On Being Native American Indian
I am not aboriginal to the North American continent, I derive of Scandinavian stock, but I have had several friends who are of Native American Indian heritage, and over the decades I observed interesting changes in their self-identification, which I have respected and accepted according to their wishes.
My oldest friend, of fifty-five years, would have nothing to do with being “Indian” as it was known when we were in junior high school in the early 1960's. She confided her “Indian” heritage to me with dismay and confusion. I kept her secret for half a century, better than she kept it. Then, the last time that I saw her, she was deeply tanned and proudly a Great Plains Indian. She had to use tanning lotion to get to the skin tone that she wanted, but she was what she wanted to be. I knew her mother and father were Great Plains Indians but they had assimilated into mainstream culture and expressed no affiliation with any particular tribe. So, I know that my friend’s assertion was true, she was just one of the paler Indians. Nevertheless, in her old age, she took her Indian heritage to heart, and lived it in her own way with prayer and communion with nature.
On the other hand, another friend had belligerently bragged to me when we were teenagers that she was Indian, the Blackfoot Tribe to be exact. I remember her comically stomping around the living room, gesturing and shouting “Indian” sorts of things. She claimed her feet were black, couldn’t I see that? Her black hair was thick with Irish curls, her brown eyes laughed under an Native American epicanthic fold, and her feet were as pale as my face. It seemed to me that she did not really know much about being “Indian”, but I am sure that the shy, kind girl that I was said nothing other than “Alright.” I knew that her mother and father were Great Lakes Blackfoot mixed-blood and Irish respectively. So, she had true First Nation affiliation. But years later when I was more outspoken, my friend set me straight about being “Indian." She was not an Indian, had never been an Indian, and I was not to mention “Indian”, anything, ever again. Ooo-kay. That would be hard to do in Arizona, where we shared an apartment after I came back from Peace Corps service in 1980. Did she want me to put my hands over my ears and close my eyes when we passed by Indian display booths at the local festivals? Still, I kept her new secret for her, until now. I have searched the internet for her and I believe that she has passed from life. I do not know if she went to Heaven or the Happy Hunting Ground.
It seemed like switcheroos, but perhaps that is rude. All I know is that over the years I have had to do quick-step to keep pace with how Native American Indians wanted to be.
Caption: On Being Native American Indian
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018
If I were Native American Indian, as my friends were and I am not
I might have expressed it by weaving a blanket
of white water lilies on a flowing blue stream between the brown earth river banks.