Next week, I will attend the MCNAA Annual Inter Tribal Powwow in Haverhill, MA. This event for me marks the one year anniversary of my journey to discover my ancestry and my first connection to the Mi'kmaq people. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak about my journey at my church. Our pastor was traveling to visit his family in the mid west and he asked me to say something about it while he was gone. He has been following my blog and is one of the reasons I started it in the first place.
Last year, when I returned to the states with this new knowledge, Pastor seemed to be genuinely interested in this story. Unlike others that I told, his eyes didn't seem to glaze over when I started to speak of it, so I was comfortable telling him what I was learning. He had a Native American connection of sorts as well, but in a different way, so this may have been of interest for that reason. Throughout the year, he would often ask me about the things I was learning, and in March of this year, he said, "Why don't you write it all down in a book?" Maybe that will happen some day, but as I had no answers at that point, I decided on a blog as it was a way that I could write while I explored.
When he asked me to speak, I was happy to do so, although I wasn't sure what I would say. I spent the time following his request gathering my thoughts about what I had learned, how I felt, and thinking about where it might take me. It was a nice way to end the first year of this journey. As I reflected on the year, looking back, I think the hardest thing for me to accept was the fact that I have a new identity. It is not that I am saying that this is all that I am or that I am denying any of the other wonderful parts of my heritage, but it has changed me and the way I view myself. I know for certain it has changed the way I view others. I am excited by this new history and I am proud of this heritage, but it was hard to learn I am connected to a culture that is in some ways so different from what I thought I was for so long. And then to be so disconnected from it makes it all the more strange. I will admit to feeling like an impostor at times. I can say however, that after this year, it is getting a bit easier to say "I am Mi'kmaq," and I do feel a bit less of a stranger in this nation than this time last year.
I thought about the fact that I have connected with people in the Mi'kmaq community. I have connected with relatives I didn't know I had. I have connected with people in Bras d'Or. I have visited Bras d'Or. I have learned large parts of the history of my ancestors, in a way I know no other part of my heritage. I have read many books and have learned about many aspects of Mi'kmaq culture, at least in a basic way. I have read beautiful poetry and heard beautiful songs in a language I had never heard spoken much less sung. A language that had been spoken in the homes of my ancestors not so long ago. It is all incredible to me.
There is one connection with this culture that I could not have imagined however. That I had not even thought about until a few weeks ago. That is the effect this journey of mine would have on my children.
Last year in Haverhill, Don Barnaby, a Mi'kmaq dancer, said to us, "I hope your children dance!" as he left us after talking with him that day. I was reminded of him this summer. We bought my daughter a beautiful pair of moccasins and one evening I came into my parent's living room to find my daughter, blanket in hand, dancing around the room as she had seen the other young girls doing at the powwow. She smiled up at me and said, "Look mom, this is how they danced at the powwow!" I could do nothing but smile as I thought that she had identified with the things she saw that day. She identified with a part of her own history.
Later in the summer, after we were back in Massachusetts and driving to get school supplies for the new school year, my eight year old son said. "Mom, what am I going to do?" I said, "About what?"" What if my new teacher wants me to do a project on Christopher Columbus?" Immediately, my teacher mind went to thinking, "Oh no, he is going to do something and we will be viewed as trouble makers or radicals." I said, "Well, your teacher probably will talk about Christopher Columbus because he is given credit for discovering America. Not everyone knows the other parts of the history and you may just have to listen and understand that." He very quietly said, "No, I think if my teacher wants me to do that, I just won't do it. I don't like what he did."
There are these moments in parenting, when your children teach you things. This was one for me. It occurred to me that my children had come along on this journey with me. They are with me because I am their mother. I have never preached to my children about native rights or Christopher Columbus's legacy for that matter. They were just with me. They have been at powwows, visited historic places, watched me reading and writing and heard me speaking on the phone...a lot. Their great grandmother is Mi'kmaq and they know her. They will remember her. This experience is different for them already than it is for me. I don't know what they will do with it, but at least they have this knowledge and they have a right to own it.
So, I will continue my journey and when Columbus day rolls around, I will talk to the teachers if I have to and try to explain that they have had these experiences and that this is their ancestry. I will respect the moral decision that my eight year old has made based on what he sees and feels to be right inside of him. And, Mr. Barnaby..... if you are out there.....my daughter danced!!