Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Hounded by Ancestors

Those hordes of you who are reading this (ha!) are probably wondering why I write so much about indigenous people, and what my own background is.

I grew up being half-Jewish in a white middle class Gentile neighborhood. That already gave me a divided identity, and a habit of not really belonging anywhere.

I also grew up being hounded by invisible Indians. They'd show up in dreams and my waking life. You know how much more open little kids are to invisible people. These weren't fantasy Disney Indians, either. These were some angry Indians who kept insisting they had something to tell me.

So, like a lot of "white" people whose families have early pioneer roots on this continent, I decided to do the genealogical research to find out if any of these invisible people were ancestors. I found several cousins of the same family branch who said the family had Indian blood, or that such and such an ancestor was Indian. You know the story, I think it's a common one on this continent, where at a certain point in history Indian ancestry was hidden or vanished in white families, just as the attempt was made to physically vanish Indians from the continent.

There is of course the "wannabe" phenomena, with all sorts of white people looking for their hidden Indian great-great-great, and the question I've always asked myself is whether on some collective or metaphorical level this is not some form of white guilt trying to replace the "vanished" Indian.

But on some level, it is still is a shout from the ancestors.

In my own case, I didn't find anything "on the rolls", but when I asked my dreams to tell me the truth of the matter, one of the invisible people, a woman, came into my dreams and handed me a piece of paper that said "Kickapoo" on it. Maybe she handed me a piece of paper because she thought that I, being a writer, would take her more seriously that way.

I knew only vaguely of the Kickapoo, didn't know where they were from, but when I looked them up turns out my ancestors lived in that region. (Illinois.) Fine, I said the morning after, but th is is only a dream, I want something I can put my hands on. That same day a friend said, out of nowhere, "open your hand" and put a white arrowhead in it. "I found it in Illinois," he said.

This is why when people ask about my ancestry I say Jewish-German-French- English ScotsIrish and Kickapoo.

It's a helluva combination, a combination of enemies warring within my own blood, which no doubt has contributed to the length of time it has taken me to find some kind of internal peace, as well as an obession with bridge building between people on a world level.

Reclaiming the Native piece of my ancestry filled an important gap in me. It was as if, until then, some part of me had been silenced, a part that deserved to be given voice. Probably why I am here in the South trying to facilitating the unheard voices of Native people.

As basically a person from a white, Northern culture, I don't claim to always get it right. But I'll keep trying.

Nor do I claim to have any special knowledge of Native people just because dreams and cousins say there is Native blood in the family, although I do believe your blood can speak to you across the generations. But in attempting to bridge and understand the cultural mix inside me, I hope to create similar bridges in the world.

And my ancestors--all of them--will keep bugging me to get the job done right.

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