Thursday, September 27, 2012

Elizabeth Warren and Me: Heap Big % Injun? Well, Yes.

So Elizabeth Warren has not documented her Cherokee and Delaware ancestry! And so the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation (pictured on TV) has been declared by Scott Brown not to look red. Look at him, Scott Brown said, he's not a person of color! And here Scott Brown has extended the "Person of Color" category to include us injuns. Well, that's better than Obama in his inaugural address which mentioned other colors but not red, to my pained dismay. (I rejoiced that day and wept because only one person at the ceremonies mentioned Indians.)

Now, let's talk turkey. I always assumed Grandma Parker was half Indian because she was so very dark and Indian looking. One of her daughters was always called Blanket because she came out so dark that the family thought about wrapping her in a blanket and dropping her off at the reservation. Okie humor. I knew that some of my great aunts as recently as 1990 were lamenting their failure to be in the Indian rolls, and they had different explanations which usually came down to people in Muskogee having to ride a horse or drive a wagon to Waggoner or Bowlegs--something on the order of what the Republicans are doing in Pennsylvania this year, where elderly people are being frozen out of the electorate by arbitrary obstacles which non-mobile people cannot surmount. I also thought Grandpa Parker was part Indian. He may have been, but it's not documented at all. Why did his father call his mother squaw? [I did not learn my highly refined political correctness from blood relatives.]

Now I know that Grandma Parker had a white Scots father. One of his daughters told me he was a full blooded Irishman--presumably a misunderstanding of how so many Scots were in Ireland before coming to the colonies. I was able (through misspelling creatively and through an incisive clue in the 1900 census--the name of a brother) to trace him back to Arkansas and then his parents to Tennessee. NOT an Irishman who got off the boat in Indian Territory somehow in the 1880s. NOT. Just another Scots-Irish guy with red hair.

Yet this Scot bowed his head before meals and said the Lord's Prayer in Choctaw, and one of my aunts irritably said of her clay-pipe-smoking child-pinching grandmother, "She was a Chockie"--a Choctaw. Well, part Choctaw.

But she was also part Cherokee, who knows how much? There's on record a story about Uncle Joe Coker being chased in northern Arkansas by a party of Cherokees because he had taken one too many Cherokee wives, and some of his brothers must have married Cherokees. And my Glenns and Tuckers were party to the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce trial of Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory--a joke to those who got on the rolls early and often, a joke even in a history published the year after statehood. The good part, for documentation, was that cousins of mine testified in the 1880s and afterward before the Dawes Commission on what they remembered about Indian ancestors in the 1830s and earlier.

I no longer say I am at least an eighth Indian, but I know that being part Indian was a defining condition of my early life. Because of Grandma Parker and what I understood about her I identified with her Choctaw and Cherokee ancestry.

I'm with Liz.

Scott Brown, I have blue eyes and look as white as you, but oh my soul, and oh my body, they are part Choctaw and part Cherokee. Out of the Senate, Scott Brown! Make way for my Cousin Liz.

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