Julian Kussman moved to Saint Louis as a baby and was raised in Jefferson County and O’Fallon. Julian grew up identifying with his Native American heritage,and participated in powwows and other events through the American Indian Center. Now at age 30, he lives in Tower Grove with his wife and cat and works as a graphic designer. In a recorded interview, Julian talked with Erin Williams about keeping his culture and heritage alive despite a seemingly dwindling population.
Here is an excerpt of their conversation:
On growing up Native American – I felt a little bit special growing up, like there was something about me that I knew explicitly was different than everybody else. Every once in a while I might have felt a little bit on the outside of the norm, but more often than not it just felt like an everyday average kid who also had an extra special little thing about him that he got to take part in or do.
On learning about Native Americans in school as a kid – It’s kind of a period that you go over in history class, and it ends up being encapsulated sometime around the landing of the Mayflower up to the 1800’s and then it just sort of gets closed off and says “That was it, and now the Indians live on reservations.” There was a time when we were talking about this, that I told a girl in my class ‘Hey, I’m Native American,’ She was in disbelief. She was like ‘No you’re not! All the Indians are dead. There’s no way you’re Native American.’ She totally didn’t believe me, but it’s like, ‘I don’t have any other way to prove it to you.’”
On keeping the history going - I think the biggest thing that people can do to keep the Native American culture alive is honestly just talking about it. Letting people know that ‘Hey, I’m a member of this group or this culture, that has these certain beliefs or has this sort of history behind it,’ and just talking to the people that you know.
I live my day to day life. I go to work and drive a car and do everything everybody else does, but as a person – there are unique issues that I am aware of that are in the back of my mind day to day that would be nice to hear more coverage and more information about. The health care and the state of poverty on the reservations – diabetes is rampant, alcoholism, drug addiction – these are all things that are closely related to the state of poverty that they live in, not just necessarily the culture themselves, but that people who end up in that poverty cycle just deal with things with drugs and alcohol, and don’t have proper healthcare and they don’t know the right foods to eat. So it just deteriorates and goes on from there.