I’ve always more closely identified with my African American heritage than with that of my Native American ancestry, and I had never fully reflected upon my preferences until reaching adulthood. After thinking about it, I realize that the primary reason for doing so was rooted in a lack of knowledge: I’d never been told much about that side of of my family and there weren’t any cultural traditions that remained in practice. This forces me to face the very real and tragic issue of forced assimilation and tribal displacement that occurred (and continues to occur) in the recent history of the United States among Native American people, and it reminds me of the centuries of forced assimilation and cultural displacement experienced by African Americans that were enslaved here.
Rather than dwelling too much upon the anguish of the past (mainly because it becomes infuriating and hinders me from reacting rationally), I’ve turned to the pursuit of knowledge as a way of dealing with it for a productive present and a hopeful future. In my efforts, I’ve digged up books from my home library that I’ve been meaning to read for years but have never quite gotten around to, and one such book is an anthology entitled, Growing Up Native American, published by Avon Books in 1993 and edited by Patricia Riley. The cover art has much to be desired, but if you can get past the dated photo featured there, this book is filled with moving, transformational stories and a rich, vibrant history that resonates with peace and goodwill.
Some of the Native American writers featured within the book are Simon Ortiz, Anna Lee Walters, Black Elk, Luther Standing Bear, Francis La Flesche, Lame Deer, Louise Erdrich, Linda Hogan and Vickie L. Sears. There are dozens of quotes that have touched me deeply in this book and I have marked it up with paragraph notations and underlines of sentences that speak to me loudest, but if I had to pick just one that encapsulates the concept of what feels most genuine concerning what it means to be human it would be:
“To live beautifully from day to day is a battle that warriors have to plot for as long as they can,” from the section titled The Warriors by Anna Lee Walters.
Native American history is filled with stories of hardship and tragedy, but also stories of love, compassion and a beautiful, persistent dignity. An excerpt from The Middle Five: Indian Schoolboys Of The Omaha Tribe by Francis La Flesche poignantly recounts an emotional interaction between an orphaned baby and a wandering Native American woman well into old age:
“As the mother lay an unburied corpse, and her child wailing, a figure bent with age was plodding by. It was an old woman; slowly she put her heavy stick forward, then took a step, as though measuring every movement. When she came near the tent, she stopped, for the distressing wail had pierced her ears. She raised her trembling hand to her brow, looked up to the tent, then to the surroundings. The wailing went on, and the decrepit old woman hastened toward the tent as fast as she was able to go, and entered. For a moment she stood still, contemplating the scene before her, then from the fountains of her tender heart arose tears, impelled not by the sympathy that naturally springs from the love of friend or kindred, but by the nobler and higher feeling which lifts one toward God, – the sympathy for human kind.”
Many of the authors featured in Growing Up Native American have written other works, including poetry and fiction. There are several that I hope to acquire for future reading based solely upon the incredibly writing and narratives that I’ve discovered in this book – I highly recommend this book for readers of all ages, its an amazing read.