Most kids can't remember their first birthday, but Kevin Kicking Woman can.
He was 14 years old, his party consisted of cake, presents and a barbecue.
"I felt corny because I never had one before so I didn't know how to act. You always think about them all the time," he said.
But his childhood wasn’t always filled with positive memories. When he was two years old his father put him up for adoption and then he moved around from home to home. He faced abuse, was taunted by his siblings and missed out on the typical childhood most children have.
Eventually his bedroom became his only solitude. He often would have to hours in his room alone but this wasn't necessarily a punishment because it was through these moments he began to sing Native American songs that gave him strength. Singing became a gateway that allowed him to leave this world and lose himself in the music and the power of the songs.
“When I start singing I praised the spirits that help carry me," he said.
And now he helps others through the power of music as a volunteer DJ at KBGA College Radio at the University of Montana where he has his own show called ‘Greeting the Sun’. Kicking Woman’s show airs every Friday morning from 6-9 a.m. But before he slips into his radio voice he finishes his two other jobs. In the mornings from 3:30-7:30 a.m. Kicking Woman is a part-time custodian at the Missoula Indian Center and then he goes onto his second job at the University where he works as a Bridges Baccalaureate coordinator. As a coordinator he recruits Native American students from tribal colleges for the Bridges Program, which is a science and bio-medicine program.
While the two non-radio jobs provide for his wife Joni Kicking Woman and three of his five children at home (the other two are in college), it’s the radio gig that keeps him afloat. The radio show consists of traditional songs and an occasional live performance from him.
Kicking Woman attended Haskell Indian Nations University soon out of high school but decided he was better off in the military and signed up for the Navy. When he finished he started working in a number of places and eventually decided it was time to return to college. In 2011 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies and anthropology from the University of Montana. He is currently working on a master’s degree in cultural anthropology in music. He wants to use this degree to document Native American songs of the Blackfeet tribe.
His path to a happy, successful life wasn’t an easy one, but it’s one that can be learned from.
His mother left him when he was six months old, leaving his father to raise him. But his father had problems of his own. He eventually was placed into three abusive homes until he was finally old enough to take care of himself. At nine-years-old Kicking Woman had enough. After being knocked out by a shoe that was thrown at him from across the room he turned to prayer for help.
"I sat at the edge of the bed and I began to cry. I asked God to kill them and I was going to kill myself. All of a sudden I got this really warm feeling in my body and it was like a message came to me. It said ‘Look into your heart there’s a fire burning don't let it go out’,” Kicking Woman said.
From that moment on he decided that nothing was going to get him down. When he turned 18 he decided to go to college. He attended Haskell Indian Nations University and entered the Navy.
"One of the reasons I joined the Navy was because of my dad. I asked him one time when I was a kid what makes a good man and he said a military man," Kicking Woman said. "In the Navy I wasn't that abused kid that everybody knew at home. There I had a fresh start."
That fresh start led him to a whole new life where he was finally able to decide his own fate. In August of 1991 he married his wife Joni and soon followed their five children. Like most adults Kicking Woman often finds the weight of the world a little too heavy on some days. So when he isn't with his family or at work he spends his free time at the local swimming pool.
"It’s like therapy. When you’ve got a healthy mind and body everything just follows,” he said. “ You just feel good.”
Swimming and singing have gotten Kicking Woman through a lifetime of pain and happiness. Having overcome a childhood of abuse he has accomplished so much
in his adult life and over the years he has forgiven those families that harmed him. He said he tried not to let the negative memories sneak into his mind and instead uses it to help him move forward.
“If I put energy into [worrying] then it’s wasted energy,” Kicking Woman said.
Stacy Thacker (Navajo) is from Navajo, N.M.