I’m not going to lie. It was a little disappointing to find that the Native American heritage that I’d always grown up with in my mind and my heart wasn’t actually there. Ever since discovering this I found myself wondering if the fact that I don’t have literal Native American blood (again, that I know of or have been able to find) takes away the things around Native American history, lore, and beliefs that are very much a part of who I am.
As I got older, I went to powwows, immersing myself in as much of it as I could since I wasn’t around it growing up. I’d meet people and make friends who were from the southwest and were darker skinned, and we’d joke about me being a “pale face trying to fit in just to have the frybread.”
I’m not going to lie…I fucking love frybread.
But now I feel so weird about it all! I LOVE…love love love…native music. Flute music, drumming, tribal singing…now I feel a bit weird listening to it. I feel like if I listen to Black Lodge Singers (one of my favorite Native American singing groups) that I’m doing something wrong.
I remember years ago, when I was still happily living with my Native American story, in an uproar, about a woman called “White Eagle Medicine Woman” (aka Suraj Holzwrath…and her actual first name is Rachel). She was clearly “playing” at being Native, dressing in what looked like the expected medicine woman costume, making lots of money off other white people wanting to surround themselves with Native wisdom.
She was also decorating her large powwow drum she uses for her events and performances with eagle feathers, which is legally a problem because there are laws prohibiting the sale, use, and possession of eagle feathers. You can get fined thousands of dollars if you so much as find a Bald Eagle feather in the wild and decide to pick it up and keep it. People would protest her events online and in person, especially if she were anywhere near tribal lands. I was bothered by her whole act, and I gladly joined in with the online protests and petitions against her.
There was one event that she did back in the early 2000s where people from a tribe near her event protested, demanding that the local police go and confiscate her feathers. I remember that being about the time that her supporters said she would no longer be bringing or wearing her feathers in public because she didn’t want them taken away from her, saying it infringed on her religious freedom.
I still stand by my feelings about her and others like her. When she started including Reiki as part of her “native medicine” was seriously ready to blow a gasket. But I’m now sitting here with my stuff to think about.
And it’s weird. I don’t feel like it’s some kind of “white guilt,” but I do feel like I need to question. And frankly, it’s something I have to get over.
My personal magickal, spiritual, and metaphysical practices dip into so many cultures that I am genetically and ancestrally not part of. Buddhist, Hindu, Peruvian, and Huna are just a few. I don’t feel anything weird about those. I don’t feel like when I chant in Sanskrit while meditating with a mala that I’m doing anything inappropriate. So why should I now feel like drumming is doing something wrong?
Finding out things about your ancestry definitely can change you. The big thing that it changes for me is just wondering if the things that I was raised to think and believe about certain things, and the beliefs of my own that I formed from being raised that way, changes who I am now. Should I be going back over my life and remove the things that are now no longer “accurate” according to my DNA and the research into my family?
No, I’m still Little Eagle to my Dad even if I’m not Native by blood. I’m still the girl that loves listening to flute music when I’m stressed or when I feel my soul needs some healing. I’m still the girl that loves Native American movies (Smoke Signals is one of my favorites). I’m still the girl that gets excited for the frybread booth at a powwow.
But what about the more positive changes?
From all the things that I learned I have certainly found where my deep soul-level connection to Boston and New England as a whole comes from. So far ten generations of my family on my Dad’s side have lived there, and many of them are still there and will continue to be for generations to come.
I understand where my innate desire to be involved in religious, spirituality, and art comes from. I have yet to find a generation from either side of my family that doesn’t have reverends, ministers, religious scholars, and artists as part of it.
One thing that I also found interesting was that as I researched back through the two sides of my family, I found myself much more connected to and interested in my Dad’s side than my Mom’s side. I guess I always felt that with my Mom’s side there wasn’t much mystery to be had. My grandmother’s family was from Italy, and my grandfather’s were from Germany and the Netherlands. The only thing I never knew was how far back any of those went and where else people may have come from. But I also never felt this big need to find out.
I am, without question, Italian. I may not be ten generations back Italian, but I am definitely, unshakably Italian. As my husband will tell you, my temper and stubbornness cement the Italian and German ancestry, without question.
In my heart, I am Native American.
That feels so weird to say and makes me feel like some hipster white chick desperate for something interesting to cling to, but I’m not. I’ve never worn a feather headdress as a fashion accessory (that shit seriously pisses me off, for a bunch of reasons) and I’ve never gone around trying to take on a Native American number publically (only my Dad ever calls me Little Eagle). But when I go to a drumming circle or a powwow, and a group of people gathers to drum together on a community drum, and they sing in a native dialect, something stirs in my soul and makes me emotional.
The last time I went to a powwow with my Dad we were watching the group drumming and singing competition, and there was a Blackfoot group from Canada that performed. They were about a half song into time, and I just started crying. My Dad just looks and me, as I’m probably making a bit of a spectacle of myself, and says, “Come on, Jesse, get it together.”
They sang in Siksika, one of the Algonquin languages that the Blackfoot speak in Canada. I don’t know Siksika at all. I know very little of the Passamaquoddy language spoken by the tribe my family claims, mainly because it’s a dying language and there are (far less) than 1000 people left that speak it. But hearing the Blackfoot group singing, feeling the power and the energy of their voices and their collective drum playing, it feels like something I know on some deeper level, if not from the blood of my ancestors than maybe through another lifetime. Or possibly just because we’re all connected in the cosmic soup.
Another group from Canada that I love is Young Spirit. They have singers that perform with them from all over, but they represent the Plains Cree people from Western Canada. One of the reasons that I love them is that it’s all young guys (and some girls), and there’s something that just feels hopeful about younger people actively representing their heritage.
So did learning all the things and finding out that some things I thought I knew may not be what they seem, change me? Yes. But at an Ego level more than anything. It doesn’t change who I know I am at my core.
I believe 100% that we are told taught or learn things at any given time in life for a reason, either to lead us toward or away from something on our path. It’s one of the reasons that I believe completly that even if something a psychic, reader or healer tells you is technically “inaccurate”, it’s actually right.
I don’t need to close doors on things that may not be 100% accurate to open doors to new things I found. Instead, it all just comes together to make up who I am meant to be in this life.