>Indians and Me

December 11, 2009 at 11:50 am (Uncategorized)

>There’s a gal in Waldoboro, Maine who gave herself an Indian name. She’s not Native American, and her distant relatives immigrated from Germany and stole the land from the Abenaki tribes who already lived here. But she’s crazy about Indians, the romantic notion of them anyway.

I understand the appeal. In my crazy years (my mid-life crisis) I was drawn to Indians and their ways, too, at least the traditional holistic views of nature and relationships. I was also drawn to the dark eyes of an Indian man I had no business with, but that’s another pathetic tale of unrequited passion.

In the process I made several friendships, only one of which was true and real and lasts to this day (Sheila). I realized that today’s Indians can be just as dysfunctional as the rest of us, and that I’m just as proud of who I am as they are of their heritage. Their ways are not my ways. I am curious, outgoing, gifted with the ability to write and make photographs, and sometimes call a spade a spade. I was told outright by a self-proclaimed medicine man that those qualities made him and many others uncomfortable. I needed to be demure, quiet, unquestioning, and pretty much invisible to “fit in” according to him and some of the others who are put off – and often rightly so – by white ways. “That’s so white” is a favorite put down my friend Joann used to use.

Joann was half Indian, raised white, and had recently begun connecting with that part of her heritage the rest of her family wanted nothing to do with. She was on a path of self-discovery and fit in well, even though she also had those white gifts of self-actualization, organization, self-confidence, and self-awareness. She took me under her wing and we had many wonderful experiences together. We attended the winter dances in eastern Washington held in someone’s home, and ate traditional (bland) foods, and prayed and danced. We attended retreats with Catholic Indians, a healing Mass by Father John Hascall, and belonged to a talking circle run by a Native American/white Methodist minister. We shared the joys and heartbreaks of our own journeys. But the rift in our relationship came when I realized she wanted to mold me in her image, and did not respect my gifts and “whiteness.” It was then that I was no longer lost. I could claim ME back. She could not accept that truth and we parted company.

Once I ascended a pointed peak overlooking Mount Baker in a stupid and desperate “vision quest” to purge myself of a great disappointment. I fasted for three days and nights, and in the dark a song came to me, my own song, which helped me see more clearly the folly of my perceptions. Yet the experience was not diminished by the reason for going. It was powerful and necessary. I was visited the first night by a great gray owl, who evidently used this peak as a perch from which to spot prey. Most likely nobody, at least nobody in their right mind, had ever spent the night atop this crazy peak. The huge ghostly owl circled several times, almost within touching distance. The flap of its wings was absolutely silent. Was this my spirit animal? Did it mean death, as it does to some tribes? It returned the third night with its mate, circling silently, then leaving. Wisdom? Death? Coincidence?

I told Joann of this experience, and the song. Within a couple of weeks, she insisted on going to Snoqualmie peak to get her own song. I tagged along, with her son and his cousin merrily squashing innocent mushrooms growing beside the path. I advised them it wasn’t very respectful of nature to destroy something that wasn’t hurting them. Joann did not seem to believe in discipline, and ignored what I considered obnoxious (and un-Indianlike) behavior in the wilderness. She was pressed for time as the sun was going down, so I stayed behind with the brats. In a half hour she returned with her song. (Yeah right I thought.)

In my time with the Indians I also attended the Seyowen smokehouse ceremonies with the Lummis, the Sundance in Oregon, and the sweat lodges in Washington state. I even took a workshop with a Huichol shaman from Brooklyn who was adopted by a Huichol medicine man. Even though this sounds hokey, it was there that I lost (mostly) my fear of being outside alone in the dark, which I needed to conquer for my upcoming solo backpacking trip around Mt. Rainier – a vision quest of sorts in itself.

I met Sheila in a screenwriting class in Seattle. It turned out we’d had similar experiences with Indian spiritual men, and were both engaged in cathartic and artistic attempts to ficitonalize those experiences. Sheila – a hip Californian – is always seeing the greater meaning in events in her life. She’s done her share of suffering, yet believes it is a way of the Universe refining her spirit. If not in this life, then in the next will she attain peace and harmony, as will we all who seek it. We may not have kept in regular contact these 16 years since I left Tacoma, but we are still friends, and true to each other being who they are, not who they “ought” to be.

To this day, my friends, no matter where in the world they now live, are people like Sheila, who see the big picture, who keep “doing good” even when others put them down for it, or misunderstand it, or question the motives for doing so. It makes encounters with the small-minded inhabitants of this planet a little more bearable, and the journey more hopeful.


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