THE LAWSON’S PEAK BOOKS

Full Blooded

I think, by the time I leave this world to join my grandfathers, I may be full-blood.

I think that’s what happens to some of us who were born only partially “the people.” When I look back at the road behind me, I see that I have changed. The light-haired child I was born, on a reserve to a chief of the nation, has changed. At Christmas, I got cap pistols and a cowboy hat. I rooted for John Wayne against the Cheyenne, even though my father held my hand as we marched on the capital in Baton Rouge for native rights when I was about five. There is a picture of me somewhere at home, printed in the Advocate. I was wearing feathers and buckskin.

Though my father and grandparents tried to teach me, they also tried to assure I could survive in the world off the Rez. The confusion this fostered was nearly my undoing, and for some two decades of my life, I shunned my heritage and existed in that other world, apart from the one I was born in.  Even though we attended pow-wows across the southeast, cut river cane to make baskets and formed a constitution and by-laws, I wasn’t one of “the people.”

It got worse after I spent a summer in Arizona, with the Hopi nation.

I felt alien. What did I have in common with these tawny-skinned, black-haired people living on the top of a mesa in abject poverty? One night, under a sky with an impossible number of stars, I sat on top of the mesa at Oraibi and Kachinas came from the darkness. Dancing, singing, they were more spirit than the actual tribal members who dressed as the ancient spirits to reenact this event as they had for thousands of years.

One Kachina broke off from the group and handed me a basket of fruit and nuts. I was told by my hosts this was a tremendous honor: I had been accepted as a brother, and would be welcome as a Hopi as well for the rest of my days.

But upon returning home, I turned my back on it all. I walked with my back turned toward the east. Me, a descendant of chiefs and Suns, medicine women and artisans. The part of me that was native dwindled then to nearly nothingness. Almost extinguished.

Climb the ladder. Make something of yourself. Be successful.

I don’t know how fully I fulfilled that part of what they taught me. But I have made something of myself, at least. I’ve managed to make a living, earn respect in my community if not always affection, and in many ways have become successful. And the part of me I left behind on the Rez started to grow again.

It started with you good people. Ten years ago I quit writing exclusively about politics and “a funny thing happened to me on the way to the store” columns and reached out to you in a way I never thought I could. In telling you about old Indians long since dead, ghosts and shamans, legends and lore, I found I had something else inside me: The need to tell.

And you welcomed me and my stories. For that I’ll never be able to repay you.

Before the man who held my hand as we walked up the state capital steps all those years ago died, he told me as nearly as he could that he was proud of me. He told me that, after a near-miss in the emergency room in Franklin Foundation Hospital, when staff kept asking him if he was my father. That moved him. It moved me.

I was born one-quarter indigenous. I was educated, raised and influenced one hundred percent native. Any choice made after that was completely my own. Rabbit, you will recall, was told by the Creator to rush medicine to a little girl who was very sick. “Do not wander or stray from the signs!” the Great Spirit warned, but Rabbit did and got lost. In his haste to make up time, he fell and cut his lip. Rabbit bears the mark of his indiscretion to this day. I am like Rabbit. I fell and cut my lip, but thankfully, my scars are slowly healing.

My fishing, much as it pains some of you, is also cause for my gains in indigenous fraction, that accursed table of columns and numbers by which we are judged. I think I am nearing one-half now. I didn’t fish much for nearly a decade and because of it, lost the last connection I had maintained to my spiritual well-being: Those ancient lands and waters, where the evil spirit Neka sama pounded through the woods, whistling as it went; where five Indians were cursed for killing and eating a white deer and now can sometimes be seen hovering and dancing over Peach Coulee on certain dark nights; where Aunt Mary’s wolf came and took her spirits from this world to the next; where Crawfish took mud from the bottom of a great sphere of water that was the earth, and made the land, and where after all, my ancestors took their very name: Chitimacha, people of the many waters.

When I started fishing again a decade ago, the connection was renewed. Like flipping a switch. I think my blood percentile went up by at least five points the first time I headed out again to Grand Avoille Cove again after so long.

But with all blessings there is a dark side. When I discovered those wind-swept, stark-browed hills north of here, the boiling in my veins reached a crescendo. On Forest Service land, where I was free to escape into remote stands of pine, down meandering creek beds and through grassy prairies. Not so here, where posted and no trespassing signs abound, and even my beloved Sawmill Bayou back of Grand Avoille Cove was gated and blocked off to me, and a state legislature told me tough luck. Told me, tough luck. Me, who in one body or another has been down that black water bayou and back again for eight thousand years.

And the more it increases, this “noble savage” in my blood, the less comfortable I am in tight shoes, concrete walls and city streets. I never went barefoot as a child. Don’t know why, just always preferred to be shod. Now I go without shoes often around the yard, tending to this and that, feeding the dogs, whatever. Sounds like some kind of Hollywood cliché of the Indian? Might be. If movie producers had only understood that without shoes we can feel the fingertips of my ancestors as they reach up through the earth and touch the soles of our feet.

Does climbing through those red-dirt hills, prowling along creek beds and across bluffs sound like an overblown notion of the earth-friendly, nature-attuned image of an Indian, crying on horseback beside a highway strewn with litter? I hated that television commercial when I was a kid. Still think it’s pretty corny, but I wonder, did the makers of it realize they were extortionists, pillaging a way of life by twisting it and turning it into “the noble savage” yet again? The actor who played it wasn’t even Indian.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you believe in something or not, so long as something believes in you. I’ve come to understand that more and more as I’ve grown older.

So I’ve come full circle. I climbed the ladder, and no, it didn’t take me to The New York Times or FoxNews, and from where I sit now, I’m very glad of it. Because I’m as happy here as I’ll ever get, and you kind people have helped me unknot something that I never should have tied up in the first place. Now I am feeling around blindly below me with my feet, trying to find the rungs of the ladder again, so I can make my way back down, back to where I started: With my bare feet on the earth.

By the time I die, if I am lucky, I will be a full-blooded Indian. Because the Hopi didn’t ask me what number was penned in on my line of the tribal rolls. It took me thirty years to figure that out. It wasn’t a basket of fruit and nuts they gave me. It was a future.

2 comments to Full Blooded

  • Jon

    That was excellent Roger! Honor the sacred.
    Also,
    Honor the Earth, our Mother.
    Honor the Elders.
    Honor all with whom we
    share the Earth:-
    Four-leggeds, two-leggeds,
    winged ones,
    Swimmers, crawlers,
    plant and rock people.
    Walk in balance and beauty.

    J.

  • Tom @ Buzzard Bluff

    You’re getting there Bud. And you’re going the full route too. I have faith in you because I’m following your trail. Just much further back since I had further to go. But flowing waters and winds speak louder to me each day and their words are starting to come back to me as they should—they are my native tongue. Tell them I’ll be ready to share a fire with them soon. Tom

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