Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"The Story of Stories" #NativeAmerican #NavajoNation #ScientificAmerican

I interviewed my grandmother and her sister, my great aunt Mae, before they died.

I only filmed the interview with Mae, and that haunts me.

That I was prescient enough to think it was important is a point of pride, and the stories they told provided several more.

How my great grandfather, a poor man, wooed - on horseback! - my great grandmother, a wealthy woman, in one of Ford's Model Ts.

How that same great grandmother abandoned her riches to marry the man with whom she would have 10 children, my grandmother being the youngest of these.

How my grandmother grew up in a house with no indoor bathroom. How they had a well. How my great grandfather was never much for schooling, but was none-the-less brilliant with machinery and electricity, the latter of which he stole to make his home one of the first in the area with power.

How that genius was self-taught - how he was a marvel with cars and how his mechanic's shop still exists in Bristol, TN.

How he and Mae worked on the atom bomb.

Pride goes before a fall though, and my family also had plenty of those.

Grandma said there's a town in Virginia named for great grandma Venus's family, who were plantation and slave owners at some point. How I have black cousins somewhere, that I've never met, from the whole sordid mess.

How my great, great grandmother was Cherokee - and married to my great, great grandfather, who was a sonofabitch by all accounts. and family photos have proven some of this.

It's also proved I'm a distant relative of Barack Obama and Marilyn Monroe.

Other claims? Like our ties to the Hatfields and McCoys? Well, I'm not so sure...

Perhaps because of this Cherokee lineage, I've always been drawn to the story and plight of Native Americans (and minority and poor people of all stripes). I've tried - purposefully - to seek out stories to report that put Native Americans in the news, and in front of white America's eyeballs, a paltry offering to a people who lost damn near everything, but an offering none-the-less.

Last year, I got some racist signage and displays at a local museum changed to better reflect the truth and suffering of the Muskogee (Creek) people who were native to my area.

I regularly visit a rock that Native people's carved thousands of years ago. It's currently in the parking lot of a bank.

In childhood I found such a rock in my grandmother's backyard. I asked her to give it to a museum. She didn't. I don't know if she ever gave it a second thought. But I think about that rock often, and the stories it could have told if I knew the language inscribed there.

I've been thinking a lot about stories lately.

About ancestry, and the stories that are passed down.

About what those stories mean to us as individuals and to our various clans as collectives.

The truths, the lies - what we choose to hold on to, what we choose to ignore.

Such thoughts returned today when I read a piece in Scientific American written by a Native storyteller of the Navajo (That's the Spanish name for it) Tribe. among themselves, they are the Dine, and will be referred to as such henceforth here.

In the article, Sunny Dooley laments the actions taken against Native Americans which still reverberate. Actions that, she says (and I agree), point to why COVID is hitting the Dine so hard.

In it she details aspects of the Native Americans' tragedies of which I was not aware.

The importance of her story and her witness cannot be overstated. Her story - one of the few that keeps the Native practices and tongues alive, even on her own reservation - is a unique, sad, and powerful one.

She notes how the suffering of others has lately been in the headlines, but that the suffering of her people continues to be ignored.

And she's right.

She asks why that is, and offers no concrete answers.

My answer would simply be: power.

Black people make up about 13% of the US population. Natives? Less than 1%.

They simply don't have the numbers to be included in the National conversation.

And that's OUR fault (descendants of colonists).

We massacred these people - that much we know. But in doing so - in removing a People whose religion was tied to the land, from the very land sacred to them, we stole more than their lives. We stole their faith and their legacy.

What we took, they will never get back.

We know lives were lost. What we don't seem to understand is that those people were destroyed.


And we slap their visages on our sports jerseys and turn a deaf ear when the few remaining protest that we continue to take their sacred lands and desecrate them.

The home I own is on Native land.

If you're an American, the same can likely be said of you.

But this is a chapter in our collective stories that we seldom discuss.

How much do you know of this chapter?

I know a little. Despite my great great grandmother's Tribal status, I couldn't compose more than a paragraph or two about those people from whom I am at least partially descended.

I am the product of both conquestadors and the conquered, and, as the "winners" write the history books, I know next to nothing about the conquered people from whence I came.

But this isn't about me really.

My early interest likely stemmed from family history, but this goes beyond that.

The Scientific American article articulates so plainly the lasting suffering of the few survivors around to share the story - a story that, broken into fragments - reminds me of the shattered pieces of pottery the Tribes left behind when they were forcibly marched West.

Their stories are important. And they are being lost.

Theirs is not MY story to tell. While their blood runs through my veins, their stories have not shaped my life because I never knew them.

I was robbed of those stories, but Native people's were robbed of so much more.

If you've read thusfar, I'd encourage you to read further - the article is linked below.

Take the time to learn the Native stories, and, in doing so, learn a bit more about your own: