This is White Plume (Kaw), my grandfather.
I have wrestled with my Native identity for a long, long time. I am a third Pawnee & Kaw. My grandfather was a picturesque Indian. Dark skin, think, long, black hair and a voice that sounded like thunder. My mom is short, lily white, and utterly Scot-Irish. My father is a hybrid of my dark skinned grandfather and a mixed race farmer’s daughter from Missouri and Oklahoma.
I grew up knowing I was “Indian.” I had pride in that word. It set me apart from others. It also brought shame. The shame of watching John Wayne and other heroic white heroes shoot and kill savage Indians to protect the God-blessed white folks taming the Plains. When my grandfather died the Indian was made in to ashes and scattered in to the wind. I literally have no idea where he was buried or scattered, outside of “the mountains.” With the scattering of my grandfather’s ashes the Indian in me was put away. “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” And with these words I entered manhood at the tender age of 7.
I entered first grade and was gathered in a class with other “Indians.” My brother and I were fair-skinned and blond headed. The rest of the little Indians were largely Mestizo. We all learned to be Indian by making dream catchers out of popsicle sticks, weaving baskets out of paper, and mimicking “Indian Sign Language” from coloring pages we were instructed to color. There was no distinction given to the diversity of tribes. The 500 plus nations were collated in to a single homogenous blob of Hollywood Injun for us to digest and carry on our ancestor’s traditions.
I soon grew out of my Indianness. I was concerned with being accepted. There was no place for a white faced Indian living among people of color. I was not aware of my privilege yet, but I knew that white was better than red any day of the week.
As I aged I became acutely aware of the cool factor Indians had on white culture. Medicine Wolf Woman, the sweat, peyote, and any other pseudo-sacred relic of Native America was coopted to be a part of a new age religious cure. My culture was being marketed to white people as mystic, compassionate, and otherworldly. I could not participate because of my light-skin and blond hair.
I found comfort in the punk movement, then the straight-edge movement, swing movement, political atheism, evangelical fundamental Christianity, and the out right rejection of myself. All the while I consumed and searched for my identity in the form and fashions available to me. I watch Thunderheart, Man Called Horse, and Dances With Wolves ignoring the white savior aspects of them to try and glean any part of my Indianness.
I went to seminary to find the lost part of me. I found that I was lost but it was not of religious concern. That which I found was not lost at all. I found language to speak to the experience I was having. I became awakened to things I had long sense forgotten. Then I continued to fight.
I have been asked how does it feel to have my identity as a Native American be suppressed by the general populace. First, I do not think that the general populace suppresses my identity as much as it has been outlawed by broken treaties, dehumanizing social tactics, and the utter lack of acceptance that the historical trauma experienced by Native America is real and must be engaged in humility and compassion. Secondly, I do not think that the general populace is the guilty party. I believe that white privilege maintains dominance by segregating ethnic minorities in to divided groups fighting for crumbs whilst the white majority enjoys power. As far as the feeling goes, it is like being bound by people you have been taught to admire. You cannot prevent the binding and are then told to be silent as you are bound. Once bound you are set upon with words and deeds to condition you to be grateful for being bound. All the while you see of in the distance your ancestors calling you to dance.
As for some sort of reparation that is owed to Native America…I would settle for the US government to honor the treaties they used to steal, bargain, and rob our land with. There is no doubt in my mind that “America” owes Native America much. We are owed everything. This is our land, our home. We were written in history to be absent and savage. What we were was human. Being human got us slaughtered, removed, raped, destroyed, and dehumanized by a people looking for freedom, liberty, and peace. What do you think the repatriation ought to be?