As part of our series The Way We Heal, Chiricahua Apache born for Diné creator, home-cook, and youth pride organizer Geronmino Louie talked to us about being present, something he finds particularly healing, along with the things he’s learned (and unlearned) over the years that inform how he cares for himself, his community, and the earth…
What does healing mean to you?
Healing means rebuilding strength to overcome whatever you couldn’t before. Each situation can vary, but I found that the best way to heal is to do simple tasks like talking, walking, praying, eating, and working. These are all things I do daily that can help you understand that you’re still here, you're still only human with words, feelings, and thoughts. Recognizing my existence, all that I am, all that I can be, helps me heal.
What’s the best advice you have received from an elder?
Life is a learning experience. No one on this earth is perfect, and with that, we all have something to learn. Nothing defines life better than learning from your failures and wins. The question is do you have the courage to learn from those wins and failures?
What food rituals help center you?
I think reflecting really helps me center myself. I used to be really cocky for no reason, then I became really shy of my accomplishments. I guess it really came from wanting to please people. The cockiness came out when people used to “LIVE” for my flamboyant personality, which I thought they would want from their typical small town gay kid. Then I found out who I really am through self-reflection and started to appreciate myself more. My cockiness soon became confidence and now that is what I am working on. I am learning to hold places, times, and things for myself to appreciate it more. Like this opportunity, I never knew I was a good cook until now. My mom is proud of me, so am I.
What foods, spices, herbs are especially healing to you?
As an Indigenous person, there are a lot of foods and herbs that can be considered healing. But something that is especially healing to me is the thought and work that we put into the food. Like a piece of bread that my mom has made for me and my family. Yes, the piece of bread is delicious but it’s the time, thoughts, words, and work she put into it that makes it filling.
How is your relationship to food different from your parents’ or grandparents’ relationship to food?
I am not sure if there are any differences between me and my parent’s relationship to food because they’re the ones who taught me how to respect my cooking and food. It may sound a little boring, but it’s true. I guess that’s what you call tradition. Do I change some seasonings in recipes? Sure, but my understanding of my relation to food is the same. We take care of it like they take care of us.
Is there a misconception about your culture’s approach to wellness you’d like to dispel?
My people’s ways of life are sacred and have been here for thousands of years. Our approach to healing such as dreamcatchers, medicines, and ceremonies are closed practices. How we live our lives is not to please the weird obsessions, trends, or fetishes colonizers have created and harmed us with. We are not witches, and we are not “gatekeeping” our ways of life, we are protecting them.
What does the New Year symbolize for you personally?
The new year for me is in October, on a new moon. It’s actually a lot different from the new year we all know. This new year has been acknowledged by my people for thousands of years by understanding the stars and the seasons. This new year isn’t only about you having a fresh start, it’s also about how you will continue living with all your surroundings like nature, animals, and your relatives. How will you learn from your past year to do better the next. I guess that’s what they call resolutions. But, for us, they are more selfless and gird toward more community understanding. It’s about our people coming together, but it also includes other living beings that we need to protect. I feel a lot more people should be doing the same.
What is one food or ritual from your culture that has been appropriated / under-acknowledged / commercialized:
Indigenous peoples have experienced a lot of cultural genocide through assimilation and culture appropriation. A popular “ritual” non-Indigenous people continue to appropriate is a spiritual practice called smudging or burning white sage. The white sage is an indigenous plant from California and the surrounding tribes tribes harvested it to use as medicine. Today the plant is being over harvested and used wrongfully. This is a big issue for those tribes because they will be the ones who will feel the harmful effects without having access to their traditional medicines. While everyone else would just find new plants to over-harvest again without understanding their harmful actions.
What’s something you’ve had to unlearn about health?
I think something I had to unlearn about health is how we were taught that only gay people carry HIV and AIDS. Growing up, I always heard people talk about HIV and AIDS like it was a gay sickness and ever since I thought the same which also played apart in my choice of coming out. I was afraid that same stigma would affect me. I feel like there’s a lot about health that we don’t really know about or that is being taught with a bias, like women’s health, people with disabilities health, LGTBQ+ health, and Native Peoples health. There’s some things that just don't work for us and there’s things we’ve used for hundreds of years that we don’t get recognized for like pain reliefs and other medical advancements using natural herbs.
Wellness is not…
Pretending to be okay. We have to learn to take care of our bodies, mind, and spirit. If one is off or not well then you are out of balance. Living in a country where money is worth more than people is scary. I have seen it and felt it. It is not okay. We should focus a lot more on our well being and invest in it. I really never understood the problems our country had with health until after the pandemic. I have learned a lot about how there is generational trauma and labor BIPOC face disproportionately more than non-BIPOC. Nonetheless, I think a lot of us are starting to understand the power we hold and how to use it. I am grateful for the strength that has been passed down to me.
Geronimo’s Slow-Stewed Potatoes and Squash
4 ears of corn, kernels removed
6 potatoes, shredded
2 yellow squash, thinly sliced
2 green squash, thinly sliced
1 lb. of ground beef
Salt, to taste
- Start off by washing the corn, squash, and potatoes. Then place your Perfect Pot on the stove with low heat.
- Add in one teaspoon of oil and your ground beef. Stir and chop the ground beef occasionally while you prep and shred all your vegetables.
- Once all the vegetables have been chopped, add them to the pot. Stir all the ingredients together then turn up the heat to medium.
- Add in some salt and then cover the pot to allow the food to cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Once the food is finished, remove the pot from the heat. Let it stand for about 5 minutes then serve and enjoy!