Suddenly Red

By Julia White
There is a sudden surge in this country in those who claim Native identity. The motivation here is not to qualify for any "government handouts", or to slither into the good graces of some Native power structure. It is a "need to know" that rises from the gut, and which haunts our dreams.

I am a case in point. I did not discover my Native heritage until my mother passed away because no one in the family would speak of it. At the time my grandparents were married (Civil War times), it was literally against the law for a white to marry an Indian. My grandfather was obviously German; tall, blond & blue eyed. My grandmother was clearly Native; small boned, black eyes, black hair, medium-dark skin. They hid out on the banks of the Catawba River, on a homestead he bought, for the entirety of their lives.

My mother was the only one in the family to carry the German genes; her brother and sisters carried grandmother's. Then mother committed the unpardonable sin; she fell in love with a full-blood Cherokee which, in those days (the early '30's), was worse than consorting with a slave. He worked for the railroad in the mid-west, and was killed there in an accident when I was only 4.

All I knew was that I had no father. No one in the family would speak of him. I knew nothing about him, or about grandmother. Yet there was endless information about grandfather's German family. It was not until mother's death in 1991 that I discovered the truth hidden in one of her trunks.

The point I make here is that part of this new surge is due to the passing of an older generation who was shamed by the red "stigma", and carefully hid that blood from their children. I lecture, and I write for an international magazine and a Native newspaper. I am constantly besieged by people who are trying to search out their roots, and who really don't know how. It's not that they necessarily want to claim their Native heritage for any ulterior motives or hidden agendas. Rather, it is an obsession to find answers to unanswered questions about their ancestors that have left a hole in their soul. I know. I had that obsession, and that feeling that I was not complete.

This is a social problem that must not be passed off lightly, or ignored, or looked upon with scorn and contempt. It is very real, as is the heartache and emptiness these people feel. We must re-weave the web, and mend the hoop.

Graphic: Red © by Diana Stanley

Return to Powersource