Sunday, August 21, 2005

the all new SUNDAY ramble

The NY Times posted a good story today about current trends in Native American culture. It's long, but worth it.

So I was working at Black Rock Outfitters in Cherokee NC less than a mile or two from the entrance to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The store was located on the the Cherokee Indian reservation right smack dab in the middle of a long strip of trinket-y little piece of shit tourist shops. You could get all the authentic moccasins and cowboy hats you could ever want. Or perhaps pan for gold? See a 'traditional' Indian medicine/rain/hunting dance performed by a member of the eastern band of Cherokee in full WESTERN native garb under the shade of a teepee. Big headdress and buffalo skin poncho. It's the 'chiefing' of the Cherokee.

So I was working here, amidst the trash and kitsch that is Cherokee NC, when a man just flat out asked me if I was Cherokee. Now I don't really look anything like a Native American. I'm white as white can be. I have high cheekbones, but so do a lot of people. I have brown hair with blonde highlights. And furthermore, the eastern band Cherokee are one of the more 'seriously authentic' tribes, as the article put it, in the country. The people there look like Indians. They speak Cherokee. They write Cherokee. I had a student in one of my classes I taught at Western who had me call him chief. And he looked like 'chief'. Deep red skin. Jet black hair. Large tribal tatoos on both forearms. There is a very strong and vibrant native culture.

And I certainly wasn't a part of it.

But this guy just had to ask. He was really curious.

My grandfather, on the other hand, could have easily 'passed' as native in his youth. Rather dark skin, jet black hair, high cheekbones and to be really speculative and perhaps insulting, he was aloof. Kind of out of touch. What I remember from several years ago, when he was still interacting with people regularly, that people seemed to marginalize him. They seemed to think of him as an outsider. Maybe I have this all wrong, but it made him seem that much more 'exotic'.

He tells (told) us that his grandmother was a 'full blooded' Iroquois from SW New York State where there is also a rather vibrant native culture around the Seneca Reservation where tobacco and gas are cheap cheap cheap. His grandfather was apparently a traveling salesman, 'a snakeoil salesman' if you will and it was quite authentic to have his wife sit near his wagon in full Native regalia.

So that would make me some percentage native american, which is kind of interesting I suppose. I really need to send some of my DNA off to be examined.

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