This morning I awoke to an email comment on our office website. The writer sharply attacked me for saying in my bio that my father’s parents may have been Shawnee and Lakota, stating, that in her view, I am not an Indian. She accused me of being a New Age fraud, seeing as how neither tribe practices shamanism. She threatened to report me to the Lakota, then noted that as the Lakota don’t practice shamanism, she could not accuse me of appropriation. I found this note very troubling.
On the positive side, it reminded me that of late I have become increasingly uncomfortable in making public guesses about my tribal heritage. While such reconstructions of the little we know help me feel somewhat more grounded in my heritage, they are really not of use in public discourse.
Clearly, my explicit statement that I do not really know my heritage is inadequate for some persons. I have tried to make my mixed heritage clear, as well as my lack of tribal affiliation. (Heaven knows I meet many people here in the eastern U.S. who have this same problem.) I have always explicitly said, “We do not have tribal affiliation”. Well, I looked over my bio section in our website and discovered that, in spite of endless proofreading, there was a glaring error left over from the last revision. The site, to my horror, now read, “We have tribal affiliation”!
Well, I corrected that, and removed any mention of specific tribes. I also apologized to the writer for any offense I may have caused. Both make sense.
There is much to be discouraged by in all this. I have always tried to be excruciatingly careful in stating that my family has no tribal affiliation, and that we can only make educated guesses about our tribal heritage, even though we are speaking about my father and grandparents. I find it immensely frustrating that, although we know we are Native, those of us of my generation cannot know for certain what our heritage is.
As an elder, I do my best to share what I have been given. As a healer and a clinician I do what I can to address the needs of those who ask me for aid. I am saddened that there are folks who assume the worst, without asking, and are so disrespectful to elders. Sadly, the truth is that if I were New Age, pretending to share tribal knowledge, I would make a lot more money.
I have changed the way I understand, and speak about, myself as I have grown. Now, as an elder, I’m less likely to feel shame at being Native, or of not knowing my heritage with certainty. Nor am I given to insisting on some politically correct standards in regards to healers. For me, the world is increasingly complex, and people, and Mother Earth, need all the aid we can offer.
I find it maddening that I will never be Native enough for some folks, and will always be too Native for others. I’m tired of the elitism and racism from both sides. I grew up with it, and I still face it. Sometimes the combination of being disabled and mixed blood is just too painful. That said, I refuse to be erased.