A Four-Year-Old Learns to Fight

A photo of my grandfather

You can trace my motivation for racial justice work to my early childhood.

When I was little, practicing archery from a bow that Papaw carved by hand, I would gaze up in awe at the lithographs of Sitting Bull and Geronimo that he had completed in immense detail.

“We don’t use guns to hunt, feller,” he said, bringing my attention back to the task at hand, “that’s not fair to the animals.”

My papaw shared neither his art nor philosophy with anyone outside my family, but this didn’t stop me from daydreaming that one day everyone would know about the incredible things he did.

Unfortunately,  Papaw died without any of that happening, and the bow he made for me collected dust on a shelf. So, when I discovered my own artistic voice, I wanted to pick up my culture where my grandfather left it: by creating indigenous art –but also by sharing it.

Today, I understand why Papaw never shared his work. My grandfather grew up ashamed of being Chickasaw. Although I wasn’t told until this year, my Grandma-Great, who I had been able to love for most of my early childhood, had gone to a boarding school. So had her mother. I don’t think anyone can grasp the trauma that they experienced.

That’s why, in my work, I want to give people like Papaw the safety share their voices by working to eliminate centuries of stereotypes about indigenous people. If we can create a society that uplifts indigenous people, it will be easier to return power and prosperity to Native Nations.

Quinn Smith is a second-year student majoring in public policy from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is a member of the Chickasaw Nation. Aspiring to create change through storytelling, Quinn grapples with telling hard truths concerning Native American history, existence, and identity. His current project with Duke Gardens will transform the popular attraction into a space that tells indigenous stories. Quinn is a documentarian, filmmaker, writer for The Wellian Magazine, and violinist in the Duke Symphony.

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