From the back of the cover:

We are the forgotten People, born under a veil of shame, searching for the birthright our parents abandoned.

Walking the Relinquished Path is an emotionally charged and freshly candid journey into a woman's life as she struggles with her family and herself to discover the Native American roots her grandfather turned his back on in order to survive in the white man's world. 

What is a "Real Indian?" Michelle asks. So many people who have Indian blood in their veins will never know who their people are or what their heritage is. So many more don't have the necessary paperwork to gain the recognition they believe they need in order to claim their birthright. 

Michelle is forced to confront centuries of shame, fear and conditioning created by her family, government polices, religious organizations and even Indian people themselves in order to answer the all important question, "Who am I?" and finally find the strength to say,"I know who I am!" 

Truly inspirational, Walking the Relinquished Path dares not only to explore the questions that few venture to speak aloud, but also to find the answers buried beneath. 
 



Broken Feather
Some people have asked about the broken feather.  They want to know what it represents and if I destroyed a real feather for the picture.
The vision of the broken feather came to me as I was praying for inspiration for my cover design for the book.  It came to me that the culture of my people is beautiful and fragile, much like a feather.  And just like a feather, it can be strong and when united with others can even fly!   Then I realized that my link to that culture had been broken by the sins of the past.  Suddenly my mind filled with the vision of a beautiful and majestic feather, laying broken.  The sadness I felt was profound and fitting to the sadness I often feel when I reflect on all my people have gone through.  It was very fitting, so it became the cover for the book.  It has also become a symbol many walking the relinquished path can sympathize with.

The feather I used for the illustration is a turkey wing feather.  I found it in my backyard one afternoon.  I did not break the feather.  It only appears broken by the magic of graphic software.  I could not break a feather like this on purpose.


 



Excerpt from
Walk the Relinquished Path
Copyright Michelle Wedel All rights reserved Copyright

Chapter 1
A Child’s story





     To say that my life has always centered around my need to know about my Indian past would be a bit of an exaggeration.  Yet, it was always there as part of my life, to some degree or another. The stages of my life greatly affected not just my feelings about my native blood, but how those around me influenced those feelings.
      The first major stage was my early childhood.  Until about age seven or eight, my grandfather talked openly to me about his people and their ways.   This was a wonderful period in my life.  My grandfather and I were the best of friends as he shared his secrets with me.

      The following is a narrative based on a typical summer during this stage of my life.  The events recalled are actual and as close to how I remember them as I am able to record. Although the exact dialogue is obviously re-created, it reflects what I recall being said, at least in meaning, if not in actual words.

A Child's Story

     Michelle woke up early, like she always did in the summer.  She climbed out of bed, jumped into her play clothes and opened up the door of the little camping trailer which was home for the summer months.  She hurried outside to be greeted by her grandmother and grandfather, or Mimere and Pipere as she knew them.
     "You ready for breakfast?" Mimere asked. She poured some pancake mix on the hot griddle and in no time at all Michelle had a plate full of golden pancakes.  She ate them quickly before her brother Tommy got up.  She knew if she were ready to go before her brother woke up, Pipere would take her with him.  Pipere would not want to take Tommy, because he was too young, and Mimere would insist that both children go, or neither one goes.
     Luckily, both Michelle and Pipere finished their breakfast before Tommy woke up.
     "I'm going for my morning walk," Pipere said.  He stood up and stretched. "Coming with me, Kitten?" He motioned for Michelle to follow.
     "Coming!"  She hurried happily behind him.
     They walked from the campground through the deep woods that stood behind it.  They stopped now and again to pick small orange flowers that grew low to the ground.  Pipere showed the child how to crush the flowers and use the crushed petals as a balm to keep away the mosquitoes that were rather heavy in the deep woods.
     They walked through a dry, barren area that appeared to the child like a slice of the Sahara desert right in the middle of the forest. Pipere stopped and picked up some bluegreen moss that was growing on the ground.  "Look for some of this," he said.  "It does a lot of good things.       We can even use it to start a fire tonight." 
      Michelle picked moss and showed it to Pipere.  The moss she picked seemed flakier and more white than blue.
      "No, this is not the right stuff."  Pipere took the moss from the child and placed it carefully back on the rock where she got it from.  "It is more blue and soft like velvet.  Pick the dry stuff, leave it alone if it feels like a sponge."
      The child tried again, this time getting a few dry bits of velvet-like, blue moss. "Here, Pipere.  Is this the right stuff?" 
      "You got it, Kitten!" Pipere smiled.  He took the moss and put it in his pocket.  "Now go get some more."
      "It's hot out here in the sun," the child complained.  "How much moss do we need?"
      "Just enough," Pipere said. Pipere always gave times and quantities in vague statements like, "just enough" or "until we are done." This perplexed the child.  What seemed even stranger was that before too long, she came to understand exactly how much is "just enough" or how long it would be "until we are done." 
       Once they had "just enough" moss, they continued to walk.  Pipere pointed out some other trees and bushes as they walked.  He said some were good for making medicine to stop coughs and explained that every bug in the forest could be eaten.  "If you ever get lost in the forest," he said, "you would have a lot to eat.  Lots of bugs live in the forest." 
       The idea of eating bugs didn't thrill Michelle.  "Yuck, I wouldn't eat bugs."
       "You would if you were hungry," Pipere said. "That is, if you didn't get enough berries in the summer time."  As he spoke, Pipere bent over and began to pick dark blue and purple berries from the low lying wild blueberry bushes around his feet.
       Michelle joined him and began to pick the berries, too.  "Pipere, there are so many berries.  How can anyone in the forest go hungry?"  She picked a handful and ate them happily.  They tasted so good, better than any store bought blueberry ever could.
      "Today there are a lot of berries, but what about tomorrow?  What about in the winter when the bushes don't have berries?"  He filled a small bag he carried with him full of the perfect little spheres.  "What do you do if you want to eat berries and it's the winter?"
      "Go to the store and buy some?" the child replied.
      "When I was a boy, there were no stores.  When we wanted berries in the winter, we had to make sure that we picked enough of them in the summer and saved them for the winter."
     "When you were an Indian kid?" she asked.
     "Yes, when I was an Indian kid."  He smiled.
     "How did you save berries, Pipere?  Don't they go rotten?" 
     "You have to dry them so they are like raisins.  You need to lay them out to dry and you have to keep the birds away from them."  He filled his bag and began to walk away.
     "Did I ever tell you that you can make dye for clothes from blueberry skins?" He walked up a hill to another grove of wild berry bushes.  This bunch had thorns, and Pipere cautioned the little girl to be careful not to get pricked.
    "I love raspberries!" Michelle said as she ran headlong into the bush.  The thorns scratched her arm and she started to bleed.
    "See, I told you to be careful,"  Pipere said.  He walked over to a small plant with pointed leaves.  He broke off a leaf.  White sap dripped from the stem end.  Pipere dabbed the sap on the scratch.  "All better?" he asked.
    "Yes. All better," the child replied. "What plant was that?" she asked.
Pipere told the child the plant’s name.  As soon as he said it, she forgot it. 
    "Remember," he added, "Never, never eat this plant.  Never eat it."  He emphasized by waving the leaf in the little girls face.
    "I won't," she said. 
    "This plant you can eat." Pipere picked a dark almond shaped leaf from a little shiny plant that was growing on the forest floor.  He broke the leaf in two and put it in his mouth.  He offered the child the other half.  She smelled it.  It smelled wonderful; just like the yummy chewing gum her grandmother gave her when she helped clean the kitchen.  She put the leaf in her mouth.  It was minty and sweet, despite the strange texture it had on her teeth.
     After Pipere had picked "just enough" raspberries, the walk continued to a nearby pond. 
     "Be very quiet when we go to the water," Pipere cautioned.  "If you are quiet, we might see a moose by the water's edge and we can talk to him."
     "But the leaves keep crunching. We can't sneak up on anything."  She pouted.
     "Yes we can. Our people knew a way to walk in the woods so no one would hear them."  He bent down to look at the little girl directly, face to face. "I will show you, but you have to promise never to tell your grandmother."
     "Why?" she asked innocently.
     "Because your grandmother doesn't like me to teach you about the Indians," he explained. "So you have to promise you won't tell her that I talked about our people."
     "Ok, Pipere.  But if we can't talk about them, how come you call them our people?" 
Pipere cringed. He knew any answer he gave her would probably lead to more questions.  Pipere thought for a moment and said,  "Being Indian is a secret."
     "Why?" the child persisted.
     "Because it is.  Now do you want to learn how to walk quiet in the woods or not?"
     "Oh, yes!" she said.  "Please!"
     "Alright then. Do what I do." Pipere carefully put one foot out, toe first, into the leaves and twigs. Carefully, he parted the larger of the sticks with complete silence.  Then he cautiously placed the ball of his foot down in the slightly cleared area.  He gently moved his foot from side to side, then in total silence, placed his heal down onto the forest floor.  Not one leaf dared to rustle.  Not one stick snapped.
     Using the same method, he followed with his other foot.  After demonstrating several times slowly, he walked into the woods at a quicker pace, barely making any sound at all.
     "Now, do what I did," he instructed Michelle.
     She took a deep breath and began to imitate her grandfather’s steps.  It took her several attempts to try and clear the leaves before she put the ball of her foot down, but each and every time the leaves rustled. Still, the child was undaunted. She tried again and then stepped down. Snap!" 
A twig on the forest floor gave way.  The child tried again and again, but her attempts at walking silently were far from successful.
      Pipere gave her a harsh look as leaves rustled beneath her feet.  But as she approached, his scowl turned to a smile and he said, "That was good.  You keep practicing and soon you will get it."
      They walked to the water’s edge; Pipere silent as midnight, Michelle quite a bit louder.  When they got to the water’s edge, Michelle pouted.   "I must have scared away the moose," she said sadly.
      "The moose are not out this time of day," Pipere said, if only to console the child.
      When they got to the edge of the water, Pipere picked some of the long grasses that were growing on the edge of the shore.
      "What is that for?"  Michelle asked.
      "This stuff?"  Pipere snapped the reeds in the air as if they were part of a giant grass whip.  "This is just about one of the most useful things you can have.  You can make rope from it.  You can tie things together with it.  You can do a lot of things with it."  Pipere handed the girl some of the long strands.  "Take this in your hand like this and sit down."
      Michelle sat on a rock by the water and held the grass between her palm and her thumb like her grandfather instructed.
      "Then roll it on your leg like this.  When you get near the end, add a few more grasses in." He quickly rolled the long reeds tightly on his thigh, then added another few blades of grass as he came to the end and began to twist them into the first. "You keep adding and adding until you have it as long as you want.  When you have some long strands made, you can even roll them together to make thicker rope."
      Michelle rolled the few original grasses and did her best to roll the new strands in as she got to the end of the first threads. They slipped out and unwound when she pulled on her newly made rope.
     "Well, it takes practice, too.  Besides, this grass is still wet," Pipere said with amusement.
     "We can bring some home to the campsite and let it dry.  Then I can practice," Michelle said as she gathered more grass.
     "No.  We can't do that," Pipere said sternly.
     "Why not?" the child whined.
     "Because then your grandmother will know we talked about it.  Remember, this is our secret.  If you want to practice you have to go to the water alone and practice where no one can see you."
     "But no one will let me go to the water alone.  They say I'm too little," Michelle reminded.
     "Well then, we will have to just practice when we go for walks."  Pipere rolled some more grass into rope and began to tell Michelle a long story about how the grass came to be.  The child was amazed by the story.  Then Pipere told her stories of the different grasses and what each one does and how they came to do what they do.  He told her stories about animals who behaved a lot like people.  He told her stories about his life as a child in Canada with the Indians.  And when his stories were all done, he showed her how he made his newly formed rope into an animal snare and how it could be used to catch a rabbit or a squirrel.   But he didn't use his snare.  Instead, he tossed the grass rope snare into the nearby bushes.
      “Pipere,” Michelle asked, “what was the name of our Indian people?”
      “I think they would call you Kitten,” he said.  “And they would call your little brother Chicken Wings!”  He laughed so loudly, his laughter echoed across the lake.
      “But what is the tribe name?” she asked again.
      “You don’t need to know that,” Pipere said, then announced it was time to get back to camp.
      The walk back to camp wasn't as fun as the walk into the woods.  The conversation on the way back was not happy at all.
      "Okay, soon we will be back at the campground.  If anyone asked what we did you know what to tell them,"  Pipere said to the child.
      "Yes.  I tell them we went for a hike to the lake to fish."  Michelle looked at her empty hands.  "But we didn't take the fishing poles this time."
      "Never mind about that." Pipere thought for a moment.  "If someone asks, we can just tell them we got to the lake and remembered that we forgot our poles, so we came home."
     "Why not just tell them we went to the lake to see if we could find the moose so we could talk to him, and when he wasn't there, you showed me how to make rope from the grass?" 
      "No!"  Pipere said sternly.  "Decent people don't talk to moose. And decent people buy rope at the hardware store!"
      "But Pipere?" Michelle stopped walking and looked up at her grandfather. The old man continued to walk.  Michelle sighed, then ran after him. "Pipere. Why are Indians not decent people?  You used to be an Indian!"
       Pipere stopped in his tracks and looked down at the child.  The pain in his eyes was easy to see, even for the small girl.  "Used to be," he said with emphasis. "When my father became Catholic, we were not Indian anymore.  We became Catholic.  If you are a Catholic and you go back to being an Indian, you're going to burn in hell.  You understand that?" 
     "But why?  I think being Indian is good if you are an Indian.  Why can't you be an Indian and be a Catholic Indian?  Why would God be mad if you made rope from the pond grass or talked to the moose?" she asked with the innocence of her age.  “If God made you an Indian, why would He be mad at you for it?”
     "Because people don't like Indians!" Pipere said with a voice so stern it made the child shake. "People think Indians are less than dogs!  They treat Indians worse than they do black people. If you tell anyone you're an Indian they won't let you go to school.  Your friends won’t be allowed to play with you anymore and everyone will think you’re always drunk and lazy!”
      Michelle stepped back, her eyes rimmed with tears. “But Pipere, how come?”
     “Just because!” he said firmly.  “So you don’t tell anyone.  You hear me? Anyone!  If you do, they will take you away and put you in a school for Indian kids were they will beat you and make you eat trash they can’t feed to pigs!”
      The vision of such a place filled the child’s mind. Often her grandfather talked about the terrible ways Indians were treated.  He talked at length about how “they” let Indian children starve to death rather than even let them eat the scraps “they” tossed to their dogs.  He told stories of how “they” chased Indians out of stores when the Indians wanted to go shopping, and how “they” made Indians pay more than twice as much for anything the Indains bought.  He told her how “they” would not let the Indian’s have jobs no matter how hard the Indians worked.  He said that no matter if an Indian never drank a drop, “they” would call him a drunk.
     She had no idea who “they” were, but suspected, based on the way her grandfather talked, that “they” were everywhere, watching.
     “I promise,” she finally said to Pipere. “I won’t tell anyone we are Indians.”
     “Good,” Pipere said. For the remainder of the walk to the campground he did not say another word. 
     When they arrived at the campsite, Pipere handed the child the bag of berries they had collected.  She ran to her grandmother and gave her the bag.  “Here Mimere, can I eat them now?”  she asked, not mentioning how many she ate in the woods.
     Mimere took the berries, rinsed them with water, put them in a bowl and called Tommy out to help eat the berries.
     Michelle and her brother began to fill their mouths with berries, and Mimere went off to tend to some other chore.  Pipere also walked away to do some chore.
     “Tommy, guess what?” Michelle said to her brother between mouthfuls of the berries.
     “What?” he asked.
     “Pipere showed me how to make rope from that long grass that grows at the sides of ponds,” she bragged.
     “That’s not fair!” Tommy yelled. “You always get to do the fun stuff.”
     “What are you fighting about?” Mimere called over. “If you don’t share the berries I’ll take them away.”
      “Yes, Mimere,” Michelle said. 
      She turned her attention back to her little brother. “You can’t tell anyone.  Remember.  It’s an Indian secret!”
      “But it’s not fair!” Tommy whined.  “Pipere always tells you everything.  He never takes me out in the woods.  It’s not fair!” he shouted again.
      “What is going on?”  Mimere came over to see what the commotion was.
      “Nothing,” Michelle said.  She hoped her brother would follow suit.  He didn’t.
      “It’s not fair!” he complained. “Pipere took Michelle into the woods and told her how the Indian’s make rope and stuff like that.  He never takes me.”
      “I see,” Mimere said.  Her face took on a furious look.  “Fred!” she shouted at the top of her lungs.
      Pipere appeared to come from nowhere. “What? What’s the matter?” He rushed to the table to see what was wrong.
      Mimere turned to her husband.  The fury was easy to see in her eyes.  “You!  You!” she fumbled her first few words in her anger.  “You stupid old man!” she finally managed to shout.
     “What?” Pipere slouched his shoulders as if he didn’t know why she was angry.
     “Your grandson here is mad because you didn’t tell him how to be an i.n.d.i.a.n.” She spelled the word as if saying it would curse her.
     “Oh, come on,” he moaned, “it was just a little fun.  That’s all.  I only showed her some plants.  Nothing terrible.  Just kids stuff.”
     Mimere slammed her hand down on the picnic table that stood in front of our little camper.  “You  know I forbid you to talk to the kids about that nonsense!  You’re going to fill their heads with that terrible stupid stuff!” She motioned for the children to go into the camper. Once they were inside, she continued talking in a more quiet manner in hopes that the children wouldn’t hear her.
     “What are you doing?  You know better than to talk to the children about your being Indian! You want them to get thrown out of Sunday school?”  Mimere scolded her husband.
     Pipere sat at the table, head hung low.  The sorrow he was feeling was clear on his face.  Inside the camper, Michelle felt like crying as she watched her grandmother yell at her grandfather.  Guilt filled her when she realized that if she hadn’t bragged to her brother, then her Pipere wouldn’t be in trouble now.  She thought to herself that Pipere looked like he was about to break into tears.  She began to cry, herself.
     Outside of the camper, Mimere continued to batter her husband with endless words about the shame and pain he was exposing the children to.  She continued on about how she would die of embarrassment if any of the children ever told someone she knows that their grandfather was an Indian. 
     Finally, after what seemed to Michelle to be hours of endless words, Mimere said in a sharp vicious voice, “I better never have to tell you again, Fred.  You keep your no good mouth shut about your dirty Indian blood!  Bunch of no good drunks the whole lot of those damn Indians!”
     Pipere got to his feet and quietly walked back to what he was doing.  Mimere called the children from the camper and told them to go play in a nearby playground.
     Tommy ran to the playground, but Michelle lagged behind.  She looked at her grandfather, now so crestfallen, looking so much older than she had ever seen him look before.  She wanted to go up to him and tell him she was sorry for telling the secret, but she knew he would not talk to her about it.  That was his way.  He didn’t talk about what made him upset.  He didn’t talk about his feelings.  She knew this, so she just looked for a moment longer then went to join her brother at the playground.
     As Tommy ran and played around her, Michelle sat quietly on the hard wooden swing and looked back at her Pipere.  He sat by the firepit, breaking small pieces of wood into even smaller pieces of wood.  There was no fire going.  He reached into his pocket and took out the handful of bluegreen moss she had helped him collect that morning.  He looked at the moss and mumbled something.  She didn’t have any idea what, because he was too far away for her to hear.
     “Maybe he’s going to make a fire with it,” she said quietly to herself, remembering what he said in the woods about it being useful for making fire.  She leaned forward on her swing as if trying to get a better look.
     Pipere looked up then down at the moss one more time, then tossed it into the woods with an angry, abrupt motion.  Then, in the same angry abrupt way, he got up and walked off into the woods towards the campground bathroom.
     “Pipere!  Can I come!” Michelle shouted and ran after her beloved grandfather. He didn’t turn. Perhaps he didn’t hear her.  “Pipere, can I come with you!” she called again.
     He looked back, then paused to let the child catch up.  “Sure Kitten,” he said.  “But I’m only going to the toilets.”
     “That’s ok.  I have to go, too,” the child lied with a smile.  She was just happy to be with her grandfather.
     Pipere laughed and they walked together into the woods toward the little cement building that housed the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms. They only paused once so Pipere could point out a certain tree and how to use its leaves if you get a bee sting.


Chapter 2
What’s an Indian





     Growing up with my grandfather held a lot of mixed messages. On one hand, he would show me the most amazing things he remembered from his boyhood with his people and tell me long stories about amazing creatures and animals who lived on the big island he said America was part of.  He also told me some strange stories that not only amazed me, but frightened me at times about monsters and mysterious beings who had amazing powers.
     On the other hand, he would tell me never to speak to anyone of what he told me and by the time I was nine or ten years old, he did a full reversal on me and stopped talking about our people all together.
      At that point, when I asked our about his people, even the most simple or innocent of questions was met with short, curt answers denying he ever said anything or that he was even an Indian.
      During that time, he told me stories about his family coming from England, France, Ireland and even Mexico! When I dared to point out the inconsistencies in his tales, he would just tell me I was being too nosy and to leave him alone.
      But once in a while, when the mood was right, my grandfather would talk to me about his Indian roots and stories about what it was like growing up. 
      Whenever he told his stories, he was always careful to make sure no other adults were around.  He knew that if any adult in our family heard him talking about the subject, he would be told in no uncertain terms to shut his mouth and not fill our heads with things that would only get us in trouble.
      Some of my grandfather’s stories about his growing up were rather amazing and they helped shape my idea of what his people must have been like. Yet, the way he behaved, the obvious shame he had and his endless warnings to never tell anyone we had indian blood in us sent such a confusing message.
      Then, if only to mess up my already confused opinion, there was the media.  It was the sixties.  A time of change and free love for some, but for me — a child of less than ten years old — it was endless TV shows. Many of them were reruns of things like “Howdy Dowdy”, “Buffalo Bob” and other cowboy shows.  On the weekends, my father would take over our TV set to watch endless hours of old John Wayne movies where the blood thirsty savages killed the innocent people of the west who were just trying to make a living.
      I heard people in these movies saying things like, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” I watched as the God fearing hero rounded up and shot the Indian men who obviously had IQs below room temperature because they couldn’t talk in more than one syllable words and only knew how to kill and make war.
      I began to think, “No wonder people hate Indians.  All Indians do is kill people.”
     Then I thought about my grandfather.  How loving he was. I could never imagine my grandfather hurting a soul.  How could my grandfather be an Indian?
     I began to understand why my grandfather was afraid that people would treat him differently if they knew he was an Indian — but little did I know how different that would be.  I had no concept of the true prejudice and hatred my grandfather and his family had to face.
     I once asked my mother — who is my grandfather’s daughter — why everyone was telling me that no one likes Indians.  She answered, “Because Indians don’t believe in God.”
     How could that be?  I was Indian, at least partly, and I believed in God. My mother was half Indian and she believed in God. My grandfather was all Indian and he believed in God.
      I asked my Father the same question. My father said, “People don’t know Indians. That’s why they don’t like them.  If you get to know people who are different, you find out you have a lot to like about each other.”
     This really confused me. My father was from a long line of French Canadians.  He had no Indian blood at all in him.  He didn’t seem afraid of the topic, nor did he seem to dislike Indians.  Why was my father, the representative of the non-native side of my family, the only one who had anything good to say?
     I tried to believe what my father said.  The reason people don’t like Indians is because they don’t know them.  But it was hard.  In addition to my own families seemingly prejudice views, as I grew older, I became more and more aware of how the media portrayed Indians. 
     I started to become afraid that if I did tell people I was of Indian blood, they wouldn’t want to get to know me and see how alike we were, as my father had explained.  But rather, they would think I was like the television Indians who killed the nice pioneers in the movies. What if my friends decided that I was bad?  What if my grandfather was right when he told me that if my friends found out I was an Indian, they wouldn’t want to play with me anymore?  What if I could never go to school?  What if my family was thrown out of their house and out of the city? What if I was shot by some cowboy?
     You might think these thoughts were silly, but I assure you, these are the types of issues I had to deal with as a child.
Being an Indian was the family shame. It was hard for a child to understand why.  These silly ideas were my attempt at understanding why the family was ashamed and afraid of anyone knowing about my grandfather’s roots.
     What added to the difficulty was that despite the negative stereotypes I was being bombarded with, and the terrible warnings issued by my grandfather every time I dared to speak of it, I wanted more than anything else to know about who these people were who could make rope from grass and heal cuts with sap from a leaf.  I wanted to know more, because I could feel them inside my heart.  Sometimes the feeling and need was so strong it hurt too much to even think about.
     I lived in a world of strong mixed messages that were in direct conflict with my inner need.  I dreamt the most vivid reoccurring dream through my childhood that today I link directly to this conflict of my inner self and my surrounding environment.  The dream was always the same.  I dreamt it well over fifty times, perhaps more, from the age of about 8 to 12 years old.  It was at times a nightly dream.
     It always starts that I am standing in my backyard.  I am alone. I am approached by a white dog, which I greet and pat happily.  Then I notice a white horse standing in the  yard.  I walk up to the horse and it motions for me to get on its back. I climb on the animal and it rears up on its hind legs.  As it does, it grows so large that I can see over the roof of my house.  Then it jumps into the sky and I can see over the houses in the neighborhood.  It flies to the forest where it lands and I get off where I am greeted by many people. Some have very little clothes on, but most have white animal skins on.  They are very happy to see me and I feel like I am home. For the first few moments when I wake from this dream, I feel so far away from home and alone.
    I  knew that the people in that dream were my grandfather’s tribe.  I also knew that somehow they were calling to me.  But why?
     Dreams of strange and marvelous white animals have been a constant in my life since I can recall.  Perhaps they were planted there by my grandfather’s wonderful stories.  Today, I have no memory of his actual stories of the animals, but I still have the dreams from time to time.
     So, who where these people?  What were Indians?  Were they good or bad?  Did they have to be either?  My grandmother was married to one.  Maybe she would know. 
      I got my nerve up and asked my grandmother about her opinion of Indians.  It was not flattering in the least.  So I asked why she married an Indian man if she disliked Indians so much.  The following is the story she told me:

     She said she was not what you would call a really young girl when she met my grandfather.  She saw that he was a hard working man and she thought, based on his last name, that he was Irish.  His family name was Shaughnessy. Though she spoke only French and he spoke little French they got along well and decided they would be a good match for each other.
     My grandmother didn’t speak of love very often. I always figured it was because she had hardened her manners and outward show of affections due to the hardships of raising a family during the depression.  It was not surprising to me that she didn’t mention love as one of the criteria by which she and my grandfather got together.  Love was a word she never said very often, but rather something she put into all the cooking and knitting she did for the family.
     She talked about how when they first got married, my grandfather took a job out of town and she only saw him one weekend a month. She said her brother complained to her that her husband was always out of town. Her brother suggested that if he could get her husband into his fraternal lodge, the fellows there could help him find a much better job that was closer to home.  So it was decided, and her brother nominated my grandfather for membership in his fraternal lodge.
     “You should have seen your grandfather when I told him,” she explained to me.  “You would think I was asking him to take up with the devil himself!”
     She said he began to make excuses for not joining the lodge.  He even tried to say his religion forbid it.  But she pointed out it was a lodge that the Catholics did not disapprove of.  Besides, it was already done.  Her brother had already put in the nomination and there was going to be an interview coming in the next few weeks.
    She explained that after a few weeks, her brother came back to her and told her that my grandfather had been turned down.  “Black balled” was the termed she used.
    She wanted to know why, because he was never even interviewed.  Her brother told her to sit down.  Then he said, “Marlene, you married an Indian.”
     My grandmother’s eyes opened wide as she told me about how shocked she was. She recounted with a tone that still carried the taste of her initial shock, how she told her brother to stop lying and stop talking like that about her husband. She said she didn’t believe him. It was too terrible to believe. 
     As she told me this, my heart broke inside.  How could being an Indian be so terrible?  I dare say she would have seemed less shocked if she were told he had only six months to live. 
     She said that when my grandfather got home, she told him what her brother said and pleaded with him to tell her it was just a vicious lie.
     My grandfather told her it was not a lie.  She made him promise never to tell anyone about it ever, and she made her brother do the same.
     Her eyes seemed far away in the memory for a moment, then she looked at me with all seriousness and said, “If I had known he was an Indian, I would have never married him.”
     “What?” I was now the shocked party. “Wasn’t he still a good worker and provider?  Didn’t you still make a good match? Don’t you love him?”  I asked.
     “Of course, of course,” she said.  “I love him.” She paused. 
     “Well, if you love someone it shouldn’t make a difference, should it?” I persisted.
     “Maybe times are different now. But back then it made a difference.  If people found out he was an Indian, me and my kids would be trash in everyone’s eyes.  How could I let that happen?”  She looked at me.  “You would be trash, too, if anyone knew.”
     I didn’t know quite what to say.  After a few awkward moments my grandmother changed the subject and I was relieved.  We never spoke of it again. 

     When I was ten, the family decided to take a trip to Canada for two weeks. My mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, as well as my brothers and sister all packed into our station wagon — little camper in tow — and we started off.  We planned to drive up to Montreal, then across to Quebec, taking our time and staying at campgrounds near tourist spots along the way.  We ended up taking a very unexpected side trip.
Somewhere along the way, my grandfather announced, “Turn right, here!” and we were off.
     He directed my father to drive down highways, city streets and eventually to a home at the end of a long dirt road.  The home, he declared with certainty, once belonged to his mother’s sister.  It could still be the home of family.
     He entered the house, and sure enough the daughter of his aunt still lived there. Her own daughter lived there with her children as well. 
     Despite the fact that we just dropped in out of nowhere, we were asked to set up our trailer and warmly welcomed to visit for as long as we wished. 
     I was thrilled beyond belief!  Could these people be the Indians?  They lived in a house.  They didn’t have a teepee like they showed on television.  For that matter, they had a color television. That was something my cousins back home didn’t even have yet.  They didn’t talk in one syllable words and were really nice to welcome us out of nowhere. They were not savages. 
     We met my grandfather’s aunt. She was more than 100 years old at the time.  She was sitting by a small cabin behind the main house. She explained that she preferred to live in the cabin.   She was smoking a corn cob pipe, and when she saw us coming, she came running towards us with more speed than I imagined anyone that old could have mustered. 
     Even though she had not seen my grandfather since he was twelve years old, she went up to him, said something in words I didn’t understand, hugged him and called him by his first name.  She remembered him despite the fact that more than 50 years had passed!
     I was amazed at how limber this woman was at her age, and how sharp her memory was.  This was one really sharp lady.  She was so overjoyed at seeing my grandfather again, she did a dance around him.  I had to giggle because she looked so funny; such an old woman dancing like a little girl.
     She looked at me and in a heavily accented voice, she said, “You’re a little kittycat, you rascal, aren’t you?” 
     She greeted all of us, then she and my grandfather went back to her cabin to talk. The children, myself included, were made to go play out in the yard, which we did.
      Later that night, my grandmother had the job of putting me and my brothers to bed while my parents were out visiting with my grandfather’s family.  Just before my grandmother put out the light, she warned in a joking tone, “Better sleep with your hat on so you don’t get scalped in your sleep.” 
     My brother Tommy cringed. My older brother Jim just laughed, but I remembered thinking she was wrong.  These people wouldn’t hurt us. They were the most welcoming people I had ever met.
     We stayed with them for a day or so more.  Before we left, my sister and a girl her age who lived there exchanged addresses with the intention of writing to each other.  They never did. 
     We drove away, never to see them again.  My grandfather directed us through the maze of side streets back to the highway and we continued on with our trip.  The only momentos we have of our visit are a handful of photographs of the children. My grandfather’s aunt, her daughter and son-in-law didn’t want to be photographed. 
      No one remembers any of their names, my sister lost the address long ago.  The only hint of who they are is a scribble on the back of one of the photos that says, “The Hamiltons”.
      So deep was my grandfather’s plan to cover his true family roots, that in order to visit them, he took us on a blind trip through the back roads of Canada as if it were only days, not years, since the last time he was there; but today he will not tell anyone where the house is, not even a street name so we can write them.  He says over time he has forgotten.
      I came back from that trip more confused than ever about what an Indian was.  I was upset that during that trip I never learned the name of the tribe the people we met came from.
     But I did learn that the television Indian wasn’t real.  They were not some evil creatures who killed white people on sight. They were wonderful people who welcomed a nephew who had been away for more than fifty years, along with his whole family, into their home without even knowing that they were coming.  I know if a long lost relative, gone for more than fifty years, ever showed up at my mother’s house unannounced, they would probably not be welcomed to stay.

     For a short while, after our return from Canada, my grandfather was a bit more open about his Native relations.  He told me stories about his life with his people and about some of the mischief he got into.  Still, he was steadfast in his refusal to tell me which tribe he came from.
     When I pushed him, he would tell me the words that would ring like a curse in my ears.  He would say, “We turned our backs on them. What makes you think they will welcome you?”
      I tried to point out how welcomed we were at his aunt’s house.  He insisted this was because we were family.  He said that even though the tribe had cousins and aunts in it, they were different.  They were not his mother’s sister. The fact that his mother’s sister was the head of that family we visited made it different.  He explained, as if it  was supposed to make total sense to me, “She was my mother’s sister.  That is why we were welcome.  If they were my mother’s brother’s family then they would just as soon spit on us.”
     I asked why, but was only told the same thing over again.  My grandfather insisted that if I knew what tribe his family was from and went to talk to them, they would just spit on me.  I was from a family of splitters.
     Only months after returning from Canada, my grandfather decided it was time to return to his silence.  Perhaps my grandmother had made him stop.  I don’t know for sure.
     It was many years before my grandfather would speak of the Indians again.  That is, other than to deny he ever had any connection to them.
I walked into my adult years still wondering who the Indians were. I knew they were not savages.  I knew they were not all drunkards.  I knew they were not stupid.  I knew that they were more than anything I could ever see on television. But who were they and why were they in my dreams?
      I wondered for a long time if I would ever find my grandfather’s people — my people — and if I did, would I be welcome.


 
 



Readers Comments:
 
  • The emotion in this book is so strong, it brought me to tears.  Especially when I thought of my own struggle to find my Native American Ancestors.    Chris in NH

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Walking the Relinquished Path