Episode 26: Visiting with Morningstar Angeline and her story, ‘Foundations and Fragments.’
ANNOUNCER: Raising women’s voices—one story at a time. Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
MUSIC: intro music plays
JENETTE: Welcome to The She Said Project Podcast. It’s always great when we come together to celebrate women and their stories, so thank you for joining us. I am your host, Jenette Jurczyk, National Director of The She Said Project. We are recording in our Zoom Studio this season so I am waving through the, through the Zoom lens to my lovely co-host Kerry Rossow, one of the incredible founders of this, this organization and this movement. How are you feeling today? ...And it’s a new year. It’s 2021.
KERRY: It is a new year. But here we are, still in Zoom—still, you know, in pearls up top and pajama pants down low. So, you know, there are silver linings, but hey!
JENETTE: Don’t let this crazy upside-down world stop us from moving our mission forward. You, many years ago now, I won’t date you—but you started this movement of sharing women stories through a live event in Champaign, Illinois. It’s taken multiple forms over the years, but right now we’re collecting women’s stories from our different live shows and through our virtual shows and we’re sharing them here on the podcast.
So we have an amazing guest with us in the studio today. She joined us halfway through 2020 when the world was upside down and we decided to pivot and try something completely different. Instead of a live show we pulled it up by our bootstraps and we went virtual—like this Zoom thing—we figured it out and we found some women who were going to join us, not onstage, but ‘on the lines’ as you would say…
KERRY: Well, we always say like the whole idea, like, we didn’t create the new premise that women had stories to tell we just stuck a microphone in front of their faces. So, you know, whether it’s Zoom or on stage or as my mom says ‘on the line,’ you know, we just stick a microphone there and then women do the rest. They do all the heavy lifting.
JENETTE: That’s right. We found some incredible women last August and one of those womxn is on with us today: Morningstar Angeline, all the way from Albuquerque, New Mexico, welcome to The She Said Project Podcast.
MORNINGSTAR ANGELINE: (2:31) Hello.
JENETTE: Hello! So, you took a risk with us… when we tried something completely different. You’re no stranger to film and performing but what was it like to be asked to share a personal story of your life’s experience in, in this format with this group of women?
MORNINGSTAR: I think it was different in that it wasn’t a performance. I think it was refreshing that I could just speak for myself and literally only that—or that was pretty much the goal when we spoke about preparing what I was saying and, you know, going over it was very important to me that, it was things that I—A.) wanted to talk about and—B.) I could say it in the way that felt authentic to myself. So it was nice. I mean it was nice for myself in that selfish way, but it was also very rejuvenating in a way that you can’t really describe unless you’re in those spaces of, you know, hearing other people do the same. I think it, it wouldn’t have felt as rewarding had I only been the one doing it. It becomes a shared experience, you know, and I think that was one of those really benefiting things as well when they’re hasn’t, there isn’t really space to do that right now. It’s hard to connect.
KERRY: We often shy away from asking performers to be in the show, because—1.) I felt like, you know, I wanted women to have a microphone that don’t typically have a platform and we didn’t want it to be performances - we wanted people to be sharing authentic stories and boy, have I, like, rethought that—because what I didn’t realize was so many people who are performers are often saying other people’s words and so the few times that we’ve opened that door, it’s been really really amazing, big, to hear these women that are on stage all the time but to give them this stage to say their own words and their own experience. It was really beautiful.
MORNINGSTAR: Yeah, it definitely can be challenging.
JENETTE: (4:30) It has to be. Is it vulnerable like that? ... to talk about you and nothing but you in your words and your voice?
MORNINGSTAR: That came more… it was like, just once you get through the threshold of, of letting yourself and then it was like quote/unquote—I don’t want to say, “easy,” but it came naturally. I think the difficult thing is constantly saying other people’s words or saying other—executing, surrendering, right? Cuz that’s acting. You’re supposed to surrender to whatever you see/feel on the page. People argue that you’re bringing some of yourself into it and I think you are but most of the time you’re just surrendering and you’re not supposed to say I, I want to do this or that—it’s just, you know, what it is and there’s a really freeing element of that—of being able to like put my the skin of myself on a shelf and be like, “I’ll be come back to you later,” but there’s… you know, after years of doing that—especially with very limited representation for native women, it becomes the opposite feeling, so… I don’t know. This last year—She Said included—it opened a lot of doors, even though I stayed in my apartment. [laughing]
JENETTE: I am blown away by how people have adapted and have gotten creative, but it goes to show the human spirit, and even more so—women—have a need to create, to connect, to be there for each other, and to support each other and that has not stopped. COVID-19 is not stopping any of that from happening. In fact, we found new ways. Your, your story covers so, such a range of your experiences in your culture. So before we get too deep into that, let’s go ahead and play the clip from the performance so our listeners can join in on our conversation and, and get to know you a little bit better. So without further ado, these are Morningstar Angeline in her own words her story from the virtual She Said Story Sharing Showcase in August of 2020, her…
MORNINGSTAR: You’ve gotten really good at saying that, by the way.
JENETTE: I did—I’ve had to practice that one quite a bit. But she shared her story, “Foundations and Fragments.”
Take a listen.
(6:35) MORNINGSTAR: Yá’át’ééh everyone. When it was established that I would be the first Native womxn to speak through this platform, honestly it propelled me into… what I’ll call layered emotions. I mention this at the top because this is, and will remain, a very familiar weighted experience for me: Being someone’s introduction to an “authentic Native experience” or “Native spirituality” (whatever that even means??) Being someone’s first Native friend, colleague, partner… And without fail, nearly every time I spend the majority of our first encounter providing some sort of history lesson that brings to light just how I am here when they thought we were all dead or surely living in teepees on the rez.
It hasn’t felt like there has been much time or room in my life to really consider the ways I want to be seen and heard. The instinct has been to succumb to the pressure to embody Native women, not hold space for myself, a singular independent, complex, anxious, problematic, queer, outspoken Native woman. The anxieties of the expectations of it all has honestly outweighed the value of my own voice until the last few years. I am here today to take up time and space with my existence. My voice. What I share today does not speak for all Indigenous or queer womxn. It is my own and I share it with you in the most honest way possible.
My name is Morningstar Angeline. I was born as Morningstar Angeline Wilson Chippewa to my mother, Rita, an Indigenous and White woman and my father, Shawn, a Chippewa Cree and Blackfeet man. At the age of two months old, Shawn violently passed away from alcoholism. A death I still feel and see new ripples of every day. My mother eventually remarried when I was two years old a Navajo man (Daniel) and we moved from the New Mexico capital of Santa Fe to the Navajo Nation Reservation Bordertown of Gallup, NM just three hours away.
I want to point out here just how complicated my Indigeneity was already. My mother is a white passing Indigenous woman and after the death of my biological father, Shawn, I was somewhat disconnected from my (father’s) family and tribe. In fact, it wouldn’t be until just last year, when my late-grandmother was admitted to the hospital, that I would reunite with that side of my family and begin to heal through knowing one another.
But Daniel, took me into his life and adopted me as his daughter in every way that mattered. His child became my sibling. And this is how I learned how to build a solid family, without blood. Despite our closeness, Daniel didn’t adopt me legally, because to Tribal governments, if I was legally adopted into the Navajo tribe, I would be disenrolled from the Blackfoot and Chippewa tribes. At two years old, the decision had to be made about what boxes I would check for the rest of my life on any government document, about how I would be seen or how I would exist within Indigenous communities and tribes.
I always reflect on my childhood in Gallup (NM) fondly. Although the connotation with border towns is often negative—for very valid reasons—I’m grateful to have grown up surrounded by the hidden abundances on those lands through ceremonies, community, and family. When I think about my home, I think of flea markets, laughter, food, ceremony, but, most of all, a healing that I haven’t found anywhere else. And I’m really well traveled. I grew up lower middle class, my family was blessed enough to have a safe home that also served as sanctuary for those who sought help from my father.
(10:22) Daniel would not be happy with me if I stood here and labeled him a “medicine man,” but I will say he led an extremely spiritual life and he, along with my mother, ensured I had a solid cultural and spiritual foundation. I was taught the value of our elders and youth, as well as the worth of cultivating meaningful relationships with people outside of our communities, cultures and races. He taught me to be tolerant and understanding of everyone—even the religious institutions that inflicted violence upon our people, and upon my family.
He traveled around the world but remained constantly present in my life nonetheless. When he was home and new relatives would come over to help, I would drag my pillow from my bedroom at the end of the hall and sit next to him as he prayed and talked. He never told me I couldn’t do anything within ceremony or outside because of my gender. He encouraged me to know my cultures, know these teachings, so that they could help me, but never, ever limit me. He taught me I was just as much as a Dine, (Navajo) woman, as I was Blackfoot or Chippewa or Latinx.
None of that felt as complicated as it was until 2nd grade when my mom decided to move to Los Angeles and my parents divorced. We had always lived a very contemporary lifestyle so specifically it wasn’t the technology or western culture that necessarily shocked me, specifically it was the social and political aspects of western culture that assaulted my senses and my sense of self. The extreme binaries of race, gender and toxicities that flourished within the unwritten rules, the extreme sexualization of girls’ bodies, and the general xenophobia. Even with the foundation I had, it felt impossible to maintain, surrounded by materialism and consumption.
I attended public schools. And although there are many Native peoples in California, I didn’t see any of them. To me, at that age, in those circumstances—they may as well have not existed. I felt alone and raw as I became a target of racism for the first time. As I moved through elementary to high school, I moved between several cities in the Los Angeles area and still spent every summer with my dad (Daniel) in Gallup. With all of this constant movement, maintaining any relationship or connection became difficult. I’d like to say impossible. I felt like an outcast and found it hard to relate to most of my peers, always drifting towards older friends.
In the midst of this, I had a very private exploration into my sexuality. Always being drawn to an eclectic array of people of different genders and backgrounds - but coming out to a western world felt like putting another target on my head, so I made the decision that I needed to hide that part of myself and I did that for several years. My reasoning was, just get through this, you’re attracted to men as well, right? [laughs]
And I guess I was right. I got through high school, and began to feel free. I moved out of my mom’s, attended college. In 2012, I felt the need to officially get the **** out of California and come back to New Mexico. By 2013, I was cast in a New Mexico based feature film, also my sister’s directorial debut, Drunktown’s Finest, and that solidified my love for acting and film. I was beginning to feel myself blossom in true colors. I was finding my voice, my passion and although the following years were far from easy, they were good years.
In 2016, Daniel booked his long awaited knee replacement surgeries. There was a brewing sense of excitement - after years of being limited because of his health, he told me to order my passport so I could go with him and begin to take on the teachings he had more seriously. I was so excited. After his 2nd surgery however, everything changed. The surgeries essentially triggered a series of heart attacks and it was three weeks later that he passed.
(14:37) If I had to pick a single moment that changed my life and altered me beyond recognition, this was it. The universe went black, my entire being felt raw to the touch, and my entire identity was called into question by some of those closest to me, and by myself. It felt like the links to my ancestors, my tribes, my cultures, were buried in the ground with not only my father Daniel but my father Shawn. I stopped going to ceremonies and grieved like I never hope to grieve again.
All of this increased my pain tolerance. I don’t believe time heals everything. There are parts I glazed over, things I left out - abuses, more deaths. The wounds still feel fresh, and, in the right time, they are just as raw as the day they were inflicted. But… I am grateful to have grown the tolerance and endurance because I am finding myself again. Finding those connections and lifelines to my ancestors, families, cultures, and identity. Reclaiming something that I thought I lost.
Even in the midst of a pandemic, and all of the rising social and political tensions - I see the resilience of Indigenous people and I see it in myself. In my lifetime, in my mother’s lifetime, in my father’s lifetime, in my grandmother’s lifetime, in my great grandmother’s lifetime, we have witnessed everything we hold dear be desecrated, disrespected and assaulted. The land, the youth, the elders, the sick, our women, our non-binary, and trans relatives. My Indigenous relatives who had the borders crossed and assault them. We live in a post-apocalyptic society, this society. My existence here today should make us all feel hopeful that even in the midst of chaos, we can find ourselves. We can find joy and find ways to invest in future generations. Find ways to heal.
JENETTE: So how does it feel to remember those words that you shared?
MORNINGSTAR: It’s interesting. I always have this very kind of out-of-body experience with my writing when a certain amount of time has passed. I genuinely will read something I wrote and spent like a year writing and be like, I wrote this? [laughs] And so, in a way, there’s something really great—and at the same time jarring about that, but in terms of when I write something that’s more very, very personal. It’s just very interesting to hear and I was trying to be very intentional with wanting to really talk about how and what I felt in that space and time. And in 2021, that was.. I mean 2020 that was changing so drastically all the time. So it’s even.. I mean it, it’s nice and it’s comforting in the sense of I think in a lot of ways that was kind of my best self speaking for myself. And so it’s refreshing to hear that when, you know, you have bad days or it’s like, I don’t look at that situation that good today—it feels sucky and depressing—and then, but at the end of it, you know, I think I do look at all those experiences that way, it just—it takes work. It’s, it’s a very human experience—all those things that I shared and it’s messy, you know,
JENETTE: ..and you get to remember that,Yes, I did have that perspective. I was in a good space at that time and I can find it again.
JENETTE: (18:26) I love that you addressed and we didn’t really ask you to but you brought it to the table and you were so knowing—you were so intuitive when you said, you know, I’m, I’m pretty confident that I am, I am an introduction to Native American culture for a lot of your audience. You know, you said that you experience that a lot—that you are people’s first introduction to the native culture and you just went for it—you went for that as you know that the opening of your speech and you hit the nail right on the head and I, I welcome it and I, I embrace it because we do have this wonderful platform and we do want to share all the voices and all the the women’s experiences and you brought such a unique one and help open our eyes and our heart—so I want to thank you for that because, you know, you didn’t shy away from that you, you embraced it even though you probably get that alot.
MORNINGSTAR: Yeah…[laugh] but you know, it’s not a bad thing. I think it’s, it’s very nuanced and it can feel very bad sometimes but, at the end of the day, I’m just glad to occupy space and to show people that I’m still here and I probably don’t look the way they thought a lot of Native American women are going to look too. Or act, or talk, you know, all those things.
KERRY: (19:46) What was the feedback you got from your loved ones, your family and your friends?
MORNINGSTAR: I think similar in that they felt refreshed to hear me talk the way they kind of hear me talk, but in a way that, you know, you talk differently when you’re introducing yourself or you’re trying to do that. And so I think, in a way, to them it felt sort of like a reintroduction to myself. It was just me kind of like putting a hand in there—being like, this is how I’m doing. It, it—you can talk about all those things but I think, at the end of the day, also during the year, I’ve been trying to be very aware of other people’s mental space and how much we’re all going through something. So I think a lot has gotten lost in the shuffle of trying to hold space for one another and not wanting to, you know, dump too much on people. We’re all just going through so, so much. So, I think a lot of the things that were discussed—people think it’s on my mind, but they don’t quite know how much it occupies my mind—and that’s just my experience. It’s not for them to feel weighted by but these are, you know, this is, this is my life. [laughs]
JENETTE: You also shared about your exploration with your sexuality. You know, your younger years, you were afraid to talk about it, you know, how your peers reacted at school…what you felt like you could and couldn’t do—like how does your family view that phase of your life? Like were they shocked that you talked about it or have you guys brought that out in the open and discussed it since then?
MORNINGSTAR: (21:20) I think it’s as out in the open as it’s going to be, I think. It.. you know, bias lives and dwells within all of us.. in these little hidden parts of our brain, you know, and I think at the end of the day, just not waiting for that type of approval, and I don’t think I need to either. I think at the end of the day if I sat there and was like, “do you approve?” I think that at the end of the day, they would be like, “of course!” But .. you know, there’s all those little lingering “buts” that just wait and dwell in people’s minds and I think that’s what we’re all trying to work through and ultimately, for me, actually I just got cast in my first queer role and I am over the moon about it. I am so happy about it and it’s exciting in like nothing could take that joy away from me and I don’t think anything’s wants to, but it, it just comes down to I’m trying to just be comfortable with myself. And then from there hopefully other people will see that, you know, people finding comfort in themselves is a good thing. We should, rightt. We should be happy for them—irregardless. So I think, at the end of the day, quite honestly, I’m just like I’m moving on like either you’re getting on this train and supporting this queer lump of muscle or you’re going to like, no! So, um yeah, and I think in that way, I’m grateful that the way I spoke about it can like live in that time and space and if anyone ever wants me to explain it I can just be like, how about you watch the video so I can also save my emotional stability and just be like, I don’t need to spend time explaining to you right now. Here’s a little like Ted Talk about my [laughing] my sexuality.
JENETTE: (23:06) “I’ve already done my work, here you can watch my story.. There you go.. Wanna get that from me? Here it is.”
MORNINGSTAR: It’s pretty, I mean.. That’s, again, the best version of myself speaking to that .. so it’s probably the best way I’ll describe it, [laughing] you know?
JENETTE: (23:22) I love that. I love that. It becomes a tool in your armor, you know? This is who I am. I took the time to explore it, explain it and if you want to get to know it, here it is. I mean, otherwise we’re just an attribute to what we’re trying to do here and I love that, that you bring that up.
MORNINGSTAR: Yeah, it feels good to just have that sitting there. So… people who want to know can just Google my name. It’s so funny. My introduction to my life—it’s great.
JENETTE: Morningstar 101.
MORNINGSTAR: Pretty much. Well that’s the thing—you have to decide, you know, it and I think that’s the part of, again, my job is I have to kind of remain a blank canvas to the eyes of the public so that they can project a actor or a character on to me, you know, and I think that also gets a little lost in the shuffle of, okay, so I have to constantly present myself because that’s part of my job this way and so, I’m definitely very cognizant of that… when I was writing of, you know, it’s going to live online for a bit—should probably act somewhat professional. [laughing]
KERRY: Well, but I love, so we do a thing called That’s What Teens Say and one of the things is, you know, giving them access to and encouraging them to look up different pieces. And that’s what I love about all the different stories is that hopefully we’re appealing to, you know, somebody is in their bedroom at night, and like “is anybody else out there?” and they, whatever they type into Google and then thinking they would land on a story that resonates with them and that they can connect to and feel like, “ahhh! here’s somebody” and they’re saying it in very clear terms and they can connect and feel like they aren’t alone—I think that is an amazing gift that you’ve given.
MORNINGSTAR: I think the internet, when it’s good for things.. it is a tool. It’s a tool, you know, and I know I’ve seen it definitely do wonders for people who especially live remotely and happen to have the privilege to have it—like you have access to stories. That’s really what it comes down to on so many levels.
JENETTE: But you’re, you’re a performer, but you’re also a filmmaker, like—you take storytelling very seriously, you use the camera, you use your filmmaking—to tell a story, to make people think, to make people feel and I think it’s the same thing at the end of the day, right?
MORNINGSTAR: Yeah. Yeah, I think that and again that’s a different level of surrender too, I think. I’m in pre-production for a short film that I’m we’re going to shoot in March and right now it I mean, I co-wrote it co-directed with a friend of mine and I—it’s been very interesting to explore story together and I, it’s been a wonderful beautiful amazing experience doing that because when you’re by yourself, projects and stories take on their, if you really do the work all the sudden it like takes off and you’re like a vessel for it, right and then within film it becomes very isolating experience or, just kind of collaborating with different parts of yourself. So having someone else to occupy that space with has been really unique in that, it’s.. we’re both in this vessel now and we’re both just letting it take it, take us wherever we want. And you know, it’s turning into a really beautiful story that I’m so excited to tell and it it is one of those things where it—I don’t know, it’s taking on its own identity and it’s I don’t even feel like I mean, we don’t own it, you know, it may have come through us but we don’t own it. It’s just like this little baby we gave birth to and hopefully it’ll grow up to be a baby we want it to be because filming is a long process—I think the joy that I get out of that for example is equal parts the joy that I get out of acting in the same thing, even when I’m just producing and just helping someone take care of the technical stuff so that they can focus on the creative. That’s an equally beautifully amazing experience too because I think that’s a gift to be able to just focus on, you know, your creative stuff. That’s something nice. I feel more people deserve to, other people to be like you deserve the space in the time to sit in the space that you want to occupy, to work on your art and I’ll make sure there’s a roof over your head and like power on so you can do those things. Yeah.
JENETTE: (27:58) Kerry and I absolutely relate. We see it as such a privilege to work with women who get to explore who they are and get to explore these pieces of themselves that they’re going to share and we just hold the space. We hold the sacred space and make sure the lights are on so they can they can, they can get in and do the work.
What’s so remarkable about you, Morningstar, is that you have all these different facets of your life and your personality and your culture and your upbringing and you own them all, you embrace them all, and yet they don’t define you—you don’t let them define you to be whatever is next and whatever is out there for you. So none of them are holding you back but they’re all part of who you are. And that is one of the gifts that I have taken from my time with you and what a, what a beautiful message to give to any of the girls or women who, who get to listen to this episode today and to share in this conversation and the story. So—for bringing that and for being who you are and for sharing your time with us, I want to say, thank you.
MORNINGSTAR: Well, thank you for sharing it with me. You know, it came at a very good time where I could.. I had that space and time to think about myself in that way, which was really great. Normally, I don’t have that but gifts are privilege of time, so I’m very grateful.
JENETTE: Time is a privilege! Thank you for taking that time and for allowing us to be the one to get to share that piece of you with our fans and our listeners both in the virtual show and again today here on The She Said Project Podcast. Thank you.
MORNINGSTAR: Thank you.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you for listening to The She Said Project Podcast, in partnership with Illinois Public Media.
All materials contained in the podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That’s What She Said, LLC. For more information on our live shows go to shesaidproject (dot) com.
This podcast was made possible with support from Carle and Health Alliance and presented by Sterling Wealth Management. Empowering women to live their best lives.
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Morningstar Angeline embraces her Native American upbringing and culture in her coming of age story, "Foundations and Fragments." Kerry and Jenette learn how she continues to share her story and her people's stories through filmmaking and performing.
The She Said Project Podcast is recorded in partnership with Illinois Public Media. All materials contained in this podcast are the exclusive property of The She Said Project and That's What She Said, LLC. Learn more at shesaidproject.com.