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“But You’re An Indian...!”


Last updated 9/26/2012 at 10:15pm

People ask me the strangest questions.

Why don’t you live in a teepee? Why don’t you make a pair of moccasins for me? Why don’t you know how to cook a buffalo? Why don’t you know some secret herbs and plants to cure my arthritis? Why aren’t you rich from all the Indian casino money?

When I say I live in a house, I don’t make moccasins for people, I don’t know how to cook a whole buffalo and I don’t know any herbs to cure arthritis and I’ve never received a penny of casino money, they are shocked and say...

“But you’re an Indian...!” People who are not Indigenous expect a lot from Natives.

Common beliefs are that Indians can talk to animals telepathically. We all know a medicine man who has magical potions that can cure everything and we are all very rich from either oil money or casino money. Many people believe all Indians either make jewelry, weave rugs or make pottery.

People sometimes ask me to give them an Indian name and they want to be called Roaring Lion or Fighting Tiger. I explain that it is not my position to give out Indian names. They are given at birth or they are earned by some brave or unselfish deed and then the Chief will give you a new name. Also, lions and tigers are not North American animals and would not be used in an Indian name.

“But you’re an Indian...can’t you make an exception?” they ask.

I constantly hear stories about how someone bought a piece of silver and turquoise jewelry from a genuine one hundred-and-seven-year-old medicine man at a trading post and the necklace was blessed by him and sacred and it had once belonged to Geronimo or some other great chief. They are proud of their necklace and I don’t want to spoil it for them so I keep silent even though I know the necklace is a cheap fake made in China and sold to tourists at souvenir shops.

I live in Seattle but people will ask me if I know an Indian they bought a beaded necklace from in New Mexico five years ago.

They are always surprised when I say I don’t know them and they’ll insist we must know each other and they’ll describe him. His name is Gray Wolf, he has brown eyes and white hair.

Apparently all Indians are supposed to know each other. Sometimes they will even show me their vacation photos and point out Gray Wolf and say, “Look at his picture, you must remember him now.”

And sometimes I’ll give up and look at the photo and say, “Oh, you mean Gray Wolf in New Mexico. Oh, sure, I thought you were talking about Gray Wolf who lives in Montana. Yes, he’s very nice.”

Then they are happy and more convinced than ever that all Indians do know each other after all.

Once a man told me, “All Indians walk in single file, at least the ones I saw did.”

People often greet me by raising their hand and saying, “How.”

People will apologize to me because their Great-great-great-great-grandfather stole the land from my Great-great-great-great-grandfather. I don’t explain to them that my tribe, the Kickapoo, didn’t own land and roamed the plains from Mexico to Canada. Sometimes I tell them I’m sorry my Great-great-great-great-grandfather scalped their Great-great-great-great-grandfather. For some reason, they seem to like the idea that their ancestor got scalped by my ancestor.

I get asked what kind of food I eat and I say I mostly eat hamburgers, pizza or Chinese food and they are disappointed that I’m not eating buffalo, deer and rabbits.

“But you’re an Indian...!”

I don’t tell them that when I was young all we ate was wild game we killed. We lived on bear meat, deer and elk year round. Now I don’t like the taste of any of it.

I don’t like camping out for the same reason. When I was a child we would live in a tent or a shelter made of branches for months at a time. We’d haul water in buckets from a creek, cook over a campfire, sleep on the ground. It was hard and miserable and boring. I’ve had my fill of “roughing it”.

I’m still an Indian even if I don’t make jewelry, even if I don’t know every other Indian and even if I can’t cure arthritis with roots and berries.

I also have a reputation for getting lost. I can’t seem to follow directions or read a map. The last time I went hiking with friends I carried a compass just in case I got lost.

Sure enough, it wasn’t long before the five of us were standing at a fork in the hiking trail and they all turned and looked at me for direction because I’m the Indian and everyone knows Indians don’t get lost.

“Moss grows on the North side of the tree,” I said, “So if we take the path on the right, we’ll reach our car in twenty minutes.”

They were happy to hike up the path toward the car. Moss does grow on the North side of a tree but I’d checked my compass a few minutes earlier just to make sure.

I know what you’re going to say...

“But you’re an Indian...!”

Crying Wind is the author of Crying Wind and My Searching Heart, When the Stars Danced, and Thunder in Our Hearts, Lightning in Our Veins. All her books are available from Indian Life. Check catalog on page 18.


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