But very well said
If you looked at me, you may never guess that I consider
myself a Native American. No I wasn't an Indian in some past life nor
was my Great, Great Grandmother a Cherokee Princess. Actually I am not
that far removed from the rez but then again I am.
My Grandfather left the rez sometime in the 1930's and never looked
back. Although he left his culture behind and did his best to assimilate,
there was no hiding the dark skin and black hair as his co-workers called
Growing up I always knew we were Indian even though I looked more Anglo
than Indian. This (being Indian) was both a source of shame and a source
of pride. I don't know why, but I was always drawn to this culture that
my Grandfather left behind. When we played Cowboys and Indians I wanted
to be the Indian and as I grew older I knew that I wanted to dance at
the Pow Wows.
I learned all I could from books-there were no elders to teach me-and
I went to Pow Wows, watching and learning what little I could. Over
the years I built my outfit until one day I felt ready to enter the
circle. Soon I would find out how much I really knew-almost nothing.
In the circle I found both acceptance and rejection as I tried to embrace
my native heritage, a heritage my Grandfather walked away from. Did
I have a right to wear that regalia, to put those feathers in my roach
and attempt to walk that "red road" or was I simply deceiving
myself? These were questions that went through my mind as I lined up
with other traditional dancers, many a much darker shade than I.
And why was I drawn to this culture when others in my family could care
less? Why was it important for me to be Anishinaabe? To walk the land
my Grandfather walked? To kneel at the grave of his mother and his mother's
mother? Why did I care? And what does it mean to walk that Red Road?
That is the most perplexing question-a question almost as perplexing
as the one in which the boy asks owl how many licks does it take to
get the center of a tootsie roll pop? Although I have only been on this
road a short time, it has been long enough to see that we as a people
are divided over tribal differences, urban vs. rez, blood quantums,
tribal membership, skin color, tradition, Christianity etc.
There are urban Indians and rez Indians. There are Indians who Pow Wow
and those who don't. There are traditional Indians and non-traditional
Indians. There are urban, traditional Indians who Pow Wow and there
are rez Indians who are Indian in name only. There seems to be a gulf
that continues to widen and self-proclaimed culture cops see it as their
duty to ensure the purity of the culture.
I have learned much in a short time. It is better to listen than to
talk. It is even more helpful to be an invisible but when you are several
shades lighter than every one else, that is a difficult thing to do.
I know that could never walk in the cowboy boots of a full blood nor
will I ever know what it is like to grow up on the rez. I know that
I have been afforded white privilege and perhaps that is what my Grandfather
wanted, so we wouldn't have to experience the pain of rejection that
he did. I also know that although he escaped the rez-he could not escape
the dysfunction, which still haunts my family. So no I don't know what
it is like and yet I do.
I have learned that though the drum calls me and speaks to my heart,
I will never be fully accepted by those who are caught up in being more
Indian than the next guy. I have learned it is better to apologize first
and hope that I am corrected gently. And I have learned that when you
get two traditional people together, there are at least a half dozen
ways of doing something and both think their way is the right way.
With all that said, I do not regret the choice that I have made to walk
this "red road" and to bring my family along with me. When
I wear my regalia, I stand tall as an Anishinaabe warrior. One who has
been called to bring the culture back to my family in honor of my ancestors
who have passed on. I will no longer make an excuse for being mixed
blood. That is who the Creator made me to be and who can argue with
the Creator. Compared to him, we are nothing anyway. I know who I am,
I know where I am from and I know where I am going.
Besides, the prophets said that when the seventh fire
is lit, "A New People will emerge. They will retrace their steps
to find what was left by the trail. Their steps will take them to the
ELDERS who they will ask to guide them on their journey. But many of
the ELDERS will have fallen asleep. They will awaken to this new time
with nothing to offer.
Some of the ELDERS will be silent out of fear. Some of the ELDERS will
be silent because no one will ask anything of them. The New People will
have to be careful in how they approach the ELDERS. The task of the
New People will not be easy."
Why would that task not be easy? Because it is those of us who are mixed
blood who hunger to learn the old ways and that brings shame to those
who should know but do not.
I have spoken.