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Raised American Indian in a white mans world another view

Updated on September 9, 2012

My great grandmother walked the trail of tears as a child. When she got old enough she married a white man, moved off the reservation and never looked back. My grandmother was forced to hide her Indian ancestry for years, she married a man who was one fourth Indian and for most of his life he hid his ancestry also.

Two years before he died my grandfather realized that "the people" had more going for them than the white man ever would. His dream was to have his children and grandchildren know their ways. My grandmother stopped hiding her ancestry after he died in 1938 and way before it was "acceptable". My mother and her two sisters suffered because of this decision.

I have always claimed my ancestry no matter what pain has been caused by it. I was raised in the old ways of "the people". There is a lot more to it than the things they did, it's a whole way of life, with different values than "our white counter parts". I was the only one chosen for “wilderness training” because as the second child, I wasn’t needed at home like big brother or too young like my other brothers.

When I was a child I was proud of being different from the children around me, part of my early teaching was about right and wrong, so when I saw something wrong I always tried to do something about it. Many hours were spent in fights or sitting on a bench because of it. I remember going to a school (second grade) where I was considered one of nine white children in an other wise "all black school", I actually fit right in because of the way I was treated by the other white students. To them I was not white, and subject to the same prejudice as the majority of the students at the school.

At home we spoke three languages with Cherokee being the language of choice. There were so many things which could not be translated to English or Mexican Spanish and to know the truth we had to know the language. To this day I don’t know how or where my grandmother learned it as well as she did. I remember her saying it was rarely spoken by her mother as they were hiding the fact she was Indian. She did spend time with her relatives who were full blooded Cherokee. She never did say how much time she spent with them.

Growing up was a confusing time, school taught one thing and mom and grandma taught something entirely different. Neither of them were well educated by white mans standards. Grandma made it to the third grade and mom the tenth, but they knew things most white men never will. An example of this is the only times we went to a doctor was when it was required by whatever school district we were in at the time to bring our shots up to date. All of our sicknesses were cured with herbs grandma grew in her garden.

Grandma never actually lived with us, her home was thirteen hundred miles away, but she spent so much time with us until I was thirteen that she might as well have. How many people would be willing to give up what amounted to four years of their lives to keep a promise to a person who had been dead many years. I would like to believe my grandmother gained as much from her time with me as I did. One thing which was a reoccurring theme was a person needs to learn something new every day. This instilled in me a love of learning which is with me to this day. There have been no regrets for having been raised American Indian in a white mans world.


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    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 3 years ago from Central United States

      Thanks tlmcgaa70 . For many years even mentioning you had any American Indian blood in your background was taboo. Indians were treated like second class citizens even though they were the first citizens. It is my belief this is why so many people who have American Indian blood in their bloodlines don't realize it, and can't find the links back.

      Many people don't understand that my heritage is one of the reasons I am so good at what I do. The American Indians had to be story tellers. It was how they kept their history and taught their young. What they did, I now do for companies. I grew up on stories. They were in what I consider my native tongue, and are what shaped me into the man I am today.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      Interesting. Just a few days ago I had the good fortune to talk with a man who is 100% Native American. He spoke of some of his people's ways and how he had brought his sons up to know those ways and was now bringing up grandchildren teaching this same knowledge and values. He said over Christmas his grandson had gone through the ritual of becoming a man and explained what that entailed. I learned a lot from him and I appreciated the opportunity to learn these things directly from someone who lives them rather than from a book. Not that there's anything wrong with books, but I think having direct communication with someone who practices this way of life is more meaningful.

      I'm told that I am a slight bit Cherokee, and I am still awaiting the proof. I will never understand why anyone considers themselves superior in any way as a result of their race, ethnicity, or color. All that is inherited from somebody else. What has a person done in their own right to be a useful contributing member of our society and our world?

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 5 years ago from Central United States

      Mr. Happy learning something new everyday has been part of my life since I was a child. By age fourteen I had a good handle on three verbal and three written languages. Cherokee I am sorry to say wasn't one of the written ones.

      I have heard it said many times people work harder on English which is by far the hardest to learn if they speak another language first. A little over a year ago I started learning a new way to brand companies. This is using the internet. The basics had been part of me since childhood. My current business started in Jan of 2012 takes the best of both and puts them together.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      "One thing which was a reoccurring theme was a person needs to learn something new every day. This instilled in me a love of learning which is with me to this day." - This is a great attitude in my opinion. I remember that was my rule when I first started learning English: trying to remember at least one new word each day. I think it works pretty good.

      "There have been no regrets for having been raised American Indian in a white mans world." - And I am so grateful for that. Otherwise knowledge would be lost.

      Thank You for another beautiful article.

      May Wakan Tanka always walk with You!

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      Brett.Tesol to me life as a child was just that. I loved the forests and freedom I felt there. Given a choice I would be living in one today. Most of the herbal remedies sadly to say are gone.

      tlmcgaa70 because of my accident my life is now that of a white man. Not what I was raised to be or enjoy. I consider myself lucky that I was able to live in Custer SD for over three years. I felt an affinity with the forest and was able to spend a lot of time in it on horseback. I can understand why "the people" consider it a holy place.

    • tlmcgaa70 profile image

      tlmcgaa70 6 years ago from south dakota, usa

      i was raised as a white. i am mostly white. i went to school amongst the navajo and hopi who made fun of me for being white. my birth father nd my mother had divorced before i was born. i did not know i had native blood until i was in my late twenties. at that time i began searching my fathers side of my family. i discovered i had a huge family through him. and they all welcomed me with open arms when i contacted them. i live now on the pine ridge indian reservation, surrounded by more cousins than anyone can imagine. because my grandfather enrolled my father, i was also able to be enrolled in the oglala sioux tribe (lakota). my father was raised by his german grandparents who despised native americans. he was taugh to hat ethem as well. i cannot hate them. they have shown me so much love and acceptance. i am proud to be counted one of them. great hub, thank you so much for sharing it with us. voted up, and shared

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 6 years ago from Thailand

      A very interesting read. When I moved to Asia, I found that many of the people had a different kind of smartness. Many were not well educated in the rural area, but could do many things I was baffled by. I had to learn a new way of thinking! It has been interesting, but a positive experience. If only all people were so accepting of others. While it is improving, there is a lot of generalization and racism in the world still today.

      Socially sharing, up and interesting.

      P.S. I hope the knowledge of herbs won't be lost. It is an art being slowly replaced by the pill, but with far more side effects.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      Becky I am sorry to say I know very little about herbal remedies. My grandmother passed in 1996 and my mother in 2004. Some plants I know by sight and remember what they do but every plant name was spoken in Cherokee which was lost to me due to a nine year memory loss.

    • Becky Katz profile image

      Becky Katz 6 years ago from Hereford, AZ

      I am enjoying this look at your childhood. I have a small amount of Indian blood but not much. My dad showed it but none of us do. I am fascinated by the herbal healing that they used and hope to find out more about it.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      Talking about it now is easy, living it was hard. Many nights I laid down to sleep cold and hungry. I really don't know how far my grandmother would have taken things I do know she suffered just like I did. Wilderness survival is exactly that, if you don't find or catch food you don't eat. If you don't find water you don't drink. There were times when on the desert the nearest water was a good half hour run. We carried no water so if we got thirsty it was take a run to get it.

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 6 years ago from South Carolina

      I did enjoy the hubs. I find your background fascinating.

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      It's not as easy now as you think, I made a mistake in covering my whole childhood in two hubs. Trying to put another together without going over things again is almost impossible. Thank you for taking the time to read and am glad you enjoyed my childhood.

    • resspenser profile image

      Ronnie Sowell 6 years ago from South Carolina

      I've read all three of these Native American hubs and enjoyed each of them. Please write more!

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 6 years ago from Central United States

      Other than the black hair in her youth Grandma didn't look Indian either. She got her looks from her father who was 100% Anglo American.

      Many of her relatives on her fathers side looked just like her. Her only living son never looked Indian either but all her girls did. My oldest sister and I were throwbacks. In my case I had no beard until the army forced me to start shaving at age 26.

      My grandmother would wake in the middle of the night when she was in her late 70's turn the light on and call me by my grandfathers name. I was staying with her while she recovered from cancer surgery. At that time my mother told me I would pass for his double.

    • joyfuldesigns profile image

      Valerie Garner 6 years ago from Washington State

      Thanks for sharing this! I'll bet your grandmother gained even more than you did from the relationship!

      I don't look it at all, but my great grandmother was Choctaw Indian, she married a white man and it was also hidden her heritage, which was sad. When I tried to find out more about her from my grandparents, no one would talk about it.

      I also raised my half Native American nephew from the time he was 16 - 18 years old, he is actually more of a son than a nephew. I've always been blown away by how much he honors me. Love that young man so much.

      Thanks again for sharing!

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 7 years ago from Central United States

      Thank you for your comment, you don't know how much it means to me to know there are good people out there who care about the same things I do.

    • Donna Suthard profile image

      Donna Suthard 7 years ago

      I embrace the Native American culture. Ever since I was a child, I could relate to the Indigenious people..I met Geronimos nephew Chief Wahoo in Indiana..I have a cherokee friend who is like my sister. I dance in native american powwows and prayer healing ceremonies. Thank you for your wonderful hub!