Heritage Story

My mom was not a great storyteller. She didn’t read books or magazines or even the daily newspaper. She did watch television news, but only those stories that weren’t about war or killing.

There was one death that intrigued her, that of Princess Diana. For some reason, the tragedy of her death touched my mom.

I think she saw in Diana heritage lost. A genetic pool which would not be carried on. And that was important to my mom.

From the time I was a little girl, my mom bragged about her Native American roots, although she did not use that term. According to my mom, almost everything she did could be attributed to her being “Indian.”

She loved bread because she was Indian. She tanned easily because she was Indian. Her hair did not turn gray and she did not wrinkle because of….

The foods she fixed were, according to her, based on her Indian roots. Her rhubarb pie was a good example, as well as her apple dumplings and fried chicken.

When pressured, she could not name the relative from whom her heritage came. She believed it was from her great-great-great grandmother on her mother’s side, but that person had no name or place of birth.

No matter the lack of concrete evidence, I believed her. I loved the idea of being part Native American, no matter how tiny that part was in reality.

When I was in fourth grade I discovered that the nonfiction part of the library held a treasure trove of information on Native American tribes from all over the country. One by one I devoured the books, looking for any similarities between my mother and a specific tribe.

When I read about the Shawnee, a tribe that lived in the same Ohio region where I did, I was elated. Here was my connection to the past. My heritage that I could pass on to my children and grandchildren.

I drew out a map of their homeland, memorized Shawnee terms, dreamt about their foods, and romanticized their lifestyle.

When looking at old black and white photos of the Shawnee people, I saw a clear resemblance in my mother’s face. Satisfied, I grew up believing that I was part Shawnee.

Well into my twenties I attended my first pow-wow, something in the keening of the songs and the pounding of the drums resonated deep within me. I felt a kinship that I had never felt before, and I really wanted to join in the dance.  Until I realized how very white I was compared to all the other dancers.

I continued to be intrigued by all things Native American. Several years ago I began collecting artifacts. None of them have any historical value, but I love the dolls, the vases, the baskets and the jewelry. I have enough stuff that it fills an entire cabinet and enough black and white prints of old photos that my walls are covered.

My daughter began researching our genealogy several years ago. As she delved into the past, she was unable to locate a single relative that appeared to be Native American. This was disappointing in so many ways!

Over a year ago she asked me to submit a DNA sample for study. Because I was still interested in finding the familial link, I did so.

A few weeks later the results came in. I have zero percent  Native American heritage! This was a disappointing discovery.

It destroyed my beliefs about who I was. It meant that all those years of reading and dreaming were wasted. It also meant that there was no truth behind my mother’s stories, which was devastating.

I hated losing that part of me because it was ingrained by sixty years of believing.

Sometimes I wish that I had not done the DNA test. If I hadn’t, I could continue to naively believe that I was Native American. However, even though I lost a huge part of what I saw as my link to distant peoples, I am glad that I did the test.

It is better to know the truth than to be spreading falsities.

About Terry Connelly

Terry Connelly is a retired high school English teacher. She earned her BA and Single Subject Teaching credential from California State University of the East Bay, in Hayward, California. She taught for 18 years at Newark Memorial High School in Newark, California. She was gifted to work with both College Prep students and those with learning disabilities.
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One Response to Heritage Story

  1. Luanne @ TFK says:

    I was also told that I had Heritage that has not been proven by DNA. But we don’t inherit DNA equally from all our ancestors and if you have a great great grandparents who is Native American you might not have inherited any DNA. It works that way sometimes.

    Like

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