The work that I do in the world, what I call my ‘life mission‘, has been heavily influenced by my heritage on my fathers side of my ‘tree’. After 7 Generation since the Trail of Tears (Indian Removal Act 1830) the ‘assimilation’ can be considered completed and many in this country can claim Native “heritage’ genetically due to the mixing of the races through marriages or forced reproduction in the early stages of the genocide of Native Americans.
It is difficult however to discuss one’s heritage strictly from a genetic viewpoint when in reality our heritage is what got passed onto to us not just through our genes but through the spirit of our ancestors.
My father was born to a Chiricahua Apache father and an Irish/Cherokee mother. Although I never met these grandparents I was told that Grandmother was taller than Grandfather and had red hair. They birthed 4 sons on a reservation and the 2nd to the youngest was born with the Irish genetic strong and had blond hair and blue eyes – my father….and it was not a popular look living on a reservation. They relocated eventually to Texas and my father left home to become a ‘cowboy’ when he was 12 years old. He, of course, died of alcoholism like many with Native blood and wounds do…below is my story of my father and the influence my heritage has had on my life.
My earliest memory of my father was when I was 5 years old…which was my last encounter with him in the flesh. My mother had hopped a train with me and my half sisters when I was 2 years old to escape what she claimed was an abusive relationship with my father so I did not really know him consciously until he showed up at our house one day unannounced. We had a glass pane front door and I remember vividly running toward the door after hearing a knock and seeing the silhouette of a ‘cowboy’. Being a ‘horse lover’ as a small girl a ‘cowboy’ could only mean ‘horses’ so I felt a thrill of excitement as I stood at the door and peered out to see the man who would be introduced as my ‘dad’.
His visit was brief due to the tension between him and my biological mother (emphasis on biology placed due to lack of genuine ‘mother’ presence). Prior to his departure I remember sitting on his lap and he instructed me to go to his car, open the trunk, dig through a suitcase where I was to seek a ‘bottle with golden liquid in it’, and bring it to ‘daddy’…I felt excited like any small child does when sent upon an important ‘mission‘ and promptly returned to leap back up onto his lap and proudly present to my ‘daddy’ the golden liquid prize. He then held the bottle up and asked me, “Do you know what this is?” I shook my head ‘no’ and he then said, “This is alcohol…don’t ever drink it…it will kill you…” He then looked deeply into my eyes while he unscrewed the cap and slowly raised the bottle to his lips. His eyes never left mine as he took a deep swallow and as he lowered the bottle back down he said, “I have to go now but never forget what I just said.”
His words stuck with me for my entire childhood, teen years, and young adulthood but the full meaning of what he conveyed to me did not become clear until I was at a critical juncture of my life and the truth of his words and actions avalanched down upon me in a wave of comprehension.
My father knew that his life was at an end before it even began in many ways…a surviving descendant of the Native American Genocide that our schools and government still refuse to openly acknowledge. He also knew that he was making a choice to accelerate his departure from this world to end his pain. Yet the most profound information that he conveyed to me was through his eyes as he gazed into mine while he held me witness to his choice. My father carried in him the wound of genocide which leaves a soul bereft of any hope. Yet while he looked into my eyes he transferred to me his prayer for my future which became my real ‘mission‘.
I never did use alcohol or drugs to cope with pain which was a huge blessing on my path – especially considering the fact that I too left home when I was 14 to escape the dysfunction of my ‘home’. I know my father’s spirit was continually protecting me and guiding me as I found my way through the tumultuous years that define adolescence and early adulthood.
After my father died I took his ashes to Western Colorado and it was at that chapter of my life that I became acutely aware of the full impact of my ‘heritage’ and it was in the San Juan Mountains that my father loved that I gave birth to my son at 9 thousand feet in a tent. It was much like the lyrics from the song “Living Years” by Mike & the Mechanics:
I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
I was able to locate my father’s brother years later and he helped to fill in many gaps in my understandings of my father and my heritage. He helped me to understand my disposition and temperament in ways that allowed me to expand upon my abilities and deepen my commitments. It is now my belief that despite the horrors of the past that have acted out in all cultures (genocide) we now stand at a monumental time in history when we can reach into the deepest part of our collective and genetic memories to bring forth the spirit and wisdom of our ancestors and manifest a world that we will be proud to pass onto our children…and their children…and their children’s children…for the next 7 generations.
“We have no power to stop that which a force greater than ourselves has set into motion…”