Intruding On Native American Heritage
On Indian Heritage...
It’s amazing how the passage of time changes people’s minds and attitudes in these United States. Should that be attributed to the populace being better educated – or perhaps less, just generally more lenient, a liberal mainstream press, or changing moral values? A prime example of all of the foregoing is the current attitude regarding people of Native American heritage – and those who “wannabee.”
At the time of this author’s birth – 1937 to be exact – it was prudent to be white, American and protestant (WASP) and if that wasn’t the case one lied about it! Having done a bit of research on my family; I’ve found that my sainted Granny, who raised me, went to great lengths to cover up my Native American heritage which came from my father.
When my mother and dad started “courtin’ “ my Granny started fuming, fussing and threatening as family heritage was a huge factor back then and in a small town of 250 rural folks; everyone knew everyone else’s family tree. All her efforts eventually resulted in my mom and dad running off and marrying at the end of their senior year in high school – before the diplomas were handed out. Gossip had it that my mom was pregnant and they had to marry – which time deemed untrue – but the fact that the wedding proved to be by choice and not necessity only added fire to Granny’s anger. In her Victorian mind why would anybody marry a “halfbreed” that didn’t have to?
Back then anyone of other than “pure Anglo Saxon” heritage was definitely discriminated against. The possibility of the “tainted” blood being Native American resulted in one being known as “half-breed” no matter how much Indian blood was involved. My dad definitely was part Comanche – no doubt about it – and therefore he qualified for that unkind monicker. Whether Granny ever gave him any semblance of a chance – or not – is not included in our family history but from what I learned from my aunts it’s most probable that she did not. In her mind her son-in-law was a “half breed,” her daughter had married beneath herself, the family was not only disgraced but ruined socially, her family’s long established bloodline was tainted and the future looked very bleak for her long recognized and revered Texas heritage.
Everybody's Gonna Be An Indian, Too...
I’m told her favorite disparaging comment was: “My God in heaven – our family was with Sam Houston at Washington on the Brazos and now this!” Apparently being there with Sam Houston was of great social significance back then (before my Granny’s time but considered very important to her family’s history). I’ve often wondered if any of those Washington on the Brazos residents were aware that Sam Houston was an admirer of Indians, friends with many of them and retreated to live among them from time-to-time. I feel sure, if any of them were aware of this they attributed it to the fact that Sam was an avid drinker – actually a drunk most of the time – so he probably didn’t know what a faux paux he was committing. I’ve always felt he knew exactly what he was doing, got drunk and lived with the Indians to get away from up-tight, judgmental and racially biased constituents like my early family!
Be all that as it may; the poo-poo definitely hit the fan when my mother quickly became pregnant with me. From that point forward my Granny made my father’s life a living hell – which quickly resulted in my parents separating and divorcing before I was even born. Mother’s pregnancy was traumatic – she nearly died – and that added even more fuel to Granny’s angry fire. My aunts said the day I was born Granny’s first remark (after she was assured my mother would live) was: “Well, as the child looks like a papoose there’s no way she can ever deny her tainted blood.” Seems I was born with a full head of black hair, skin darker than acceptable for a white child, and in time an iron will – which Granny also attributed to my father. So, that was the general attitude about Indians 74 years ago.
My, how all that’s changed. Suddenly Native Americans are admired, written about, celebrated – and would you believe – everyone wants to be one? There’s more white Indians than one can shake a stick at and they all approach it differently. Most white people, attempting to wear the Native American mantel and professing those beliefs actually ascribe to what’s known as “New Age” beliefs (although they’re blissfully unaware of it or don’t even care) and know little or nothing about tribal ways of beliefs. Some are intelligent enough to read a bit and attempt to present their fake knowledge to other uninformed individuals. They dress up in moccasins and feathers, dance and drum and do everything possible to inject themselves into recognized Native American Tribes – and American Indians themselves? They recognize these “wannabees” and want no part of it.
Many whites (which I understand the Lakota Indians call “wicusu”) present themselves as medicine men, elders, chiefs…and the list goes on and on. Many offer spiritual advice and services on the internet and in person. They conduct sweat lodges, which when attempted by amateurs can result in great injury and even death to impressed but unknowing participants. I’ve even read that some conduct the “sundance” which is definitely a most sacred ceremony to Native Americans and extremely dangerous to those who are not skilled nor educated on the subject.
There’s also many articles and opinions on Native American “religion.” It’s always been this writer’s understanding that American Indians have no “religion” per se but a way of life based on the earth and peacefully co-existing with all living things – honoring both the Elders and Wakan Tanka (Sioux language meaning “Creator”). Yes, some Native Americans ascribe to the white man’s religions but some remain true to the old ways. I’ve recently read of Indian schools established for the specific purpose of assuring their youngsters not only know and understand the old ways and their heritage but know and can speak their native languages.
And, so it appears, the white man is once more attempting to usurp the last of the red man’s possessions – his heritage. The Indian nations – and the U.S. Government – have attempted to establish a way for the red man to maintain his heritage through recognizing the tribes and their sovereignty. Those of absolute American Indian heritage have been issued “Indian Cards” which declare them unequivocably a member of their respective tribe and eligible for the benefits thereunder. To qualify for such a card one must meet certain criteria such as proof of heritage through the Indian Rolls, DNA or being able to directly and without doubt tracing their American Indian heritage through public records.
Although assured and convinced of my Native American heritage I have not and will not apply for an Indian Card and know other “white” people who have the same attitude. Why, one asks, would someone not take advantage of such a great benefit if one is eligible? I can only state my own reasons. Having traced my heritage I’ve found that my actual Indian bloodline is in the far distant past. Is there enough Indian blood involved to qualify for an Indian Card – most probably – but it’s not sufficient in my mind – to jump on the Native American bandwagon and attempt to take from others what is rightfully theirs and so minimally mine.
I’m sure my sainted Granny is spinning in her grave right at this moment because I’ve committed her greatest embarrassment and sorrow to the written word and it’s now public knowledge so there’s no reason left for me not to tell the rest of the story. I’m inordinately proud of my Indian heritage and my father from whence it came. I’m also delighted that with age; I daily look more like an old Indian woman. I claim my heritage proudly and without any reservations whatsoever. I sincerely wish my heritage was such that I could claim greater kinship to the Native Americans I admire so much but it isn’t.
The Great Indian Leaders...
I’ve never been inclined to claim spiritual insight or total understanding of Native American culture or ceremonies although I admire it greatly. I have studied and attempt to know and understand Native American history and what’s going on among the tribes today. I dislike and abhor those whites attempting to latch on to customs, ceremonies and heritage that in no way belongs to them – especially the greedy ones who are selling their services to unsuspecting white wannabees not only in this country but Europe and all over the world.
If I could claim one trait – be it Native American or otherwise – it would be that I can spot a phony from miles away – including Indian imposters -- and I base that on several criteria. I’ve never met a real Native American that will offer to share treasured Indian ceremonies with a white person. I’ve never met a real Native American that sells spiritual services. I’ve never met a real Native American that offers to share tribal information with those outside their tribe in casual conversation.
Real Native Americans have close family and tribal ties and can trace their heritage for generations and do not hesitate to share that information with other Native Americans when identifying themselves. Phony Indians have some good stories but they’re rarely provable or based in fact and are always sketchy at best. “Wannabees” have no problem at all with sharing their family history with anyone that will sit still long enough to listen. I feel sorry for the great Cherokee Nation as usually this is the only tribe a Wannabee can name (or perhaps has heard of or can pronounce) so they attach themselves to the Cherokees – not always but a lot of the time. There’s a whole lot of stuff out there, pertaining to American Indians but promulgated by whites, that should be relegated to what one steps in rather than what one listens to.
A very good example of misinformation by whites pertaining to Native Americans is what’s known about Sitting Bull. That famous man was not a chief (as usually stated) but a spiritual advisor, very wise, intelligent and with great reasoning power pertaining to earthly things. His intelligence, insight and spiritual dedication has been ignored and neglected by white men in favor of his being a chief, a great warrior and enemy to all whites. Proof of his great insight is the fact that he finally, in desperation, led his people into Canada, where they lived in peace and tranquility for years, while the great Indian Wars raged in the United States.
The famous Crazy Horse is today described by whites as bigger than life and twice as mean. Truth of the matter is he was of average or maybe even slight stature. His skin was lighter than most Native Americans and he had brown, not black hair. His face was scarred, he was much given to spirituality and he was, by nature, a quiet man – slow to speak and even slower to act. It’s reported he had great insight into the way white men thought because of his penchant for prayer and spiritual guidance. Much of what’s been presented on this man indicates he was a loud-mouthed, rabble rousing savage – probably because of what’s become known as “Custer’s Last Stand” -- and nothing could be farther from the truth. He was murdered by white soldiers at an army fort after he and his people surrendered to white soldiers – orderly and peacefully -- and yes, it was murder and nothing less.
I find it amusing when people discuss the gambling casinos and wealth some Native American tribes now enjoy. Seems the opinion of some whites is the American Indian may have suffered greatly at the hands of the white man and the United States government in the past BUT everything’s all square now as they’re all rich. What a fallacy. The American Indian is still the most mistreated, downtrodden segment of society in this country today. Not all are rich and some are desperately poor, lack proper medical care and live in abject poverty. In spite of all this Native Americans are a proud people, treasure their heritage and desperately try to protect it. However, after all these years, and what’s transpired, one can be certain they recognize and understand their adversary.
“Hello there! I’m the U.S. Government and I’m here to help you!” That’s exactly the statement that’s being made to every citizen of every ethnicity in these United States this very day.
Before you buy into that one – check it out by getting references from any Native American!