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Raised Indian in a White Mans World

Updated on January 20, 2020
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In the middle of the 20th century there were only a few raising their children to be like the American Indians before Columbus.

Love and obedience

From her seventh birthday on my new friend had wondered about the little boy and older woman she had seen many times, and had almost become obsessed with the need to understand what about our lives was so different from those around her. She had seen a small part of my life the weekend before and her interest in me and my life had increased even more. With each conversation she probed deeper into what we did on the mountain and why it was so important to me.

There was no way living off the land using the ways of our ancestors could be put in a way she could understand. As these conversations continued with her gaining no new insight we decided the best solution was for her to join me for a weekend on the mountain. Truth be told she knew going to the mountain was the only way she would be able to spend as much time with me as we both wanted.

Once this was decided the phone was twice as busy and we had much less time to talk. My mother liked the “woman” who had helped with the children so she was the first one who received a call. During my call she told me not to do anything until we had a chance to talk to grandmother. When Grandmother called about fifteen minutes later she asked me about the background of this half Indian woman and there was no answer for her. Other than the constant reminders that she had lived on the reservation and had seen me there was nothing known of her childhood. Like mother, grandmother wanted to talk to this “woman”. Arrangements were made for her to call direct as had been done with my mother.

When grandmother called me back she asked “what were you thinking?“. The “child” she had talked to had no understanding of what “true” Indian life was like. She advised me to consider all options before making a decision. She had also spent enough time on the phone to know this “girl” liked me and really did want to understand our lifestyle. The last words before she hung up were “do not take this girl alone to the mountains she is not prepared”.

My grandmother knew my love for her was strong and disobeying her was foreign to me. She trusted that my decision would be based on the bond we shared. In the end the following weekend contained no trip to the mountain anyway

Family emergency

My father called midday Friday and told me his mother was worse than ever and he needed me there NOW. He understood my job responsibilities and knew it was all right for me to take time off for emergencies. My aunt was on the way to pick me up before the phone hit the hook. When we walked in father shot like an arrow out the door. He had a job to finish and he wasn’t seen again until dark.

My grandmother had been fighting cancer for close to seven years. There were times when she came close to being the person she was before the first attack. At this moment she was the worse she had ever been. She had very little strength and was not capable of doing anything without help. Even reaching for a glass of water was not possible for her.

A remark my aunt made that afternoon helped me keep the strength needed until her death. She said she had noticed a light in my grandmothers eyes she had not seen in months. When my father finally found a chance to talk he told me grandmother had been asking about “her little heathen” for a few weeks.

Later in the conversation the phone came up, there needed to be a call to my friend so she could reach me. Her phone was busy and remained that way until way past my bedtime. Since it was important to me for her to know my fingers kept pushing buttons until just before midnight. She had been on the phone with my work, mother, and my grandmother trying to figure out why there had been no call to her. Grandmother had been up until almost two AM talking to her.

Reality check, unwanted changes

When breakfast was ready the following morning my father asked me to take my food and grandmothers in and feed her. Upon returning to the kitchen he asked me to sit so we could talk. He had been on the phone with my other grandmother and she had told him about my friend and that there was a bond between us which was much stronger than friendship.

Her words to him had been “they need time together to explore this”. My father told me he had noticed the light in his mothers eyes also and to him his mother and my grandmother was more important than someone known a short period of time. In spite of this he respected my maternal grandmother so we would see what could be worked out.

He then asked me to move in with him so grandmother could see me on a daily basis. He knew this meant giving up my job because running 24 miles every day would not be possible for long and there was no time for anyone to take me back and forth. Grandmother might not survive this so my decision even though it didn’t please me was to move in.

My father understood me as well as anyone, so explained that he would like for me to work with him. In the past this hadn’t worked well so he soon tried a new approach. This time my employment would be for him, not with him.

My responsibilities would include the book work required to keep the business running, this would be done at grandmothers bedside. He also needed me to finish the two houses he was building in the neighborhood. He would supply help, transportation and the tools needed to get them finished. He told me he needed one of the houses finished in two weeks and if it was finished on time he would supply his signature to the paperwork for a drivers license.

His employees were also going to create a mini forest for me on the property. He knew how much my time of freedom on the mountain meant to me and knew he couldn’t deny me some kind of reprieve from what he called “real life”. My real life was on the mountain and he was very much aware of that.

My immediate concerns

My immediate concerns like taking a leave of absence from my job and seeing my friend were taken care of shortly. A call was made to my employer and when the situation was explained he agreed to put my employment status on hold. The man who was my employer didn’t live at the house.

An opportunity to work with his developmentally disabled son was offered because the government had transferred him to a new location five hundred miles from home. His wife was having trouble with the child so my job was to befriend him and set the example they wanted him to follow. My employer would have his wife get my belongings together and have them ready for my father to pick up Monday night.

My night would be spent at my mothers taking care of the two youngest children with my friend while my mother and step brother spent the night taking care of grandmother. Mother was to pick my friend up first so she could meet my father, aunt, and grandmother. This suited me fine. A week without seeing my new friend was hard enough and more hours without seeing her was not something to be looked forward to.

Love and hate are closely related

A few hours before they were expected my father decided he was going to feed everyone when they arrived. We all rotated and had the meal ready when they arrived. We even managed to get the horses fed and watered. The first word out of my mothers mouth when she arrived was “grandmother“.

She was referring to her mother as my mother didn't necessarily like my paternal grandmother. My mother and father barely got along either. She had a problem with my paternal grandmother because she had caused a lot of pain in my mothers life. The two reasons mother was there were she respected her mother and actually liked my aunt. She was also aware that grandmother had taken a turn for the worse and knew my aunt was being overworked


When my friend walked in the door she walked straight into my arms. While we were hugging my father touched my arm. He knew that second what my grandmother had meant. There was something that passed between the two of us every time we touched. It was also felt by others who touched us at the same time. My mother and siblings had talked about this several times during the week and mother had told grandmother about it on the phone.

My friends first greeting to my father was in German, he replied in kind. We were soon situated at the table where we followed my fathers ritual, at his house he had instituted a moment of silence before each meal. He knew of our ritual but wouldn’t allow it “in a Christian home”. He did allow time for us to do it without words or actions.

Once the moment of silence was over my grandmothers plate was made and taken to her by me. There had to be time with her so she would know she would see me again soon. There had been no time for introductions to grandmother until now. When my friend was introduced to grandmother they exchanged greetings in German also. The conversation with the meal was about my being gone overnight and that she would see me about noon tomorrow. My friend hadn’t said a word throughout the meal.

After the meal as usual my father said he would take care of ‘the mess” and as usual when my family was there he was overruled. This time just the children, including me and my friend cleaned up. We worked together well so things were in order in no time.

When everything was clean we took a quick walk out to see the horses. This also was a ritual when my family was at fathers. The horses normally stayed back when the children were there but this time was an exception. They hadn’t had much attention and tonight they accepted it from not only me the but children and my friend as well.

This is when she told me about her love of horses and riding. It was also the first time to my recollection a Cherokee word came out of her mouth. She had heard me talking to the horses in Cherokee and had copied what she heard.

Friendship and more feelings

When we were in the car on the way to mothers something had changed. Since the first hug we had spent more time in body contact than ever before. It almost felt like if some part of our bodies were not touching part of me was missing. If we moved apart both of us moved so we would touch again.

During the ride she asked to me teach her a few more Cherokee words. For the next few minutes we had three little helpers. My guess is we heard about half the four year olds vocabulary. When we arrived at the house mother handed me the key and said “you know what to do”. Before she left she told me she was doing this out of respect for my grandmother and her love for me.

In truth there was no reason for me to be there my friend could have handled the children fine. My grandmother in her wisdom had found a way for us to spend time together which at this point seemed to be as necessary as breathing. She had a way of getting what she wanted from both my parents.

It was later than usual so my friend volunteered to help the girls with their bath. She put them in the tub together but after about a minute the four year old wanted nothing to do with being bathed by her. She wanted her brother. She was crying and not a single word uttered was in English so we ended up wrapping the older girl in a towel and sending her to the shower.

The problem was learned quickly. Grandmother and mother had taught everyone there was a certain order to the way a bath was done. My friend had messed up the order. A fresh washcloth and few soothing words while her bath was completed set things right. After teeth were clean it was time for bedtime stories. Tonight again the story was in Cherokee and English. The book was printed in English so we traded back and forth after reading a few sentences. .

Turning point

Once the children were asleep we talked late into the night. We both realized my life had changed drastically and we were trying to figure out how we would be able to see each other. All hope of spending time together on the mountain was gone. For me personally this was the most devastating. It looked like my personal time on the mountain was gone for an unknown length of time. This truly was a turning point in my life.

As we talked some part of our bodies were in contact almost constantly. Neither of us remember falling asleep as usual we were awakened with little bodies on the belly shortly after dawn. There was one body on each of ours.

There was major ribbing about being found on the couch together, my friend got the drift but didn’t understand a word. We shared making breakfast with one in the shower at a time while the other cooked. This is one time the children were not asked to speak English. My face must have been as red as a beet.

It is a good thing my mother was speaking Spanish when she came though the door. Her and father had been at it again and the words coming out of her mouth were not anything nice. She told me that she would take my friend home first because she didn’t want to see my father again too soon.

Neither of us knew at this point what was in store for us. We hugged just before she got out of the car and again at her front door. We were both wondering if it was the last time we would see each other.

Our first kiss was in front of my siblings and mother. My feelings were it was now or maybe never. There was no way that kiss wasn’t going to happen.. The look in my friends eye told me she was thinking the same. Neither of us had much experience with kissing so some would consider it awkward. What passed between us was not awkward at all. Both of our lives changed in those few seconds


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