The Audacity of a Part Time Indian [Part 3]

Continued from part 2 & part 1.

The final years of high school came and went, as did a few years in community college, without a whisper of my “Indianness.”  Then one semester I decided to take a class on Native America history.  That spark inside me was set to roaring fire by the death of my grandmother.  It was her death that inspired me back in to the quest of finding purpose and identity within my part time Indian status.

It sounds crazy to me now as I write this, her death saved my life.  My grandmother was rumored to be some minute portion of Cherokee but she was a tall, lily-white farmer’s daughter from Missouri.  I am not really sure how she met my grandfather.  I just know that they meet before he went to fight in the war and they waited till he returned to get married, so if he died in the war he would not leave behind a widow.  There is that noble Indian.  My grandmother was the Ying to my grandfathers Yang.

Where my grandfather was big as life and loud as hell my grandmother was quite and meek.  Where my grandfather was full of vices my grandmother never smoked and only drank once that I can remember.  My grandfather was sort of religious where my grandmother was a devout Presbyterian Church lady.

Before she died I would spend every other week or so with her in Orange County.  I was still living in the Valley at the time.  I wanted to reconnect with her and with that family that I had grown up with.  I wanted to rediscover the part time Indian within and reclaim my “Indianness.”  It was shortly after her death that it happened.  She came to me in a vision.  In that vision she essentially told me that the road I was on was gonna get me in trouble and that I was to get back to my original quest, the one my grandfather had sent me on some 23 years earlier.

You see when my grandfather had died I remember having my first vision.  I was asleep and awoke to the sound of a drum and a flickering light off in the distance.  As I became aware of my surroundings the beat became louder and the light became clear that it was a fire and the flickering was dancers passing in between the fire and me.

I moved closer to the fire and found myself now between the dancers and the fire.  They were singing a song in a tongue I could not speak yet I understood what they were saying.  They were calling out to the Creator and giving thanks for the stars, the sun, the sky, and the hunt.  They moved the earth with their steps.  I was in awe of what was going on.

Out of the circle a man approached me it was my grandfather.  He was not the man I knew but younger.  I was not afraid at all.  He knelt down in the middle of the circle and spoke to me.  He told me I needed to go back.  That I was the protector now.  That I was to tend to the needs of my family.  That there was something inside me that would be a gift to those around me.  This was the vision my grandmother came to remind me of.

The Audacity of a Part Time Indian [Part2]

Continued from part 1

It was around this time that my questions about my grandfather gave way to bits and pieces of his story outside of the burrito eating, Red Man chewing hulk that I knew.  My grandfather was orphaned at an early age and raised in a government Indian school in Oklahoma.  He was taught how to be “white.”  His mother tongue was beaten out of him and Tirawa became a distant memory, replaced with Father God and his holy friends, a Ghost & a guy named Jesus.

Every day that passed my grandfathers memory faded and my “Indianness” was replaced with pop culture and the desire to belong and be cool.  I was raised to be an Indian but I had no idea what that meant nor did I look the part.

I watched movies like “A man Called Horse”, “Dances With Wolves”, “Thunder Heart”, and “Billy Jack.”  To me an Indian needed to be noble with a face that looked pensive and wise framed by long black flowing hair.  An Indian could live off the land if needed and his soul desired nothing more than to get back to his “ways”, the old ways that his ancestors practiced.  I had no idea exactly what the old ways were.

I joined the Boy Scouts in hopes I could connect with these old ways and learn how to live of the land.  This was a radical shift in reality for me.  I lived in Southern California and split time between Northeast Los Angeles and Far Western Orange County not exactly bastions of the wild plains.  My outdoor experience was limited to my time at Griffith Park and my sense of adventure ended at that little train you could ride at Travel Town.

In my time as a Boy Scout I learned how to forage for plants, sharpen knives, filter water using your bandana, start a fire, and shoot a bow & arrow.  I was eating this stuff up.  I was becoming equipped to become the Indian I had always knew was inside me.  I had a goal.  I wanted to become a part of this super secret order within the Boy Scouts that had cool Indian logos and other merchandise.  The problem was I was too young to join and they did not give extra credit or speed up the process on the account of me being a part time Indian.  I soon lost interest in this endeavor all together as the part time Indian within discovered a new identity and a new passion of wrestling.  The first in a line of obsessions that filled the hole of identity and clouded the part time Indian within.

This new passion for wrestling made me forget my “Indianness” altogether.  The likes of Hulk Hogan, JYD, The Road Warriors, Rowdy Roddy Piper, The Iron Sheik, & Andre the Giant became my heroes and it was these men I sought to become.  All the while the faint whispers of Chief Jay Strongbow and the emerging Tatank beaconed me to mind the winds of change.

When wrestling was not enough and the war games got to violent I discovered the peaceful ways of Shaolin. This was my brief encounter with Buddhism and my foray into Kung Fu Theater and my even briefer period as a Shaolin Fighting Monk.

A few years had passed since my grandfather’s death and his memory became a very private affair.  His memory became an annual moment that the adults in my life practiced most often with a six pack or bottle maybe even some tears.  For us kids this day came and went without any fanfare at all.  Wrestling was replaced with football and in 1988 my father remarried and we moved to the Valley.

With this move I saw the opportunity to redefine myself as something new.  I latched on to my football loving identity became an athlete and flirted with this cat Jesus.  It’s not that this was the first time I hung out with this Jesus.  I went to Catholic school and Lutheran schools my entire elementary experience and part of middle school.  I knew Jesus and lived in this sort of veiled reality where Jesus was there in the house but I had no room in my heart for this Jesus.

I remember thinking that I would get on the Jesus train at a later date as I was young and wanted to explore this life and did not want to get in line with all of those requirements that one had to fulfill before Jesus would call you his own.

I searched the sidelines at every football game looking for the “who” to my “what.”  I desperately wanted to figure out who I was.  The idea of Jesus crept in when a group of us prayed before the games for victory and after the games for girls.  At this point in my life my “Indianness” had no voice in my life.  I was too busy being “me” and the rigors of high school allowed me no room to explore the inner questions surrounding my part time Indian status.

 

The Audacity of a Part Time Indian [Part1]

I can’t recall many memories of my grandfather.  The ones I can remember revolve around food made on the backyard grill or of him sitting at a table chewing Red Man with his back to a window unit air conditioner.  Yet, this giant of a man has been critical to my faith and to my cultural identity.

This man was red skinned with a jet-black pomaded hairdo.  He was as big as the sun and I orbited around him as such.  He was often mistaken to be Mexican in the Orange County [CA] neighborhood we lived in and this bothered him, it bothered him a great deal.

My grandfather was a full-blooded Indian.  He was Skidi Pawnee & Kaw.  He was related to Charles Curtis [31st VP of the US].  He was great-great-great-great grandson to White Plume, signer of many treaties with the US Government.  The blood of Lisha-Lalahikots (Brave-Chief) flowed through his veins.  Robert Henry Pappan was a man of honor and royal blood.  He was my grandfather.

He traveled the country playing college football in a time when work was scarce and damn near nonexistent for a man of dark complexion.  In doing this he earned a couple of college degrees.  He worked as a plasterer & contractor for most of his life.  He worked at Disneyland and was part of the “Indian Village” tribe that sat and BBQ’d when there were no tourists in Indian War Canoes paddling on by.  He was bigger than life.  He drove a huge car that could fit myself and his 6 other grandchildren.  He would bribe us with burritos from Pup ‘N’ Taco and ice cream from Thrifty’s.  He smiled as wide as a bridge and sounded like thunder when he spoke.

My parents divorced in 1980 and we moved into grandpa’s house.  He got sick around the beginning of 1982 and “went native” on us.  As my grandfather got sicker he had long native looking black hair with his neck adorned with a bone collar.  He rarely spoke English to us and was preparing for the journey home, back to the ancestors.  He died August 04, 1982.

My uncle Andy came to our house to perform rituals where we had to stand on bricks and be “cleansed” with the smoke of a burning bush that choked our lungs.  Our ears were filled with stories of Indians and family that had long ago begun the journey and that “Buster” was gonna catch up to them.  There was weeping and more smoke, some feathers, leather bags of stuff, & food.  There was lots of food.  It would be 23 years before I saw this family or heard these stories again.

After my grandfather began his journey the world I lived in seemed smaller and a little less bright.  When I think of him now I can no longer hear his voice or smell his hair.  I imagine he sounded like thunder and smelled like cars.  I was an Indian left with out a chief.  We all were a tribe without our leader.

When I began school that fall I was enrolled by the State in a program that would instruct me what it meant to be an Indian and how I was supposed to act.  We spent our time in these Indian classes making popsicle stick dream catchers and learning “Indian sign language” from photocopied charts of crudely drawn Indians some talking to the white man and others sitting around fires with each other all wore buckskins and feathers.  Gone were the stories of the Indians I knew, gone were the stories of my family.

There was no more Tirawa and the nighttime ritual of storytelling.  There was a generic primitive religion that was practiced by primitive natives that looked nothing like me.  All of the noble, red skinned creatures some with horses and some without horses.  These stories were intertwined with the tales of “savage” Indians killing settlers that just wanted to offer a better way to those red skinned, dark haired savages.

I was a blonde haired, hazel eyed part time Indian mamas boy with fair skin.  I wasn’t savage or noble.  I was certainly not dark haired.  I was afraid of feathers and had no desire to ride a horse.