Sky Jimenez knew she wanted to believe in something, but she had no idea what it was. Her parents didn’t teach it to her when she was growing up in Chicago. She attended church when she was young, holding onto the things that resonated within her and discarding the things that did not.
In high school, Jimenez learned that her mother’s father had been Chickasaw, a piece of her heritage that she began to look into. She went to the library and searched for books about Native American history. Then Jimenez met a Native American spiritual teacher, Roland Williston, who goes by the name Rainbow Eagle, and everything she had been exposed to over the years began to make sense.
Jimenez had begun attending pow wows and other Native American events. She took every opportunity to learn about Native American traditions and beliefs. At an inter-tribal Cherokee pow wow, she saw a flier announcing that Rainbow Eagle would be speaking about Native American spirituality.
Jimenez said she felt like she was meeting an old friend when she met Rainbow Eagle, an Okla-Choctaw who travels the nation learning from Native American elders and teaching others. As she listened to him speak, she knew she had finally found the answers to her questions.
“It was almost a physical reaction,” she said. “I felt it deep in my soul.”
Jimenez, who was a public school counselor for years, equated her reaction to Native American spirituality to what she would teach the students about instincts. She called it the “bellybutton radar” — a feeling deep inside where a person knows if something is wrong or, as in this case, right.
Dennis Kelley, a visiting instructor at MU who specializes in the contemporary religious practices of Native Americans, said there has been a growing trend of people from the baby boomer generation seeking out religious practices in relation to their ethnic background. People of European ancestry may begin to look into Celtic practices, he said, or people like Jimenez begin to look to Native American beliefs.
Kelley said that because Native American religious traditions are embedded in specific locations, it can be difficult for people to find their specific tribal beliefs, and they often latch onto a mix of Native American spirituality.
An important element of Jimenez’s spiritual beliefs is the idea of a balance between nature and humanity. According to Kelley, there is an equilibrium that the universe should aspire to, and each individual should attempt to live life in harmony with others in most Native American religions.
At a recent ceremony organized by Jimenez honoring Native American elders, Jimenez explained that, in Native American spirituality, fire represents the creator. This concept of the creator god, the source of life, is one of what she calls “fundamental truths” that attracted her to Native American spirituality.
Jimenez said some of her Christian friends don’t understand these beliefs. She attends no actual church or organized weekly meeting. She said as she has explored faiths, she finds that there are many commonalities in Christianity and Native American faith, such as recognizing one source of all life.
Jimenez remembers her parents having similar misgivings about her beliefs. When she was young, her parents didn’t understand her attraction to the natural world.
“Ways of doing things came from the inside,” Jimenez said. “I was not taught them as a child.”
Today, she said, “it’s ingrained in how I live my life each day. Spirituality is in every breath I take, every step I take.”
Jimenez said that Christians are not the only ones who have adverse reactions to her beliefs. She has encountered Native Americans who are unhappy with a person who is not a full-blooded Native American practicing their religious traditions. Jimenez made sure to teach her son, Noah Schuffman, the Native American traditions she had learned because she wants them to continue on to future generations.
Schuffman said he remembers going to his first Native American event when he was 5 years old. It then became a normal part of his life. Schuffman’s parents are divorced, and he attended a Baptist church when he lived his dad. For him, the different religious experiences were positive because he was able to embrace different aspects of the faith. Schuffman remembered his mom continually seeking more knowledge about Native American spirituality. That really stood out to him, especially since he knew that it wasn’t something her family had ever talked about.
“I admire the fact that she would actually take steps to find out about it and continue to dig deeper,” Schuffman said.
Rainbow Eagle, who has remained a close friend of Jimenez, also admires her continual search to grow more in her beliefs.
“Sky has been consistent to reach and grow in her connection for a long period of time,” he said.