, predominantly white, Latino, and black. Right. And, to me, it just seems so obvious that like these Latino students are not non Indigenous Why are we just pretending? Not pretending like it was, it wasn't like it was like, maliciously avoided, it was just kind of like this. This like identity isn't part of our student bodies and we'll just kind of like it. Right, right. We just didn't do anything. So like my colleagues were in the library fortunately, like, got it 100% And we will put up vitrines you know, with for Native Heritage Month, I would make little book displays whenever I could. I was in charge of the recreational reads program. So we did like a book card of just like books that in the campuscommunity, faculty, staff students to read for fun, I always made sure to, like face out the Native books that I would order so many. Yeah, but then in Spring 2019, I got an email again, for the campus list or for my grad school. It's like the alumni email. And it was their new our archives professor, Professor Thayer, and this like the horrible professor with the NAGPRA comment, like had been let go. But Professor Thayer had wrote and said, there's an organization called DOCIP, the documentation center of Indigenous peoples who are looking for volunteers to volunteer during the Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues at the UN. And I spoke to my chief librarian, I asked if I could take some time, some vacation time to do it. And it was four weeks, and I received I received a stipend, essentially volunteer work. But I was an I live like, I can see that you went from my window. But I, that time, I looked at the plants and being immersed for almost a month in this environment where it was these amazing advocates and activists from all over the world, from Indigenous communities on every continent. And working in this environment where I was doing like art, like, so it was like the documentation center. But what they do is they, they archive all of the statements of the delegates and the proceedings. And then I worked also worked in the technical secretariat room. So we will kind of mix it up and do different tasks. And that in that room, you people were helping delegates who would come and they wouldn't, you know, maybe need to photocopy their, their speeches before they read them in different sessions or breakout rooms. They needed help with computers, especially because for many of them, like they hadn't, they were all that facile with computers, but weren't necessarily fast learn English. Right? Right. And it was so fun for me as a-- as an English speaker, as someone Native, and as a Russian and French speaker. I primarily worked with delegates who are Russian speakers. And I had actually done a lot I've done a lot of independent coursework in undergrad about Indigenous peoples and the Soviet Union. And the way that settler colonialism affected affected what they call the small peoples that's what they say. In in, in Russia and forex, Russia and Soviet Union. So it was so incredible for me to all of a sudden meet people who I had been reading about this be in this environment where they were just, you know what, leaving the UN at the end of the day, see people in regalia or earrings or like all these like those, you know, those little signifiers that Indigenous people do to be like, Hey, I'm here, you know, I'm not talking like wearing like full regalia to work, although that, right? But, but, but that was appropriate in that environment and getting to be on the floor. And the UN, like, my supervisor encouraged me to go up and sit in on several sessions in, you know, I also went to many of the breakout sessions and took notes in both English and Russian. And it was an incredible experience for me. Yeah, I came in that space, feeling that something has to change. Something in my professional life, this is so fulfilling. And not that I wasn't fulfilled at work, I love reference work. I love working with students, I love helping faculty to, you know, all of that I love all of that. But that space. It was so such a profound ly invigorating experience for me it was professionally and like, internally. And I had had up for a little over a year pen pal that I met through the Native pen pal project on Instagram. And I wrote to her who didn't run out a bit over a year at that point, I said, um, this is incredible. Like, what do you think I should do? You know? And she's like, Oh, actually, I have friends. I have two people I know like a friend, family friend Maria Hopfield. And then like another kind of like acquaintance who are part of this like new group for Indigenous women in New York, you should go. They've been meeting for a few months. And I went and I found my community and they're my family. And of course, we've been through some tense, shit together. We've been through a whole crisis where we had a member who was no longer part of, of our friend group event, who was really insistent on, on like, how we define indigeneity. She didn't take folks who are reconnecting or unenrolled, who are Native or Indigenous, she just lived didn't think it was appropriate for them to be in spate of spaces. And that was really hard to grapple with. I think especially because that individual saw me as somebody as someone who's enrolled and someone who's like, physically appears Native. I think she assumed that I would immediately go to Merseyside. But I think because I have had a lot of experiences not living away from home, right, like this was constant living in New York City live in Ukraine. And also very much because of my experiences, learning from Ned about boarding schools, and like all the reasons why people's identities are affected, or why they become disconnected or partially disconnected. Right? I just did not agree with that. Right. And that community after we went through that crisis, and that was only after I'd only been part of the group for a few months. And the next year, we had the pandemic, we threw ourselves into mutual aid. And it was very, I was like, that time as for all of us, it was a time of intense trauma. I was living in, in Jackson Heights, Queens, which was the epicenter of the epicenter, I often watched and still do the French news. And when the hospital few blocks from my home was on the French news, talking about how the pandemic in New York City was so bad, that there was this hospital that's using that has like, ice cream trucks and more trucks parked outside because there's too many bodies to, to handle. And that's the hospital like, very close to my home. And we met on Zoom, we met on Zoom very regularly, even though you know, we had and we all hung out regularly before then. But I think something crystallized in that time. And those years to where we you know, we really thought about, like, we all come from our home communities that are defined by our, our relationality by our connection to each other. And we're living through a period when like, by necessity for our physical health, we are very disconnected from one another. And then I was really beautiful how it like it actually made us more connected. We would, you know, just chat with each other, like we talked about, like, obviously our mutual aid efforts and what to do and you know, and our like, Instagram posts and teaching, like everyone was doing. Better also we would ever remember, like, we made tobacco ties together, we're just like, everyone was like, okay, and one of us like, had a partner who has a truck and drove to different people's houses and dropped off with the fabric and the tobacco and, and yeah, it was a beautiful time. I just ended up you know, a year into the pandemic,I ended my marriage. I started a new relationship. And then the ins the Spring of 2022...

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

We were very jarringly confronted with the fact that one of our, one of our members, one of our more outspoken members was a race shifter, right, that they had been adopted, they had been professing an identity that they did actually have. And I'm not going to call them Pretendian, because they did have Indigenous heritage, but they had heritage that was like an identity that they were they were using was not related to the one that they actually were raised in. Right, right. It was very intense, all of a sudden, are receiving a lot of you know, angry messaging and messages and like anonymous texts from people were like, how come you are affiliated with this person? We didn't know you're right, you didn't. So it was very jarring because we did we had been involved in mutual aid and redistributing money from donate, remember, back back to folks, the community, and we did an amazing job. I'm still fairly proud of that. But we had given that person money, they had gone they've gone to one three, they've been arrested. We gave them money to bail them out and support them in that time, not knowing that they weren't Native and that they were lying to us for years. Right. It's very painful. We actually like disbanded in that time, and, and the core group of people are still friends, but of course it was traumatic for all of us in different ways. It was very painful. And this is happening at the same time, the same week, that the war in Ukraine began, which for me has been very disarming. I have family members there who became refugees. This summer of 22, one of the buildings from my high school was bombed. And trying to deal with that. The fact that I was like, in the midst of a divorce, that I'm like, my partner lives in Canada. And it was an and trying to like, deal with like water issues and like the frequent COVID testing the cross and the first kind of relationship, the border was closed. And everything was just so disorienting, trying to do my job remotely, it was just feeling so disconnected from everything. I'm also so profoundly affected by like, my love for are these digit queer folks, this city, or this group that the group was like, primarily in digit queer people, my new relationship with my partner who's also queer and Indigenous, understanding myself through the lens of her family's experience, the fact of starting to understand that my community is so fortunate that by whatever fluke, because we were already farmers were never removed from our our homelands. Yes, that greatly diminished? Yes, we live under the yoke of settler colonialism and every moment, but I don't understand what it's like to have a community that was displaced. I grew up in a community where we speak our language and for most, not most, but for many, many people in our villages, here as to whatever their language is, it's their first language, and to witness my partner go to zoom classes multiple times a week, and like just arduously learning her language. A language that like there really aren't for speakers anymore. Right. And just it was doing that in the midst of like, a pandemic, and we like had to be inside all the time. It also was like a winter in Canada, meanwhile, like this war is going on, and like someone that I trusted, and had, I believed in turns out to be lying about who they were. And in the midst of all of this, I decided, and I tend to self sabotage myself profession at that point, but I just didn't think I was good enough. I would think about how like, you know, professors and professors, we're gonna mean it this way, right? What like what you had said about working extra hard as I don't have it in me to work extra hard. I'm, I'm satisfied to just plot ahead. With what I'm doing, if you don't mind what I'm doing. I wasn't like what I was doing at the UN that I loved. But my partner encouraged me to apply for an NIH fellowship. And I had already been doing some consulting with him because I spoke on a panel with Jane Anderson, I was so my friend Nicole, and I, you know, we went to a beading beadwork workshop at the American Indian community house like the December before the pandemic started. And we sat by Emily Johnson, this brilliant up at heart aquifer and started chatting about our hives and, and I had actually like in grad school that I wanted to be a dance archivist. And I had done a couple practicums I did one at New York City Ballet and then the dance rotation Bureau, about how do we archive sometimes the femoral? Right. And Emily invited myself and Nicole to speak on this panel, it was put off for a year because of the pandemic. And then we had this conversation with Jane. And I just thought that time was so funny, like, because we have the recording, I actually haven't listened to it since. Okay, yeah, it's on YouTube, but like it, you know, I think because it was such an ad format. It's so much for me, Jane, and I, you know, emailed a bit after and she asked me to apply because a national monument of Maine Katahdin woods and waters National Monument was looking for Indigenous folks to work on their archives. And at the time, that, you know, a year later, after doing that, the fellowship came up. And I spoke to my colleagues at at that on that project about applying for a fellowship, to, to do or to do oral histories with a team of people I was by no means the only person. Right, right. For the fellowship, and I had a lot of support from, from the foundation from Huntsville Foundation, from the Wabanaki Confederacy, you know, from from the folks at national parks and I got the fellowship, and I was able to change my life because of it. I was, you know, I was able to support myself as I left a marriage. I had been with my former spouse for 18 years. And she's not Native. But having this fellowship, it gave me the funds that I needed to become to do what I wanted to do, which is to really incorporate my indigeneity and my queerness into my, into my academic self, my professional self. Right. And also just having that financial support allowed me to just read to really read For a theory to like, immerse myself in how how my own life path through these different places and languages and time, and political situations, how they just, they echo all of these previous generations of Indigenous Memory Keepers, because, I mean, we we're primarily, you know, we keep memories, or orally or through our, through our, the ancestral objects that we create, continue to create, not necessarily through writing, right. But that does not mean that our ways of knowing are any less valid. In fact, I think we have a more profound relationship to them, because we have to engage with them differently, then kind of like be like, Oh, well, we have the the book. Right. Right, right. And I think that just over the past couple of years, it's been critical to my understanding of myself and my profession. Now I'm working on I'm working on two papers that don't kind of flushing out, I haven't started like writing the paper priority yet until the research phase. And I just feel completely reinvigorated professionally. Because of all of the things that have that have brought me up to this point. All these like, you know, all these actors that may that I may not have realized at the time would become so influential, like Professor Deer, you know, finding that tape, listening to the tape of collagen Allen, go work, you know, responding to an email, the volunteer that you want, and then go into that realize that I need to find an Indigenous community falling in love with my pen pal.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Yeah, it's amazing. I've been like, I've just almost kind of like entranced by your, by your narrative and your ability to like, talk about your experiences. And also congratulations on the grant and the fellowship. I know, when we had connected on LinkedIn, I'd noticed that in your bio, and I was actually a little intimidated to reach out to you because it's like, Oh, my God, you know, this person is like, in the big leagues, like, thank you. We just, it was so funny, I felt so I just wanted to thank you for being so open and willing to work with me on on this interview. And in the future, if you're interested, would you be open to another one, you would get another? Like? Another honor?

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Thank you gift. Yeah, yeah. I think I think like, um, I think it's really important, I think more and more and more about representation. And like, what does representation really mean? And who was it for? I really, like, you know, reduced him as bishop, just like, the this like, concept of like the windows and mirrors and sliding glass doors and children's at our church, that kids need these, like me, the children's literature and media, right? To be windows into other worlds, they also need them to be mirrors. And then they all say the sliding glass doors that are both where they can imagine themselves in a different future, or, or as part of a part of the world in a different way. And I think a lot of my public history work is has nothing has so much to do by professional identity, but not in a formal way. And that I've been, you know, I started to really engage with American history as a five year old through American Girl Dolls. And I mean, yeah, and I belong to many clubs and communities. And my favorites are always the one that are willing to engage with, like, the nationalism and propaganda that is inherent in this brand of dolls. And I have an Instagram and I have two blogs. And I use my doll photography and my like, I love traveling, I have like my favorite doll, I brought her all over the world. And I take photos of her but then I also I've used her as a way to teach myself and then through social media, whoever happens to be out there looking about the ways that settler colonialism has impacted not just Native people, but like, everyone on Turtle Island and throughout the world. By me, I learned recently like this fun fact from my buddy that the most commonly celebrated holiday in the world is actually and it's not the same is independence from the British Empire.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

I didn't know that.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

Independence Days, different countries and different Indigenous nations independence from colonialism is the most common like I think like New Year is like the only one you know, other more common. But I and I realized how like how my own personal history like being raised by my by my like, European settler, descendant grandmother. When I was seven years old, she gave me this gift of Little Girl rabbit diary at some stationery. And that that her her, um, encouragement to always engage in writing, that daily practice of journaling is something that I would never regret as an adult and it's true I don't. And and then the letter writing has been a way for me to connect with my indigeneity wherever I live in the world, that I had these really strong, consistent relationships with my cousins and my friends from camp for like from all over Turtle Island. And then joining like one day, just like responding to an Instagram ad, linking up with a randomly paired pen pal, who I wrote to for over three years, and then one day, and fell in love with. And now she's my partner in the world. And our and our work affects each other, like this dress I'm wearing is actually like a scan of her Prokopenko work, like made it to fabric. And the way that that having another indigent care person, just one person just kind of affected so much about me, and then that she helped me find my community here in New York. And then that helps me connect to home and a different understanding my, my sense of what home means in a different way. And I think that as if Library Information museum professionals, isn't that what we do? Like, isn't that the whole point, too, because if we're if we're engaging, and just being like these keepers of static memory, why, right, I think my understanding of memory and of being a human and Indigenous person and Indigenous person, it's ongoing. And, of course, there's all you know, like, the seven grandfather teachings, or think about the seventh generation, you know, those are, those are those consent can sometimes sound kind of kitschy, at times, because of the ways that they've been marketed to non Native people. But the reality is, is that this unending link over since time immemorial, of our ways of being that have changed and adapted, and that we live in this post apocalyptic settler colonial world, we still are very profoundly ourselves. And that, that kind of memory work that like, that's what drives me, professionally, personally, that that we have our sense of self. And then even when like, even when the aggressors towards our ways of being are from our within our own community, I think about like the person in the, in the, in the group, who was wanting to, you know, force her particular conception of what an Indigenous person is. And then, and then on the heels of that two years later, someone who had this like, you know, falsely portraying themselves as a part of a community that they had no affiliation with, like all of these things are things that we interact with. But despite all of that, like, we continue to maintain who we are. My partner and I have a practice of daily practice we read every night, whether we're in the same city or not, that we reach to each other for about 45 minutes to an hour every night, we just finished Mona Susan Powers, A Council of Dolls. And I realized more and more and more that despite all of the archival material that I work with the library material that how incredible it is, fiction and storytelling is the heart of of what I like to do all of it, like, you know, the way that all of these things interact. I don't think that compartmentalizing different aspects of our professions is is always serves us, right. I think the way that we process trauma and indigeneity and queerness and like all settler colonial effects on individuals, families and communities, that writing fiction that reading fiction, picture books, movies, all of it right, all of it helps us maintain our senses of self. And this like idea that Indigenous people are like part are like these vestigial beings that are just like represented representative of this like...

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

… like mythic past, right, like long gone, right? Like this, like, like the lone Indian on the horse riding off into the sunset. It's complete crap. Like, just because we have like, admixture with other communities, or because we, our faiths, our spiritual selves are not always like, the perfect replicas of what they were at the time of European contact. I don't, I think I understand more and more and more and more in my adult life, that we can never make any legal statement defining indigeneity it's completely personal, but at the same time, essentially relational. And I think like having been forced, within the past, like two years, to like, understand more and more and more how other people try to define us. As I think it does not necessarily matter what you look like, that does not mean that your connection is stronger, because you have more genetic ancestry. Right. And vice versa. Sometimes, oh, a period, like the decades or centuries of of traumatic experiences and being ripped from your home community can make that return so much more powerful and profound. Every and the other thing is just, we can never know any other person. Truly, right. We have to trust in each other, having trust broken is horrible. At UW Madison, you know, my undergrad institution, a person was outed for, for falsely claiming indigeneity... It was very painful. I no longer live there. But even just being friends on social media with with my community there, I wrote an open letter, I should send you that to, to my community there. Our understanding of ourselves or ourselves shift are in a constant state of change in flux throughout our lives throughout seasons. And I think that's something that we need to understand about our families and our community of tribal communities and, and our relation ships, with each with other Indigenous communities throughout Turtle Island, throughout the settler states we live under throughout the world. And all of that is like as part of just like working, working as an information professional. Right? Right, whatever that means. How are we how do we how do we become responsible stewards of story, whatever, and whatever that means, in whatever context, and still honor ourselves as Native people. Honor the native people that we were in relationship with, and do the best that we can for every person, every patron, every client reader that we come across, it is intensely complex, and there is no way one way to do it. But I feel extremely fortunate to have had so many opportunities to learn from people native and non native. To help me under understand what a way for it looks like for me and how I how I can move to the world in a way that is a good way and not a manipulative way not not a virtue signaling way. Not a way that is treating Indigenous peoples as just another resource and another extraction economy. What what are our individual and familial and community and Rotter? her responsibilities in doing work as an information professional? I am, I don't know, but I can't wait to continue learning more and more for my life. Yeah, I,

 

Claire Lavarreda  

I just again wanted to thank you and I do have to stop the recording here just for file size for, for part one. Yeah. But I think we got pretty far, I was gonna say in the future, or probably when you're done traveling, I'm done traveling, if we could do part two, that would be great. Because I'd love to ask you more questions and just learn from you. Because it's just, it's amazing to I feel like you're kind of, for at least for me, one of the first people that has kind of really pioneered this kind of, I don't know, just being really able to discuss the intersection of indigeneity, archives, libraries, all these things. So I just want to say thank you.

 

Colette Denali-Montoya  

I think it's really like, it's actually like, it's so beautiful that you are collecting these stories. Because I think like when we have these like experiences, like like, we know, when we go to a Tom or, or any of these big conference spaces, they're really profound, but they're also ephemeral. Right, right. And I think that for as an Indigenous, Indigenous queer person, the most profound moments of growth and learning I have are, it's our one on one or very small groups, and being able to, like, document that in whatever way we do. Because it's depends on the person and the relationships, like it's really important work. Who knows? Like, who knows? What, who will interact with anything that we leave behind? or emotional? We know how profound like, you know, letting legacies of boarding schools are over generations and it seems immaterial, but Right? Not at all. It's not even close to you know, not you know, and if we can do that, even in ways that aren't that don't seem tangible. It's critical. That's how we survived. And that's how we will always survive, but never losing our senses of selves and never and never turning our back on like, nurturing that and others.

 

Claire Lavarreda  

Well, thank you so much again. I'm going to click Stop Recording.

 

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