WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A TRUE
American Heritage Magazine
"New Indian Country."
This editorial was published in "Indian Country Today"
To the editor:
Recently I read the American Heritage Magazine (July-August 1998) article
on the "New Indian Country." The article mentions our revolts
various nations have made over the many white men - and Native caused issues.
Without saying so, it makes us out to be an Indian raiding party mindlessly
killing homesteaders from a John Ford movie.
And that made me wonder...
"What does being Native American mean?"
To me it isn't just going to pow wows, watching the dancers, wearing
buckskin dresses and letting the steady drum beat restart my heart, my
soul. It's more.
My great-grandfather, Chief Bear Hunter, chief of his own Shoshoni
Band, was Bear Clan, as was my grandmother. I, too, am Bear.
It's not just wearing my bear claw necklace and choker every day to honor
my grandmother, my clan. It's more. The eagle and hawk feathers
I have were given to my grandmother by Nez Perce Chief Joseph in
1876 for her acts of bravery against the Blackfeet. It's not just
wearing these same eagle or hawk feathers every day, going to the grocery
store, in honor of my grandmother, my people the Eastern Shoshoni.
Most Indians today wear the white clothing of JC Penny and not our Native
ribbon shirts and calico dresses.
"Being Indian is not just what clothes are being worn or not worn."
I speak to my blood Shoshoni grandmother Annie Yellow Hawk
every day even though we burned her body atop an ancient burial scaffold
36 years ago. Then, in 1960, she was 100 years old.
Still, being Indian is more.
Daily my prayers are made before a 150-year-old buffalo medicine skull,
and my words are by the Creator.
"I know the Creator is in my heart, my spirit."
But it's more.
Although I am Shoshoni, I was raised on the Nez Perce rez.
Besides my real grandmother, five Nez Perce grandmothers also raised me.
Their teachings are with me now.
And yet, it's more.
Today, totally disabled, I live in the Megalopolis of Denver and not on
the reservation. I walk between the white and red worlds as we all do.
Being Indian is more!
The white culture sees us with a bit of awe, sheathed in leather and eagle
feathers, as something from the not so recent past. We see ourselves in
limbo not knowing where to stand:
by the graves of our ancestors or wearing suit and tie in some corporate
And, if at the meeting, are we red, or are we white?
To me being Native American is more than feathers, reservations, buffalo
skulls, bear claws, belief in the spirit world of the sky walkers, red or
white, being raised by grandmothers, clans, old beliefs and pow wows.
I am a living being raised from the red clay of
"Her spirit is in my breast.
Her breath, in my lungs."
My heart beats as her heart beats to the ceremonial drum. As a people we
are more complicated than whites. Our heritage made us that way. And we
are more complicated than blacks who were brought to America.
We were the first footprints on this continent.
That is our heritage.
A thousand boarding school nuns can't beat that out of us or cut it out
as our braided hair hit the school floor.
We are as different from the white race as Oriental is from African.
Being different doesn't make us less. We are equal as anyone. Yet we are
"We are Native American."
No clothing or schooling or place of residence will ever take that away.
My people's blood seeped back into Mother Earth in 1863 at the Battle
of Bear River.
My grandmother's eyes saw the death of her father, the chief, on that day
"a good day to be reborn."
That is what makes me who I am today. Nothing will ever take it away!
JoAnn White Eagle
Posted on Indigenous Peoples Literature: October 22, 1998
Feather Graphic by Sam Silverhawk's Graphics
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Compiled by: Glenn Welker
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