Diary of an Accused Pretendian

Since I was small, the Missisquoi River helped to raise me. I heard stories of our sacred places and lived among the red medicine bundles blessing various sites that signaled reverence and ceremony. The waters were my home and the shared history and relationship to the land itself was ever a part of my existence.That is the crux of identity as an indigenous person – the place you belong to and the place that belongs in you. I learned from a young age how to utilize fish eyes that you kept warm under the tongue for ice fishing, a trait that is distinctly indigenous. I learned how to use fish caught in the river and the lake as fertilizer and how to mound the soil for the garden. I learned how to live off the land and be respectful. My grandfather showed me lovingly how to flip every seed drying in the sun so that next year the garden would grow plentiful. We took care of the land and the places that sustained our livelihoods. It took care of us too. The connection to our indigenous heritage is unbroken even if it wasn’t always safe to say it out loud.

I attended powwows held by the tribe and I lived a life where the friends and family that surrounded me were part of our kin network within the band. As I grew older and asked myself what it means to be indigenous and if I was learning all that I should be learning, I noticed that everyone my family surrounded themselves with were also part of the tribe. Families were connected generation to generation. You didn’t need to say it to see it. This is what life was. People surrounded themselves with their kin networks and lived a life that supported one another. A village raised me, which includes my non-human relatives. I remember distinctly as a young child noticing that funerals of those in our kin networks had lines around the corner to get in. It didn’t matter if you knew the person well, if they were Abenaki you paid your respect and grieved communally. When my grandfather died, the drummer that eased his passing into the next world was hauntingly beautiful and someone that I had grown up with. He used to bring my grandmother to visit Grandmother Doris, one of our elders and one of our medicine people. I was given my Abenaki name as I transitioned into adulthood from her son with a private ceremony. They made me promise to walk the red road and explained what that really means. To see with the eyes of the heart all things and live in community with the seen, unseen, and my non-human relatives. I walked a beautiful path and I was filled with gratitude for my people and my community. 

As I grew into more responsibility, I learned as much as I could. I visited our neighbors that welcomed me anytime I wanted to go. I remember visiting the longhouse at Kahnawake and attending Seven Nations meetings at Akwesasne. We were the only Abenaki in attendance. We represented all that were not there and would have loved to meet our kin at Odanak and Wolinak. Perhaps in the future they may take their place in the seats we kept warm. One of my oldest friends I met at my first Seven Nations gathering and he has been a constant voice in my human development. I attended a Wabanaki Confederacy meeting and met the most amazing grandmothers. Their words reside in me still. I visited Maine every few years and visited my Passamaquoddy and Penobscot friends, one of which traveled 10 hours to come to my wedding and now that he has gone I honor him every time I play his drum. The lessons from our Maine cousins augmented the stories I had learned since the words of the rivers taught me how to live in relationship with the world. I remember learning stories at Missisquoi from community members about the little people and places you do not go or they will pull you under the water and you will have to live there with them forever. I learned about concretions and the offerings that are supposed to be made wherever you go to appease the little people. I learned these stories from our kin in Vermont, not from families that have long stayed on the other side of the border. I was given a woman’s drum she made of woodchuck hide from the 19th century with the knowledge that there were songs passed down with it. I visited my Elnu kin and we prayed at the faces. A site is only sacred if you maintain your relationship with it. They kept the sacredness of that place and it remains sacred because of them. I visited my kin at Nulhegan and the Brunswick Springs. My father and grandfather took me to old council meeting places near the wild blueberries in one of the bays on Bitawbagok. As a mixed person I have some ancestors that did not do very nice things to other indigenous groups, such as the Pequot. So, I visited them as well and spent days at the museum learning about their history, speaking with people, and donating to the education of that place. I cannot make up for the past but it is a start and I seek to understand all of my ancestors, not just the indigenous ones. 

I sometimes wonder if the stories of the places that are exceedingly plentiful from whirlpools and underwater serpents to stories of the little people or old places of council that have been not forgotten on this side of the border are held by those that have not lived here for centuries? By eradicating us, Nd’akinna will suffer. One of those that claimed we are pretendians (fake Indians) mentioned a story about an underwater serpent and that people here are benefiting from it. I can honestly say that we don’t need your stories and I have never heard that particular story before. We have our stories that we remember. They are the building blocks of our culture that hold our memory, our history, and our worldview. Darryl Leroux is very misguided. Storytelling is essential to indigenous cultures and the encyclopedia of knowledge here that has never left, passed down through generations, DOES make us Indian. There is nothing you can do about it. If there was no lineage, how could there be so much culture? For those stories of place and people that have been forgotten by our Canadian kin, I bet folks would be happy to teach you again. Do you still practice ice fishing with fish eyes under the tongue? Do you still mound your gardens? Do you still perform our ceremonies rather than attend Catholic mass? Clearly, the myth of pure blood isn’t everything. Even if you don’t appreciate your traditional teacher at Odanak, we hold him high in our regard and as an important elder. 

My life has been littered with mistakes and ceremony has washed them down the river. The community that I grew up with has sometimes hurt me very deeply and yet they are worth fighting for. We are family and now all of our family on this side of the border are under attack as accused pretendians. Some of the folks that accuse us have at least one Euro-American parent, have changed their names to be more indigenous and moved to the reservation, are mixed race themselves, and abide by a very colonized way of thinking by holding the rules of blood quantum rather than kin in their hearts. Someone told us that you cannot let the blood become too thin with other types of relatives. I wasn’t aware that blood was different based upon where you come from in the world. Perhaps Europeans don’t even have blood that runs in their veins? Maybe it is just water or straight poison? Are you the blood that makes up your body? Are you the stories and culture passed down through generations? Are you what is in your heart? Who are you? Who gets to decide?

I can see the eventual eradication of those adhering to very strict protocols of blood quantum. I see people dismissing their own step sons who are 1/8th blood and do not have enough to apply to their federal tribe that find fault in our kinship methods. We place family first, we do not force them outside of the circle at powwows because one of their grandmothers decided to love someone of another skin tone. A lack of belonging for our children sparks everything bad in this world, from suicide to unhealthy ideas of identity. There are too few native people as it is. It takes them out of relationship to the circle of creation, where ALL humans should exist. I see people that call us pretendians coupling with Euro-American or other identities. I see people calling us pretendians that are married to Euro-Americans and have at least one Euro-American mother or father. In another generation, your family will be what you accuse us of being and your children are already less than half because in the East, the Indians are all mixed no matter how much you manipulate birth records and leave out the names of white fathers. We bore the brunt of colonization before it spread to the West. I can tell you we love our children deeply and they do not belong on another side of our table.

Do you look your step-children, children, and grandchildren in the eyes and tell them they are not enough because of who their ancestor once loved? Do you shield them from knowing the beautiful parts of your culture because of sins of their ancestors? The sin of mixed marriage. What do you tell your children that ARE good enough when they are ready to seek love? Just like the Nazis of Germany, do you try to maintain pure blood through control of their choices to satisfy the Western concept of blood quantum or do you simply lament their choices and know that their grandchildren will be lost to the culture and the tribe? What burden is all of this on your collective soul? 

I have seen mothers on Facebook worry that their babies might marry outside of the tribe and their grandchildren will not be included in the culture. All of this to satisfy white people who tell you what to think and who can be considered Indian so they don’t have to pay for your treaties anymore. Shouldn’t love between people be celebrated and identity be based upon traditional values rather than new political rules in the past few hundred years? The need to quantify is not an indigenous value. As my friend in Elnu mentions often, “Give me a cup of war and a quart of love. What do you have?” The spreadsheet mentality is not a traditional indigenous value and adoption was always a part of our tradition. Before Europeans’ need to quantify and make sense of the mixed race beautiful babies that sprung from first contacts, such as the Casta paintings that went hand-in-hand with tax codes, everyone was a citizen of Turtle Island. One of my elders once told me that it didn’t matter in the old days if you had a baby with a Frenchman that we were allied with, as long as we could keep the babies in our community and raise them appropriately. Now, communities with children that are direct descendants of their tribe exclude their own families from the table as a result of a colonized construct. It is heartbreaking to watch. It is the pretendians though that do damage to indigenous communities, right? Some federally recognized citizens use the academic community to bolster their own agendas, which at the heart of it is greed and sometimes simply the engrained colonized view of eradication by blood quantum. The land back movement and increased grant-funding has brought out the worst in people. Perhaps ceremony can bring them home again. We will be waiting as relatives when it does. Maybe we can even take part in ceremony together. 

In the past, people moved between villages. Europeans began to record people’s identities into these neat little boxes and they even set up a system of measurement to list people as white, especially if your grandmother married a non-native man. The seeds of destruction are laid out for you. Many of the expatriates from our main detractors at Odanak are listed as white in the records in the United States. Not everyone from Odanak has forgotten we are relatives. But, our resident disavowed blogger has made it his mission to discredit us for the perceived slight on his actions and those that wish to benefit use him to their advantage. To discredit us for having some white ancestors or birth certificates that list white for people we know are native just like Odanak expatriates deal with, is the ultimate hypocrisy. That blog is completely racist and so are those that label us pretendians. 

With the logic laid before us by those that consider us pretendians, at some point, those currently listed on tribal rolls as one quarter or above, will have descendents that choose love. Some day centuries in the future when there are only a few Indians left in those communities, bred out by colonized values, their descendants will look at their names on a paper and they will become irrelevant. They are simply part of a past that once included a native ancestor, just as we are accused of having. When do you become less of an Indian? If you are native, what teachings do you tell your children to pass down? Can that part of a bloodline be reignited and the people once again learn to live on the circle of creation? Is it only those with a few Indian names that are passed down that can be considered real? Or like some of our detractors, should we just change our name back? Our communities here in the states have never forgotten those ancestors and they have served as a source of pride. We do not simply have one ancestor from 1600. Our families intermarried for many years and even if names did not remain with some of our grandmothers, that colonized concept in and of itself, does not take away that their children and all of their descendents come from the same bloodlines. They are all indigenous. 

My final question for our naysayers is, what do you do with your ancestors that are white? Do you dismiss them as a stain on your livelihood? For those that have a white parent, do you curse their connection to you and forget that you are born of love? Is your hate toward us, merely a projection of the hate you feel toward yourselves?

While at first, this entire experience of some folks calling us pretendians hurt me to my core from sunrise to sundown, I remembered that I am a daughter of the dawn and I am filled with the power of the sun. I come from many different people and I celebrate all of them just as I welcome the sun as I am supposed to do every morning. I have kept the sacrality of this piece of Nd’akinna for generations with my family so that you can now say it belongs to you. The stories and worldview of our people has lit up this place since Gluskabe and I call upon him now to return and help you to remember that we are all relatives.