I'm reading the autobiography of Mourning Dove, whose English name was Christal Quintasket. I don't think I've ever heard a prettier name in my life. I love her book, but I realize that what she describes as her Indian life is not the same as my recent ancestors who knew themselves as part-Indian. Our people are more accurately described in 'Strong Medicine Speaks' by Marion Gould and Amy Hill Hearth. The 'Indians' I knew were those who managed not to be removed, those who had assimilated to at least some degree, enough to pass as 'white' or 'colored' back in the day. (Please excuse the use of terms.) Strong Medicine's people had stuck together as a cohesive group enough to claim ancestral lands in southern New Jersey and achieve tribal status. Our people were more of a remnant. They may not have lived in tipis or long-houses, or lived surrounded by the skins of animals, etc, etc, but they kept some of their values, knew they were outsiders by the standards of the mainstream culture, and celebrated their difference to varying degrees. Strong Medicine does a good job of communicating that in her book. In the case of my mother's father's people, they called themselves 'Moors' and that's what set them apart, or 'represented' their identity as native americans. As it turns out Spanish ships were in the waters of the Chesapeake - that's why Jamestown was settled forty miles up the river, so it all makes sense, even without the pirate-theories. My grandfather took the Moorishness quite seriously, but the people today don't seem to. Even my mother questioned the connection to Moors, but the DNA test certainly seems to support it.
I've been thinking about other aspects of growing up in our neighborhood. For one thing, as a child one of the few things I was given that was brand-new were a pair of beaded mocassins. These were, I was told, very important - they were *my mocassins.* They used to slip off my feet, however, which annoyed me, and so I said I didn't like them. Here's this little alien blonde girl, and my mother says to my grandmother very seriously and with some note of disgust, "She doesn't like her mocassins." I think my mother just decided I had to be raised as white. Hence she began correcting her mother, "Remember, Mother, you are not to say Kittatinny. You have to say Blue Mountains from now on." And my grandmother slid her eyes in my direction with that resentful look. I guess I think back on all this stuff because when I look in the mirror, I too have a doubt about my native american ancestry.
I look so European, and my father was direct from Europe. But he wasn't an immigrant. He didn't belong to any immigrant community. He didn't have any relatives in this country, or even country-men, with the exception of one cousin who moved here in 1957 and married an American. He was a seaman and could have settled anywhere. His top choices were: Brazil, Hawaii, New Zealand, and the Delaware River Valley. Anyway, I think I've written all this before.
Saying you were German, Irish, English, or Scotch were like 'passwords' in our neighborhood and behind them you could hide your native american blood. But many of us wore mocassins at home. We all wore parkas and duffel coats - even my mother gave in and bought me a parka. Plenty of the kids played lacrosse, whatever their ancestry. All the little boys carried knives. I suppose these were holdovers of the old culture in the new, because after all Philadelphia grew up in the context of a Native American community that was not exactly wiped out by the newcomers. For many years, the two communities existed side by side, mixing at many points, but with the native community moving out onto the fringes, gradually moving further and further into the mountains, mixing it up with other Native communities, whether through cooperation or warfare. The European kids did not usually wear parkas, mocassins, etc., another clue to ancestral identity among those of us who did. Also, our boys had a higher rate of being carted off to 'reform school' than any other group.
Since I've been engaging in this process of research, I've become much much more aware of the huge loss involved in the Americanizing of the Americas. It can feel really quite overwhelming at times, but I am heartened by the attitudes of many Native American leaders today who are definitely taking the high road of forgiveness, embracing a sort of mutual-assimilation process (which has been the case all along much more than we generally acknowledge), and have a beautiful vision of a new creation - or a re-creation - of the Native American peoples.