Tuesday, July 19, 2005

When I Was Native American



Due to the fact that my father was in the Air Force at the time I was born, I began life in Alamogordo New Mexico.
We lived off base, in a place where frequent sandstorms left daily deposits of sandy silt on windowsills and under the doors.
One of my earliest memories is of playing with my best friend, and I'm sad to say I don't even remember his name! We were about 4 or 5 years old, and he was teaching me The Eagle Dance, something he was being taught by his grandfather who was chief of the local Apache tribe.
I'd seen the women's dances, awfully boring with the shuffling feet and not much else, so The Eagle Dance was both graceful and fun for an energetic child.
All of a sudden, both my friend and I were plucked out of flight by the back of our necks- it was friend's grandfather and he was mad! He told me to go home, and as he grabbed my teacher away I heard him tell him that you don't teach women a brave's dance, especially a white woman!
Now I was furious! I'm not white, I hate white people, I'm Apache! I want to be Geronimo when I grow up! My friends grandfather, The Chief visits our home, smoking hand rolled cigarettes and knocking the ash to the floor! He wouldn't come to white people's homes!
I was inconsolable when I learned the truth.
There is a photograph, somewhere in my house, showing me and my friends outside playing cowboys and indians. All of the white kids are dressed as Indians while me and my Apache friend are dressed as cowboys. The cowboy outfit shown in the picture was my dearest birthday request, yet once I learned the truth I refused to wear the costume.
I recently reconnected to a favorite set of cousins who have told me our grandmother claimed Native American heritage, something I never heard before. I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe, I can still grow up to be Geronimo!

24 Comments:

Blogger Nina said...

Thanks for the smile, being an American Indian, I can relate to always wanting to be a cowgirl and not the Indian. Growing up on the reservation, it was always "having to be the Indian" and "getting to be the Cowboy."

Six years ago my sister was moving from Canada down to the Navajo reservation. I flew up to help her drive down. We were in Idaho when we stopped for dinner. They told us, they didn't serve Indians . . . my sister was irrate, but I just looked at them and said, but I have always played the Cowboy. (they still wouldn't serve us.) We drove 60 miles down the road and it wasn't a problem.

It still baffles me when I think about it, because that was in 1999 and in the USA. I learned a long time before that, never let them hurt ya, I just wish I would of had a cowboy hat with me.

Nina

11:22 AM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

Hi and welcome nanina!
What a great comment! I was hoping I didn't need to explain why I wanted to play the cowboy.

We hear so much about racism, yet rarely do we hear about it with regards to Native Americans. 1999? That's appalling!

Keep that cowboy hat nearby, but hope you don't have to use it!

11:48 AM  
Blogger Bucky Four-Eyes said...

Sierrabella - that's a great post! You will always be Apache in my eyes.

Nanina, that's simply horrid that this happened to you and your sister, in 1999 for chrissake. On behalf of pasty white people everywhere, I apologize. Those people were probably just on potato overdose.

12:46 PM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

bucky!
Glad to see you're back from vacation and class!

Too bad I was ousted from the tribe before I was given an Indian name... perhaps that's for the best!

"potato overdose" To say the least...

1:03 PM  
Blogger eclectic said...

OK, so I can see where that little grandson gets all the cuteness...! How on earth as a child did you have the discernment to stop playing the cowboy?! I'm so proud of you!!

Nanina, like Bucky, I'm horrified and embarrassed. Pale skin obviously doesn't ensure good breeding or behavior.... Sooo sorry that ever happened, but somehow it seems worse in 1999. For crying in the night!!

3:19 PM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

eclectic-
I didn't feel it was honorable to play cowboy anymore, but I secretly practiced the Eagle Dance and could probably still do it.

Although I now know my ethnicity (one big mix of Caucasian,) I actually have had a couple of run-ins with people who hated my German surname. In 2nd grade we accidentally moved to a Jewish neighborhood, and of all people my teacher used to tease me and get the class involved as well!
Come to find out (since working on my ancestry) that I have some Jewish Kaufmans in the family tree... so there Mrs. Orndorff, you were barking up the wrong ethnic tree!

3:43 PM  
Blogger Squirl said...

Good post. Ichabod's grandfather grew up in Northern Lower Michigan and hung out with the Indians. He said that when they went to the movies even the Indians were cheering for the cowboys. This was in the early to mid 1930s. Too bad they were so brainwashed that they cheered for the cowboys.

4:14 PM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

squirl-
I read your comment way too fast and thought you said Ichabod was going to the movies in the early to mid 1930s!

Y'know what was almost as bad as that- the Indians were usually played by white guys...

4:47 PM  
Blogger Squirl said...

That's right. I forgot about that. You'll see someone playing a Indian who has an Italian name. Slightly swarthy and a larger nose is all they were looking for. Let's have a little stereo-typing here.

5:22 PM  
Blogger jac said...

I am still on my vacation but can't resist the urge to peep at my favorites, especially a women beautiful as you.. Sierra.
It is a compliment and that girl in that pic is so cute.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

Know what you talking about. Me I have a ton of Cherokee in me. Actually land was given to family a few generations ago, but taken away. Ended up to be the city and town house area!

With German and Indian, they say I am sometimes Wild and Crazy! (smiling) but I also have a few other mixes too! (lol)Not sure what all that equals too!! NUTS I guess!

11:46 PM  
Blogger Eliza said...

That is a very cute story, and the picture to go with it is wonderful. Thank you for the entertainment :)

12:24 AM  
Blogger Sylvana said...

You sound a lot like me. I found the game of Cowboys and Indians to be rather distasteful at an early age as well. And I actually got the neighborhood kids to quit playing it.

7:10 AM  
Blogger cheesecakey said...

what a great post! I say it's never too late to be Geronimo....

7:27 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

Thanks for the Welcome sierrabella, and no you don’t have to explain!

bucky, okay you had me laughing at the potato overdose.

Eclectic, that is what got me, it was 1999, so I was caught off guard.

You all don’t have to apologize . . . most of the time in my life, I have never experience prejudice so bluntly, as we did in Idaho.

My other experiences were always indirect, well at least as an adult this has been the case. Children can be cruel to children so that doesn’t count as much. When the prejudice is indirect you at least know you have a chance to convince them that the stereotype etc . . . is wrong. When it is direct like that, then you realize it isn’t worth trying to change their minds.

I cringed when I read the Chief said “white” woman, because the truth is prejudice is a two way street. My husband will be the first to tell you of his experiences on the Navajo reservation, working for Indian health services. He had two obstacles or hurdles to climb over. One was just being a medical doctor, the other was just being “a white man.” He was able to prove himself and with time the obstacles dissolved. But it did take time for that to happen.

My children are funny in that my ex-husband their father is German & Irish . . . so the comments of that must be the Indian part of me or the Irish part of me, has been part of their lives. My daughter a couple months ago, said I don’t have any prejudice mom, about people . . . about their religion, their sexual orientation, their ethnicity. I told her that is as it should be, since we are all children of the Creator.

7:29 AM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

squirl-
As recently as the 60s and maybe 70s I recall seeing actors such as Burt Reynolds and Charles Bronson in dark makeup portraying Indians. Didn't Elvis do it too?

jac-
Thank you, you're very kind. Enjoy the remainder of your vacation!

suzie-
That's just awful, but not uncommon I hear!
I'm thinking my German ancestry gave me the grudge gene! My grandfather actually had a little black book which was his shit-list!

eliza-
Hi and welcome! Thank you for the compliment. I'll be heading over to see your blog in a few!

sylvana-
Good for you! What was the new game of favor- spin the bottle?

cheesecakey-
Thanks- I totally agree, it's never too late!

nanina-
Your daughter's remark spoke so well of her upbringing!
I'm glad I decided to write this, it surely sparked some interesting dialog- not to mention having a couple of new blogfriends!

8:25 AM  
Blogger Chackler said...

Sounds like you had a great friend, trying to teach you the dance.

May I ask a question? In the American Indian culture are women thought of as "inferior" to men? I'm Armenian and that runs throughout our culture, and many eastern european countries.

10:25 AM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

chackler-
Nanina could answer that much better than me, but I'd think so.
Think of the word 'sqaw' and what associations that has.
Of course, it seems that women in all cultures have suffered with this through the ages.
When I was little, we lived in the flat beneath the Armenian poet David Atamian, the author of "Mountain of the Moon." Have you heard of him?

10:43 AM  
Blogger Nina said...

No not “inferior” but different, most American Indian tribes are matriarchal, and because women are needed to bring forth life. Survival counted on women in general.

Women have always been on councils and governing parts of the tribe for the benefit of the tribe as the whole. Some women in different tribes have been the Chief of their tribe. While there is equality in one way . . . there has always been the different roles . . . kind of like the Eagle dance sierrabella was talking about. That dance being for a male and only male . . . that is a very common practice still to this day. There are Spiritual reason for it, most of the time. But it varies from one tribe to another.

12:17 PM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

nanina-
Thanks for getting back on this!
You've taught me something about women and their place in tribal soceity... thank you!

12:34 PM  
Blogger Rae Ann said...

That's a great picture! And story! I always wanted to be an Indian when I was little. I had a very dear little Indian dress. I actually still have it packed away. You gave me an idea of a post! You are such a great lady!!

6:50 AM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

rae ann-
Thank you!
Always glad to provide inspiration for a posting.

8:04 AM  
Blogger SoozieQ said...

Wow, I'm stunned. I won't make any negative comments about those who live in Idaho because that's stepping down to the same level (almost), but JEEZ it was 1999!?!?!?

Didn't Burt Reynolds start off playing an "Indian" in his career? So that kind shows what SierraBella was saying "the Indians were usually played by white guys. Sad indeed.

Oh and SB, I share the same issue with a VERY German surname. Thankfully no teachers ever gave me a hard time but I do remember a few kids (when we learned a little about history) giving me a hard time at first. Then I just told them they needed to be very, VERY afraid of me (JOKINGLY) but they did back off ;-)

Ironically enough, I am a teeny bit (like 1/32) Chactaw Indian. But I too ALWAYS dressed up as the "Cowboy". I actually wanted to BE a Cowgirl when I grew up (but I'm deathly allergic to horses so that threw a wrench in my carefully laid plans at 5 years old)

11:14 AM  
Blogger SierraBella said...

soozieq-
Welcome home!
On my German/Austrian side, we've been here 4 generations, and I've had to remind a few anti-Germans that we've probably been here longer than their families, and that we were here long before WWI even.
Too bad about your allergies- can't have a cowgirl without a horse...

11:29 AM  

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