Chippewa, Hurons, Iowa, Lakcota, Mohegans, Narraganset, Navajo, Oglala Sioux, Ottawa, Pequots, Sioux, Wounded Knee Massacre, Wounded Knee Siege
I’m a mongrel, and frankly, I’ve never been very happy about that. I guess plenty of others are fine with being the product of the great “melting pot” but I rather yearned to be “something.”
There are claims that on my father’s paternal at least, Scotland might figure, but I find the claim dubious. Rather, I am some mix of French Canadian/English/God knows what), that is so for not decipherable.
Now I can’t say that I ever chose a particular ethnic group that I wanted to be, though being Italian looked fun at times, as did being Irish. For the many years I worked in Detroit among mostly African Americans, both as colleagues and friends, I felt a tad “outside” looking in many a time. But for reasons I can’t fathom, two ethnic groups have been dear to my heart for years and they would be Hispanics and Native Americans (I’m told American Indian is now the preferred term).
I can trace virtually nothing regards Hispanics other than a true joy in being a part of a Roman Catholic Hispanic parish for a while. I found it the most welcoming and nurturing parish among all the Roman Catholic ones I attended.
But I can trace something of a history with American Indians. It’s fairly easy for any of us to do, since this land–all of it–belonged to them long before our ancestors arrived.
The map above shows the original tribes of Michigan, though later the Huron and Ottawa, came to dominate. Michigan means in Algonquian, “big lake.” No doubt Lake Huron is named after the tribe, and Detroit has a town called Wyandotte, named after the Wyandot tribe, also known as Huron. Many other cities and towns, rivers and lakes bear the names of various Indian tribes or words.
Every year as a kid, we went to our cabin at Houghton Lake, in central upper but Lower Peninsula, about where the “a” is in Potawatami. Sooner or later we took the trip around the lake to “Zueblers” a log shop filled with the usual souvenirs of Michigan’s great northern woods. But it held a singular honor in being owned by American Indians. Sadly I don’t know the tribe. Every year we purchased a new pair of moccasins, beautifully beaded, and usually a ring. We kids usually went for the turquoise, our mothers for the black onyx.
Next to the the store was a lot where stood a couple of authentic tepees, skins stretched to dry, cooking fires, and various other accoutremonts of daily life. On Wednesdays, members of the tribe wore traditional clothes and demonstrated skills such as basket weaving. Drums drummed and people danced. For years, this was a special day for us.
So Indians, from my earliest years were a part of my life, albeit infrequent. Later as an attorney, I had a friend who was a court clerk. She was Hispanic, and married to a American Indian from one of the Michigan tribes. She introduced me to “Pow wows,” a Native American festival. She created utterly beautiful costumers authentic to tribe which her children wore as they danced in competitions. All manner of jewelry and other crafts were available for purchase. I attended a least a couple of these.
Several years later, I was privileged to go to New Mexico to work at a parish there which put on a week long “bible” vacation for the local Navajo children. What wondrous fun that was. Such beautiful kids, and I was lucky enough to get to know a few parents as well. Some were Catholics, others not, but we had more fun that bible. The kids made different crafts every day, sang songs, went swimming on a field trip, and had a cookout the final day with a fun filled Mass in which the children read scripture and sang.
Anyway at some point I stopped rooting for the “cowboys” and started rooting for the Indians. I did make a point of learning a bit when I lived in Connecticut about the Pequots and Narraganset, and the Mohegans. Much of Connecticut also bears names that are related to the tribes. Narraganset Park is a seaside park on the Long Island Sound and was one of the last places I visited before leaving Connecticut for Iowa.
Iowa hosted its own series of tribes, Chippewa, Foxes, Dakota, and Iowans. The Iowans were of the Sioux. In some way, they are are undoubtedly related to the Oglala Sioux Lakota of South Dakota, so prominent in the 70’s for the Wounded Knee siege.
That is what prompted this post. We watched a PBS show on Wounded Knee, the 70’s siege, not the massacre of 1890.
It is hard to fathom even now how horribly backward we were in the 50’s, when children were still being stripped from parents on the reservations and sent to “boarding schools” to learn to be proper White people. Amazingly, people actually called them savages still. Families were forever ruined.
The history of the American Indian has been a tale of broken promises, and the theft of most all of their lands. Treaties were made and broken repeatedly as lands given to the Indians were later found rich in minerals or other resources, and they were pushed off these lands to increasingly worthless scrub lands where they could barely eke out a living. Most lived in poverty. Poverty lead to alcoholism and crime.
Three hundred men, women and children were massacred in 1890 at Wounded Knee. The siege there in 1973 lasted 71 days. Two were killed, and several were wounded. An agreement was finally reached and the siege ended. The Government of course, then immediately broke the agreement. Some years later, American courts found for the American Indians, and awarded them several millions. The Indians refused, demanding their land. The money sits today, and is near 1 billion dollars.
I have the shame of my country for this, and all the massacres and broken treaties. This noble people, no better, no worse left to their own devices than any of us, was nearly destroyed. I take pride somehow in them, as one who in Spirit identifies with their long plight. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, then perhaps I, in a past life, roamed the plains of South Dakota, or the mesas of New Mexico. If not, I hope there is no insult in identifying with them just a little.