Discussing the memoir of an adoptee who traced her roots to connect with the Navajo Nation.
The full title of Shana Ross’ memoir — Tribeless: Discovering the Truth About Nature Vs. Nurture as One Woman Finds Her Birth Mother — is nothing if not attention-grabbing. And the book itself is uncommonly compelling as Ross recounts her journey toward fulfillment after surviving a tumultuous upbringing by often volatile adopted parents in 1960s East Texas, and ultimately tracing her roots to the Navajo Nation.
Ross made contact with her biological mother, Mildred Yazzie Silversmith of Arizona, in 2016, a reunion that served as her entryway into an extended Navajo family that accepted her with love. In turn, Ross experienced a long-sought sense of belonging and completeness — and discovered, much to her amazement and amusement, that she had somehow “inherited” many of the defining traits of her identity from people who were heretofore unknown to her.
In the final chapter of Tribeless, Ross writes: “I know, without a doubt, that I am my mother’s daughter, and hers was the voice in my head, all throughout my life, that exhorted me to get up, keep going, and move forward. Through the trials and tribulations, she had been by my side.”
At the same time, however, Ross acknowledges that for all that she owes her Navajo family, she, like most of us, has invented herself — despite the fact, or maybe of it, she spent much of her childhood feeling like an outsider. She has enjoyed success as a Houston-based entrepreneur and health and fitness trainer, and decades of happiness with her wife, Mary Beth.
“Yes, my mother’s strength flowed into me,” Ross concludes, “but I made the decisions that molded me into who I am today, and I am happy to say that I am content and proud of the person I’ve become.”
Nature or nurture? Maybe both.
During the recent holiday season, Ross visited the C&I Studio to talk about Tribeless. Before we began our conversation in earnest, however, she took time to describe the wonders of Navajo fry bread. Tasty stuff.