“Are you Indian or something?”
I stop, I stare , I’m quiet …. I’m trying to figure what I did to warrant the question. ” Is that your fascination?”
What did I post?…. I had tried to not post most of the things I had been reading. But Facebook is a Mecca for whatever a person is looking at in the moment and we have been conditioned to push a ” like” or ” share” button and … hey everyone sees the John Trudell banner on my FB , but nobody ( that I know) that I ask even knows who that is….although I educate them readily.
” are you Indian or something?”
It’s such a loaded answer, not so much a loaded question , or maybe it is- depending on who is asking it.
My thoughts go to my mother, who has never had a problem saying she was Cherokee. She has dark hair, the higher cheek bones, all the things people generally associate with ” looking” like an “Indian” except she has green eyes and her hair is not Disney Pocahontas straight.
My grandfather was probably more than half Cherokee. I didn’t know my great grandfather, it is said that he held me and kissed my forehead when I was an infant, and this is something that apparently was a surprise at the moment. He died when I was still a baby, and I don’t remember him. I do remember my great grandmother though. We would go see her, when I was a child, and every time we went mom always had something for her. Be it pictures of us children,or be it food. We always brought something,and before we left she had always gave us so something, usually off her many shelves of nick nacks, I remember receiving many cat figurines from her. As a young adult I would go with my grandfather to see her, and it was the same. It just was, and I never thought much about it. I didn’t compare and contrast any habits of my mothers side of the family with that of my dads.
When I was in my twenties my mother once stated to me that I didn’t have to fill in those stupid race boxes that pretty much appear on everything now days. ” you don’t have to answer those and you don’t have to put that you are white”. Mom look at me… Seriously. Her sentiment was that the American Indian people are the only people anywhere that have to ” prove” they are their own people. Well that’s great,but to me, my mother and my grandfather were the Indians- obviously I was not. I’m as pale as Bella from ” Twilight”. I remember when my mom tried to do an ancestry tree, and this was before ancestry.com and after her grandfather had died. Later in my life, I took the free month trial from ancestry.com… While my fathers side of the family , with just a few names blossomed with all those green leaves that brand “ancestry.com” ,my mothers fathers side stopped after the great grandfather who I don’t remember. It was hard enough to find his fathers name, and after that there was nothing. Like they just appeared in the mountains of Tennessee. What was surprising was that my great grandmother’s family seemed to be just as difficult. I let it go,I wasn’t looking for a card and the reasons some people did look for a card kind of bothered me, I just wanted to know. My great grandmother Green had died in my early twenties and I was coming on thirty. My grandfather as well as my grandmother had died and maybe I was realizing that I knew more about my fathers side of the family, even though they were much older, than I did my mothers. Maybe I was missing my grandfather, who knows but I tried to find something. I couldn’t, and I let it go. Like I said,no one ever lived on a reservation in my family, and there was no ancient story about a mythical ” Cherokee princess ” that never existed anywhere in time ever. My great grandfather was Cherokee and my grandfather when talking about Indians never ever talked about it in third person, he always said ” us”. So does my mom. It just is, it just was and who has to prove or argue anything ?
It was during a Netflix binge of documentaries and looking at faces that looked so much like my great grandmother that I realized that she had also been a Cherokee, then I started remembering small things,the gift giving..the way none of the Green family ever knocked on the door when they went to see her and the way ( depending on who it is and who in the family they have come to see) still don’t knock on the door. They just walk in. My grandfather saying ” us”. I was close with my grandfather, and I miss him often.
I tried my hand at ancestry again. Nothing. How do people just appear out of nowhere? I discussed this with my mother, who told me it WAS BECAUSE they were part of the Indians who escaped to the mountains and were not on the trail of tears. Who lived as they could without signing anything lest they be driven out…or who were rejected from The Dawes. She got me Wilma Mankiller’s book, which is equally a history of the people and of Wilma. The Dawes and The Bakers and the cards,it used to not even be this way. Chief John Ross was one eighth and some members of the tribes of the Chrokee throughout history were adopted in, blood quantum recording was the governments doing, and somehow this released me from ever feeling I has to explain anything ever again. Not for me, not for my mom and not for my grandad, and no it isn’t a “fascination”.For years if I said “my grandad”or “my great grandfather was Cherokee,” there were five other people it seemed who had the same claim and they all wanted to chime in…except their stories were further back in history and sounded straight out of Hollywood,and so I would just be quiet. Hey Bella from twilight can’t compete with all that. And I have so many ethnic friends who liked their white girl anyway, and all of them claimed me for their own.
But like I said, some things just are. When people ask me what my married name once was and I tell them it was “Wolf” without an “E” and they laugh about it, I’m kind of offended. Well my granddads name was Green… And there are many Green names on the wall at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park. My great grandmothers maiden name was “Yell”… not ” Yale” and according to what she told my mother it was shortened from “Yells-across the water”. So laugh at that. I also cringe when people act like native people on reservations get whatever they want , like they are sitting in mini mansions out on Pine Ridge, this is not just uneducated – it is a willingness to be ridiculous and ignorant. (I could say a lot more here, but I won’t. It’s not my job to educate you on the governments policies and tell you how now it’s being implemented everywhere , it’s my job to get you to think about that very concept and do your own compare and contrast. In the words of Russell Means ” welcome to the reservation” …are any of you millionaires who get what you want?)
When I watched ” Reel Injun” and found out there was once a near two year occupation of Alcatraz, in the same time frame as every other ” movement” that gets hailed and written about …and somehow I never knew about this one, I was kind of pissed off. Books are written about every movement, and reprinted over and over and they fill isles in the big box book stores ….but not this one… Even the very recent ” We are Still Here”…can’t be found except on Amazon. Little summary books about the movements in the sixties and seventies ( I have some ) and AIM is somehow overlooked. I kind of felt cheated. To make sure that I didn’t just sleep through the class that might have covered it, or missed it in the tv movie ” The Seventies” I asked some friends if they knew..they didn’t. (They did when I got through…we are the generation of Netflix and YouTube , if we aren’t informed it’s our own fault.)
I never related in my reading about the women’s movement that much, it’s not the world I know and although I’m sure it did good, I hate having to define myself as a woman by Gloria Steinem’s standards and so I don’t, although I understand – being in the south- the patriarchal/ chivalrous fantasy of men over women, I have had both good and bad experiences with that reality….no offense…. I just get tired of the demonization men. I shouldn’t say I related to this one, because realistically I didn’t but much of what was being said in the old news reels sounded familiar, I had heard the terminology before….”us”. There were other conspiracy things later on in my searches in native documentaries and speeches that directly related to things another family member had told me,things relating to the world at large(that’s for another blog…maybe part 2) and it all came back to me in my endeavor to find our about the AIM of the seventies, and figure out why the hell I didn’t know about it.
My mother once told me that when she dressed certain ways as a teen,she got some dirty looks- I just figured that people thought she was a hippie….but maybe they didn’t. There are two major extremes, to people who just don’t know… You are either making a deal about nothing and hailing something that no longer REALLY exists, or you are something mystic out of a mythic world, like you don’t really exist yourself.
” Are you an Indian or something, is that your fascination?”.
It wasn’t a derogatory question on the askers part, and then I remembered I had posted pictures from my visit to the Cherokee Removal park. The first time I’ve actually cried in the presence of stone walls with names that I don’t even know listed on them.
” my great grandparents were, I have just been reading allot lately that’s all… No I don’t have a card and I probably can’t ever get one but that’s really irrelevant to me, and I’m not looking for one… That whole thing is the governments doing anyway”.
That’s my sentiment now. I met a woman once ,who worked for years to find her ancestry and she told me ” once you start down that road there’s no going back”. I didn’t know what she meant then but I do now, it’s like a domino effect, finding out information – whether it’s logged in slave roles or not, and how it all links together changes you. What you don’t know changes you… And when what you haven’t known meets what you do know – it changes you.