My Rebellious Blood

The thing about non-fiction is that you can’t dismiss the truth when it stabs you in the heart.

Warren Petoskey tells a story at a Northern Michigan bonfire, July 1, 2011.

Right now I am completing the website for Dancing My Dream by Warren Petoskey, an elder in the Odawa and Lakotah tribes. It should go live in a few weeks. Warren writes with great passion and compassion about his experiences as the most American of minorities, the native who has had to ask permission to use the land his ancestors once worshiped and worked freely.

Reading Warren’s book and other writings, researching historical photos and building these web pages has ripped off a scab I didn’t know I had. The romantic image of the noble savage marrying into civilization, like Disney’s Pocahontas, has shattered. My native ancestors cry for justice and my European blood is too ashamed to look back – not too closely, anyway.

I have been asked, especially when I was young with long, straight, dark brown hair, if I was native. Eventually, I began to answer with a laugh, “Yes, but not enough to get me a scholarship.” Curious, isn’t it, that admitting my Scottish, German, Irish and English heritage never required a qualifier.

The print on this 1891 picture says, “Three of Uncle Sam’s Pets. We get rations every 29 days. Our pulse is good. Expressive medium. We put in 60 minutes each hour in our present attitude.” Three Lakota teenage boys in western clothing, sitting near a tree—probably on or near Pine Ridge Reservation.

The greatest thing about Warren is he does not reverse discriminate. His love for all things Native includes us whose blood is so dilute as to be nearly invisible – but still enough to call us back to nature whenever we get the chance.

This is what Warren wrote for the website, and almost exactly what he said to me when I expressed my grief that I cannot legally claim the native status I feel calling me so strongly when I return to the woods, water and hills of Northern Michigan.

“As I have traveled many apologize to me that they were only an eighth Indian or less. I asked them who they felt they were in their heart, admonishing them not to allow anyone to dictate to them.”

I draw great comfort from Warren’s words as I ponder how much of my own native blood came from women who married white men to survive rather than for love. I have come to recognize the Northern Michigan countryside my European ancestors have owned for generations also owns me – a fractional breed daughter of Mother Earth, who draws strength from the hills and seasons, lakes and trees.

My own Christian faith echoes in and fulfills the native beliefs of a kind and generous Creator.

Registering as a Native is unlikely, even after adding up all the diluted parts I have inherited from different branches of my family tree. So I take great comfort in from Warren’s words, that Native is not all about blood, but about blood memory.

Do you have a heart for nature and preserving the Creator’s work? Are you stirred by traditional arts like the flute and drum? Is there peace for you resting quietly around a campfire?

My answers are yes, and my blood is enough.

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