How often have you heard or said "I'm part Indian"?. If you
have, then some Native American elders have something to teach you.
A very touching example was told by a physician from Oregon who discovered
as an adult that he was Indian. This is his story. Listen well:
"Some twenty or more years ago while serving the Mono and Chukchanse
and Chownumnee communities in the Sierra Nevada, I was asked to make
a house call on a Mono elder. She was 81 years old and had developed
pneumonia after falling on frozen snow while bucking up some firewood.
I was surprised that she had asked for me to come since she had always
avoided anything to do with the services provided through the local
agencies. However it seemed that she had decided I might be alright
because I had helped her grandson through some difficult times earlier
and had been studying Mono language with the 2nd graders at North Fork
She greeted me from inside her house with a Mana' hu, directing me
into her bedroom with the sound of her voice. She was not willing to
go to the hospital like her family had pleaded, but was determined to
stay in her own place and wanted me to help her using herbs that she
knew and trusted but was too weak to do alone. I had learned to use
about a dozen native medicinal plants by that time, but was inexperienced
in using herbs in a life or death situation. She eased my fears with
her kind eyes and gentle voice. I stayed with her for the next two days,
treating her with herbal medicine (and some vitamin C that she agreed
to accept). She made it through and we became friends.
One evening several years later, she asked me if I knew my elders.
I told her that I was half Canadian and half Appalachian from Kentucky.
I told her that my Appalachian grandfather was raised by his Cherokee
mother but nobody had ever talked much about that and I didn't want
anyone to think that I was pretending to be an Indian. I was uncomfortable
saying I was part Indian and never brought it up in normal conversation.
"What! You're part Indian?" she said. "I wonder, would
you point to the part of yourself that's Indian. Show me what part you
I felt quite foolish and troubled by what she said, so I stammered
out something to the effect that I didn't understand what she meant.
Thankfully the conversation stopped at that point. I finished bringing
in several days worth of firewood for her, finished the yerba santa
tea she had made for me and went home still thinking about her words.
Some weeks later we met in the grocery store in town and she looked
down at one of my feet and said, "I wonder if that foot is an Indian
foot. Or maybe it's your left ear. Have you figured it out yet?"
I laughed out loud, blushing and stammering like a little kid. When
I got outside after shopping, she was standing beside my pick-up, smiling
and laughing. "You know" she said, "you either are or
you aren't. No such thing as part Indian. It's how your heart lives
in the world, how you carry yourself. I knew before I asked you. Nobody
told me. Now don't let me hear you say you are part Indian anymore."
She died last year, but I would like her to know that I've heeded her
words. And I've come to think that what she did for me was a teaching
that the old ones tell people like me, because others have told me that
a Native American elder also said almost the same thing to them. I know
her wisdom helped me to learn who I was that day and her words have
echoed in my memory ever since. And because of her, I am no longer part