I can’t wait to see myself in a mirror before the powwow tomorrow. I made an authentic Native style cloth dress…I know what culture this exact design is from…I have a shawl someone from my Native community gave me, a choker my best Native buddy gave me…bit by bit I’m claiming my birthright, learning about Native ways and starting to gain bits of the skills and knowledge someone of my heritage should ideally have been raised with. The Anglo side of the family didn’t care about doing it, the Native part of the family wasn’t around to do it, so I’m doing it myself.
One thing that really helped was a trip I took since the last time I wrote under this goal – a Native friend took me to the rez where his grandfather grew up so I could spend a few days there and learn what his people’s culture is like – their homes, their festivals, their ceremonies and dances, their traditional ways of eating and cooking and dressing and raising their babies, how they communicate, how they deal with being a proud traditional people in the 21st century. I “get it” now in a subtle way I can’t describe in words.
I took a DNA test to give me some clue what people I might be from, since the entirely white side of my family can’t remember much beyond the fact that I am part Native American, and I have no contact with the side with the Native blood.
It’s true my blood quantum is very low, so the fact that the DNA test showed no particular evidence of it was disappointing but not surprising. What does surprise me is that neither does it indicate any particular likelihood of most of the things I know to be true. I met my Swedish ancestor – the one who rode over on the boat and had the accent and the hankerin’ for lutefisk to prove it – so I know that a substantial part of my ancestry comes from there, but there was no indication of it. Meanwhile it seems to be telling me that I am most likely Jewish – that my ancestors would’ve most likely been native to an area in Israel and would have in later generations become the Ashkenazy people. I would be perfectly proud to be Jewish, but considering that this test seems to deny what I already know about where I came from, I really can’t even take the notion seriously. Unless my sample got switched with somebody else’s or something, I’m really inclined to blow off the whole method. I don’t know how anything “scientific” could be so woefully off base. I’m just grateful someone else paid the $200 for me to do this as a gift so I didn’t have to spend my hard-earned money on what appears to be personalized pseudo-scientific fiction.
So in brief, rather than being helpful, this whole DNA testing thing seems to be pretty silly. I’ve tried tracing my ancestry on a more conventional genealogical basis – with the help of a Mormon genealogy enthusiast no less – but that whole side of the family seems to have come out of nowhere in the late 1800s. You can’t find anything about my great-grandparents other than their names, and you can’t find anything about their parents at all.
To be perfectly blunt, as much as I would love to know exactly which people I come from, I think it’s time to stop looking, at least for now. I hate doing research, people who love it don’t do any better at it than I do, and apparently even DNA testing is useless. Instead of banging my head against a wall trying to figure out the past, I think I need to devote my energy to the well-being of indigenous people in the present day. I think that’d be considerably more productive and enjoyable, rather than obsessing about how I fit in.
I’d sort of been holding off on diving into studying any one Native people until I knew which one I came from, but I think I have to cobble an answer together for myself here just like I do in every other area of my life. My heart calls me to the Hawaiian culture; I should study that. I should also study the people whose ancient property I am living on.
Last month I walked in a parade with my Native group – they’re a very small bunch, as I mentioned, and I could see it meant a lot to them.
I also spent a few days with a friend who’s very active in the Native American community – he shared with me about his grandfather’s teachings, the dances and ceremonies of different tribes and nations, and a great tip on how to play my flute more easily. He took me to my first pipe ceremony – basically a traditional prayer circle – and sang some music from his tradition.
I guess I took him by surprise, though – I’ve been reading and watching some documentaries on our people’s ways and having experiences of my own, and it showed at times. I knew things about the flute technically that he didn’t know, and I have two songs of my own that I can play – they just came to me without any effort and I’ve always remembered how to play them; I don’t know how that happened but it did. I know a chant to welcome the sunrise. Now that I’m starting to cook, I’m learning to do it with some of the ingredients our ancestors liked, and I know how they traditionally blessed the food and gave thanks for it. I know how to make incense and use it to smudge houses, people, and objects…and when my friend was feeling anxious and sad over something I knew how to use feathering to help him calm down and clear his mind. I guess I’m getting somewhere after all!
As one member said, “we’re small but we are mighty.” We’ve got a bunch of activities and events planned for the next 3 months.
Honestly I don’t know how much help I am at times; I mostly just sit there like a stump and listen. I don’t know anything about promotions, I never have any fundraising ideas, I have no money, I can barely communicate with children so I can’t very well help with kids’ activities, I have nowhere to go to sell raffle tickets, I am horrible at selling things, any time I try to provide information on anything I stutter and stammer and internally wince as people ask me really good questions that I can’t answer, I can’t cook anything that another human being would want to eat, much less something anyone would pay for at a benefit concession stand, and although I can bake reasonably well and would like to contribute to a bake sale event, I’m still too poor to buy ingredients. All in all I’m pretty useless except as a body to be present in a well-intended way…so that’s what I’ll be. I go to every meeting I can, I go to every powwow and Native event I can fit into my schedule, I walk or dance (nothing fancy, just the occasional intertribal or Oklahoma round dance) in processions, and that’s about it. I think I may have some places in mind that might want to put up a flyer for an event we were talking about tonight so I’ll give that a shot.
I just don’t know anything much about my culture and I don’t have much of any way to help my community most of the time…but I’m still trying.
Went to a workshop put on by my own Native group and learned the stories behind the fancy shawl dance and the chicken dance, and actually learned how to do two styles of social dancing I’d never done before; one was a Northern-style round dance and the other is a different way of walking around the powwow during intertribals than I’d tried before.
I learned a lot about history thanks to a professor who was visiting and lecturing on the links between American history, Native American history, and our current health and ecological problems. At times I’m glad part of my memory is wiped out even if it is due to trauma, because I’ve found I’ve been relieved of the lies I was told in school about American history so it’s one less thing to be distracted by when someone shows up who’s prepared to tell me what really happened.
Also, dancing in the arena just felt really, really good. I’m feeling more free about it and I’m starting to learn what to do with my shawl to make my movement feel and look more expressive. Plus I dragged a white friend who’d come to volunteer in the kitchen for the day out into the arena to dance a few times (yes, that’s allowed and actually very much encouraged – far as our Creator is concerned, we’re all one people, and Natives in powwow culture believe that no less so than I do as a Christian).
I have no idea what happened to me, but I went through a MASSIVE digestive upset a few days ago, and in the wake of it I found that I was so low on blood sugar I could barely stand, I was literally half-starved but couldn’t eat, I was so dehydrated my back was hurting, and I was also in incredible physical pain because the last thing I did before I got sick was an incredibly physical self-defense class (think literally bringing people to their knees, mock-choking them, and pinning them against walls for about 2 hours). I realized that all this had put me into the same state physically as a friend of mine had described as typical of what he experiences during one very intense ceremony.
So I observed it while it was happening. Sure enough, just like at his ceremonies, I couldn’t sleep through the night, and I had bizarre dreams when I did sleep, so I just stayed there in the stillness and let whatever came to me, come to me. Lots about family, lots about how I felt about parts of my life that I don’t normally think about much anymore…and one night I had a dream of walking with my friend at a ceremony, talking about his people’s spirituality. I still haven’t talked to him about that yet, but I did talk to him once while I was sick and I got a response from him that’s pretty typical of his tribe, in my experience. It went something like “I’m sorry you’re hurting. Don’t be scared though; put some of that aromatherapy anointing oil I gave you on the soles of your feet – it will make you braver until your body gets stronger again. And you know, throwing up can be a huge psychological release. It’s possible that you’re doing the absolute best thing you can right now, as hard as it is!”
and talked to a Native friend about his people today.
I’m not full-blooded Native but my heart is pretty full of love and appreciation for Native ways. Only problem is my head is almost as empty as my heart is full.
I wasn’t raised with Native culture. I was raised by the European-descended part of the family, and they wanted me to pretend to be a good little white girl; my interest in where I came from was fine with them as long as I left it at the museum and pretended to be a total outsider to it. Trying to live it or even speak of it outside the house brought on an unbelievable attack from my mother in particular. So I had to wait until I was an adult to learn much of anything, and even then I was so busy just trying to get a career going so I can survive, this fell between the cracks for years.
Now, things are suddenly lining up differently; there are more opportunities to engage than ever before. My indigenous peoples’ group is suddenly working on a bunch of projects simultaneously, including putting together a first peoples’ gathering on a shoestring budget and practically no notice. To accomplish all this, we’ve resolved to meet a minimum of once weekly until the gathering is over…and we’re not the only indigenous group working on things either. There is going to be a LOT going on over the next few months and I’m going to take advantage of it.
I went to an event today, and I noticed there’s been a huge shift for me since the last time I attended. I’m much more able to take in details and form intelligent questions about the indigenous cultures of the world, including those in Native North America. I think it’s time to dive in and start learning more about where I came from…’cause Mom can’t stop me and a lot of people and groups want to help.