Last year around this time, I thought it'd be fun to take my sister and Ruby on a little adventure. We do this often as getting out of dodge and exploring one of the nearby towns surrounding Asheville is one of my favorite ways to kill time when Lliam is working on the house. For this weekend's adventure, we were headed to Cherokee, NC. It's about 45 minutes west of us and it's a beautiful drive. I've always loved the beauty of Native American culture and how their people so gratefully commune with the earth we've been given, so while I wasn't sure what to expect, I was hoping to experience some of it.
It had been a bit of a crazy time. My sister, who is disabled, had just moved in with us a month prior and truth be told, as a mother, I feel like I'm in survival mode most days. We were already running late so I throw clothes on, get Ruby changed and we head out. By the time we made it onto the reservation, Ruby was asleep in her car seat.
The area was gorgeous. Mountains, rivers, sunlight... a beautifully crisp autumn day. I imagined what it must have looked like back in the day to watch the Cherokee ride on their horses, through the rivers and streams, while the land was still completely untouched. I had read in The Journey of Crazy Horse that even wagons rolling across the prairies, digging into the grass, effected the migration patterns of buffalo. Long before locomotives, cities and skyscrapers, our ambition just 'pioneering west' was damaging. With indignation for all we've done and continue to do, I say, "You know, if they came back to scalp all of us in our sleep, I wouldn't blame them!"
We arrive into town and most of the shops are closed. It's the off season. I hadn't done my research and more often than not, I'm okay to get out of town regardless. Ruby's awake and cranky at this point so after stopping at a couple of shops, we decide to go eat at a local Mexican restaurant.
We pull into our parking space. It's a tight squeeze with the car to the right of us. My sis manages to get out. I get Ruby out of her car seat, close the door and make my way between the two cars when a Cherokee woman and her daughter walk toward us. They are the car to our right. They stop as they see we are struggling.
"So sorry!" I say with a smile.
The woman startles me with her beauty. I can't recall her face because her hair was a long, thick and wavy silver and it sparkled like a river in the late afternoon sunlight. She had on a cute patterned top, jeans and brown clogs. She reminded me of my aunt in Washington a little bit. Working as a photographer at the time, I immediately wanted to photograph her. She smiled back and we have a moment.
I call over my shoulder, "Come on Rubes! These ladies want to get into their car!"
I turn back to face the woman and her face has fallen. Suddenly, we are having a different kind of moment. There is pain in her eyes and her face is stoic. I don't understand what has just happened.
The woman mumbles something under her breath to her daughter-- eyes forward, and they get in their car. My sis, hobbles toward me and says, "That was kinda weird..." I can't figure it out either and respond, "Yeah..."
I turn to look back at my adorable, blond three year old when I finally see it...
Head to toe, in my mindless mom-ness, I have dressed my daughter in a Thanksgiving themed outfit that reads: "Happiest Turkey on the Block!" and today that girl is ALL smiles. I AM... HORRIFIEDDDDDDD.
"No, no, no, no, no no..." My stomach drops to the fiery pits of hell, where I plan to burn for all of eternity. I race over to Ruby in a panic. "Babe, get in the car! Get in the car! Just get in the car, Ruby!!" I frantically search the vehicle for another outfit. Bad Mom of the Year Award Part 2 as I didn't pack a bag for her. Ruby's cranky now. She's hungry. We've driven all this way. She doesn't care that her mother is an insensitive and ignorant asshole. But thankfully, after a few minutes, I finally think to turn her outfit inside out, which does the trick.
I feel sick at dinner. "Oh my God, we've been all over town with her, sis."
I am not only mortified and humiliated at the situation but I'm filled with such guilt and shame at my own hypocrisy. I was literally-- JUST-- waxing poetic about the plight of Native Americans and how unjust it's all been. What a hypocrite!!! And then as a mother... as a MOTHER... I can only imagine the impossibly hard conversation that woman had to have with her daughter when they got in the car. To tell her to expect a lifetime of injustice, insensitivity and ignorance. To have to explain that again and again to a young girl.
We finish dinner and leave the reservation. On the way home, the real kicker occurs to me, like a fog lifting... If it's offensive to dress my daughter in a Thanksgiving outfit on a reservation... why is it okay for her to wear it at home? My higher self whispers, "IT'S NOT, AMANDA." That truth landed like a swinging 2x4. There's a lot of truth to unpack here.
And that was the day we visited the Cherokee reservation.
You guys... I don't have the answers. I wish I did. The only thing I DO know is that apathy changes nothing for hurting people. And is a devastated, unjust world one that I want to raise a daughter in? Of course not if I can help it. But what hypocrisy is it that I want her to love others as herself, being kind and gracious to people as we pass them but then not caring about what conditions they've been raised in or where they're told to go home to? There is no other word for it.
Again, I don't have the answers. And I definitely don't feel educated or qualified enough to be any kind of 'voice' here, nor is that the goal. (Nor should I be as a white person). But as I do post more on these kinds of topics, I hope that you'll read these blogs. Solely for the purpose of white people holding ourselves accountable. Because we're not. We're not, we're not. I imagine "a little less talk and a lot more action."
But in the meantime... Thanksgiving.
I know for most of us it is a day of gratitude, spending time with family, etc. But I hope we can all take a moment to honor and think about the other perspective of how it really came to be... We are not the gracious white saviors our art depicts...
So for a moment, if you'll do me a favor... Leaving your 'yeah, yeah, yeahs' at the door. It's just too easy. REALLY imagine for me...
Your family gathered around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow. Everyone is happy and eating. There is laughter. Suddenly, some kind of team bursts through the door and windows. They round up everyone in your family in whatever they have on and force them outside. They've done the same to your neighbors. Imagine them all being made to walk hundreds of miles to a new undisclosed location. Your children, your grandparents, crazy Uncle Larry... no food, no water for weeks... Imagine being relocated to a patch of land you know nothing about, with no houses, no shelter in the freezing cold. Imagine the weakest of your loved ones dying along the way. Imagine the provisions you were promised showing up months after the fact, or not at all. Imagine how that would feel a week later. A month later. Years later. 200 years later. Imagine that stretch of land getting smaller and smaller as promises are continually broken. Imagine how it would feel to be called lazy, addicted and ungrateful. Imagine how it would feel to be hated. Imagine how it would feel to see a happy, well fed kid on your property wearing an outfit celebrating the most horrible day of your history, an era of bloodshed and loss, while you're standing next to your daughter. Imagine having to explain to a 12 year old girl why it is still important to go on living despite all that's been done to you and your ancestors. Repeatedly.
This whole blog feels futile... it really does. But this experience made me think deeply. I will never, EVERRRR forget the centuries-deep pain in that woman's eyes. Ever. But it was a wake up call for me and I'm going to do my best to be learning. Learning who I want to be with my time on this planet. Learning the kind of mother I want to be... the daughter I want to raise... As white people, we've already left quite the legacy. I'd like to be a part of a different one that in the next 200 years will tell a different story.
So between the pie making and green bean casserole, if we can take a moment to really think about what that might personally look like for us, maybe we might see a shift in our perception in some tiny way. Maybe the tiniest of shifts within ourselves can be the tiniest of shifts collectively. Maybe that will create the tiniest of sparks... where maybe we might see a smidge of illumination. Illumination to a bit of change. I know that feels hopeless but what I'm asking of us is soooo very little in the grand scheme of our past, truly.
Let us please take a minute today for a different perspective during our 'Happy Thanksgiving.' And there will be more coming soon. Thanks for reading.
P.S. Please expect me to really put my foot in it as I traverse new knowledge and new paths. I'm not afraid of looking ignorant. I'm afraid of staying that way. xoxo