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~ Sheri Rene’ Watson
I am. I am Apache and Cherokee. I am.
I am Irish of recent family immigration.
I am. I am adopted. I am… all of this.
And I honor both sides.
I recently met with my birth father’s family; I missed meeting my birth father Patrick by two years. Two years. For two weeks I cried at the missed opportunity. But it eased and when I met my family, my uncle, aunt, first cousin, and my aunt’s husband... it was wonderful and meaningful. I heard the Irish family history a little, and understood the Irish life in a small way.
Having written so much on Facebook about my Native side, they asked me where the Native came in. And I realize now, that is as foreign to them as I was to being Native. To SEEING Native.
I think it was much more meaningful to them about how I and my new niece, my half brother’s daughter who had found me through Ancestry, had found my birth father’s family. It was an intense three week journey on the internet, Ancestry and many records. My niece was particularly helpful. Somehow we put pieces together and found them. Now I am ready to learn about the Irish way of things.
I wonder if my cousin Tim, who is on Facebook, read my recent reaction to reading, for the first time, the eyewitness accounts of the Sand Creek Massacre. I wonder if he knows that I was NOT talking about my Irish side of the family in my gut reaction to the readings, that when I wrote about entitlement, it was not directed at them. But I ask myself, myself included as a non-native most of my life, how could I not be directing it at US? It just was not right. How do we count recent immigrants as part of the colonizing majority? Its a difficult thing. A difficult call to make.
My birth mother’s side, the Native side, doesn’t care about the Native very much. They were taught that being Native was not good. They worked hard, migrating with the crops, canning salmon, running saw mills and grocery store before the Jim Jones cult ran them out of the valley. Being Native wasn’t important. I was (mostly) the only one who really cared. They just didn’t have the interest, and indeed had learned suppression. My cousin Linda was interested, but we hit dead ends in the records.
Between that and family suppression, I am still the only one who carries the Native torch.
I had studied the Irish language, culture and music, cultural stories, etc. when I was in my teens and twenties, the time of the IRA and Sinn Fein. But I grew away from it. My adoptive family did not involve themselves, and thus not myself, in much of culture away from my dad’s art and my homemaking skills with my mom. At that time, that was enough. But as a young child and growing up, I read voraciously, and read about every culture regardless of color or beliefs that I could get my hands on. The sacred stories of all meant so much to me... It was my spirituality. It proved to be the way I would live my life, with a Sacred Spirit oriented spirituality. The word Sacred is difficult, because it is so Latin based. I would prefer to use Great Spirit, but haven’t quite gotten that far in my beliefs yet.
Eventually, I would attend my first powwow, and had an instant and building interest and feeling toward the Native cultures. It had actually begun long before that, with reading many books of stories, culture and especially about shamans. Little did I know that I was being drawn toward my roots then too. But without the connection with my birth mother’s family and the Native blood, it would be 12 more years before I found out I was Native.
And then there is my birth father’s side of the family. I cannot ignore nor would I, the deep Irish roots I have. It is a part of me that has been missing and I must acknowledge the beauty of that side. They are the first birth family half that I have met yet. They are important, oh so important to me. My birth father was a beautiful strong man with his own mind. His and my birth mother’s strength and courage throughout their lives is what makes me who I am in one way; my adoptive life in another. I am three families and even more. It is a sometimes uncomfortable position to be in. We all have our own lives and yet are intermingled, mutually inclusive. The Native side has been building most, yet the Celtic/Irish will catch up. To contribute to both sides would be amazing.
And to be a part of the Native by assisting and standing strong, I had gone to Sacred Stone to do something for my Native people, something good and helpful. It did not work out that way. Being blonde blue, I received two terrible criticisms as a non-Native might. One, that I was a liability, two, that I had no right to be there. It was devastating. I never got to go to the front to pray. The trip went downhill and I never got my feet under me. It was a wash. I was rejected by my own.
A year later, it was the week before I met my birth father’s Irish side of the family, I was reading the posts of a regular Native history poster on Facebook. It happened to be the day of the Sand Creek Massacre’s anniversary. It was as if I had awakened. It was that day, not the failed journey to Sacred Stone....that I became Native.
I read the eyewitness accounts of the Sand Creek Massacre. And I wrote.
“Sick to my stomach, my spirit, heart and mind could barely finish the readings...I finished, sat back and all of a sudden such grief wrapped itself around me and I found myself not in peaceful tears but wracking grief that surprised me. I cannot FATHOM ANY person so moved as to do these deeds...and yet it is done. It is written. In their story and OUR STORY... the historical narrative, the act of creating these deeds as fact... is in the physical world, and not just in the written word of the conquerors narrative. History is always flowing, just caught in the millisecond after done.....then the narrative is past. But it lives on in the present... there is genetic memory. Even as I am apache and eastern cherokee....I carry within me the trauma of my people....I realize NOW ... unfathomable grief and pain and suffering... It makes a number of things clear... it will eventually turn me to peaceful but active action, but right now I am ANGRY, and that makes me weep. I am angry, and I KNOW. They cannot hide behind religion, colonization, entitlement anymore. I am angry, and I weep at that which causes such pain. Now I will work much harder to teach... to reach children and adults with OUR STORY. Our narrative of life. and death.”
I had come to a place... a place within me that had woken up. THIS was MY people. MY people, their and my pain. A reality never ever to be forgotten. I KNEW, too, why Standing Rock, right or wrong, for blonde, blue me, had been a failure.
And then... I learned and became the Irish. I heard the history of my father, and his brothers and sisters. Theirs’ is a sad history too. And I will learn more about that culture and lovely family as time goes on.
I am embraced. By the past, the present, and the future. I AM all that I am.
And that they all were my honored ancestors, Native and Irish. I can simply be embraced, but that is not ALL who I am. I will try to contribute wherever I can to my Native people. It has been all I really wanted to do since I found out. I will also honor the Irish side, and help my family as needed. I am struck by the duality that it all carries, and yet... I am one. Just one of many to struggle with the modern world to carry on the traditions so that our ancestors are never forgotten, and heard in the stillness of the wind.