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YOU DON’T HAVE TO LOOK LIKE A BIGOT TO BE ONE!

26 September 2012

It’s been almost four years since I was last inspired to write a column for my blog. It’s not that I’ve not been paying attention. It’s just that I’ve been enjoying the life of a retired person. BUT Scott Brown really picked open an old scab of mine, and I find that I cannot rest until I say my piece. So here it goes.

I was flabbergasted when I heard Scott Brown insist that we could look at Elizabeth Warren and tell that she was not a Native American. REALLY? Really, Senator Brown? REALLY? 

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Scott Brown, Elizabeth Warren

Well, I wish to inform the “good” Senator from Massachusetts that he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground on this particular subject. As a person who is three-eighths Native American and doesn’t look like it, I was offended more than I realized I could be on this subject. Let me just explain a little bit about growing up in Oklahoma as a “partial” Native American in the days of Elizabeth Warren. Now, it just so happens that this is a subject that I am an expert on due to very personal experience.

See, it was like this. My parents were embarrassed about their Native American heritage and failed to inform my brothers and me of it. They were afraid we would go to school and tell our classmates and then the “world” would know we were “dirty Injuns.” There was a great deal of prejudice toward Native Americans (dirty Injuns) in those days even in a state like Oklahoma. Yes, even in a state whose name means “Home of the Red Man.” Now, perhaps Senator Brown is a little too young to remember this, but there was a game we used to play called “cowboys and Indians,” except it was somewhat peculiar. Nobody ever played the parts of the Indians. They were always imaginary and we would shoot at them with our pistol and rifle cap guns. But the saying, expressed in many a Hollywood movie of the time, was “The only good Injun is a dead Injun.”

So, it’s pretty easy for a thinking individual to understand that it wasn’t the most popular thing you could do to go to the schoolhouse and identify yourself as an Indian, as we were called in those days. Of course, I am not seeing much in the way of thinking individuals over on the Republican side these days. FAUX NEWS has figured it all out for them, and they just jerk their knees in that direction.

As for me and my ethnic heritage, it is an interesting story—at least to me. Once my brothers and I were grown up and gone, my parents came clean on the whole “Indian” thing—well, as far as they knew the story themselves. They told us that two of our great-grandmothers—one on each side—were American Indians. Turns out one was most likely a Choctaw, and the other was a Comanche.

Now, I have to admit that I was pretty naive and unquestioning as a child and even as a teenager. I remember the Comanche great-grandmother from my earliest childhood, and she was a woman with very dark skin and an amazing head of gray hair. But the one that really gives me a good laugh at myself now is the one I presume to be Choctaw—she lived until I was a senior in high school—a little dark-skinned woman who no one with any knowledge of what a Native American person looked like could have mistaken for anything else. But nobody ever identified her as an “Indian” so it never crossed my mind that she might be one.

One of these women was the grandmother to my father and the other to my mother, so that made my parents each one-quarter Native American, which then, in turn, made my brothers and I one-eighth Native American. At least that’s what we all thought until just a few years ago. Due to all the interest in family trees, et cetera, one of my cousins on my dad’s side found an interesting branch that was hitherto unknown to any of us. It seems my dad’s mother, my beloved grandmother, had a Native American mother as well. Here’s why she didn’t know. Her mom passed away when she was three years old and my great-grandfather re-married. He and his new wife raised my grandmother without any knowledge of her own mother’s Cherokee heritage. So like my grandfather on my dad’s side, she was also one-half Native American making my father one-half Native American, thus making my brothers and I three-eighths Native American. Who knew?

ImageOkay, now here is why Scott Brown’s inane and hateful comments really made me mad. My mom, who is one-quarter Native American, has blonde hair and green eyes. She was the only sibling in her family that inherited this coloring from her mother’s side of the family, who are descended from Francis Scott Key—can you sing, “Oh, say can you see”? My late dad had sandy brown hair and hazel eyes despite being one-half Native American. His non-Native American family tree traces through South Carolina, to Salem, Massachusetts where my family probably knew Scott Brown’s family—who knows, maybe we’re even related—in the infamous witch burnings that led to their being not so politely asked to leave due to their complicity in the bearing of false witness. Why, in all the digging that was done, it was found that I am even descended from Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. So there was plenty of DNA available to keep us from looking like a bunch of “dirty Injuns.” 

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Copyright 2012 L. Way

Now, I can’t let this go without addressing just one more of those pesky issues that seems to trouble Republicans across America these days—that is PAPERS. It seems that only WASPs in our society have no requirement to carry around papers proving that they, indeed, belong here. Here’s the rub on Native American “proof of citizenship.”

It seems that the WASPs in power in the 1800’s were not terribly interested in making complete records that would preserve the heritage of the Native Americans they dealt with. Either through lack of caring or malicious intent, the records left behind are extremely difficult to navigate. There is no one database that lists all of the Native American people relocated to Oklahoma by Indian name, new American name, birth date, and tribe. It makes it extremely difficult to prove up the oral history that each family has maintained over the years. It is very difficult if not completely impossible for people like myself to “prove” our claims to our Native American heritage.

In addition to that, good Christian missionaries—such as my mom’s grandfather who came to Oklahoma to convert the heathens and married my thirteen-year-old great-grandmother—changed the names of the children in their schools to “American/Christian” names, thus further cutting off the ability of those of us who came later to trace their ancestry.

Now, hopefully, Senator Brown, you will be a little more informed on a subject that you obviously know nothing about but feel free to shoot off your big fat mouth on. In my opinion you owe not only Elizabeth Warren but all of us like her an apology for your thoughtless remarks about our heritage.

And, Ms. Warren, good luck to you. As a fellow Oklahoman and graduate of your sister school, Classen High School in OKC, I salute you for your amazing accomplishments. I hope soon in addition to the proud designation of professor, “Senator” will come as a title before your name.

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