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Ancient Heritage, Modern Life

As my family has grown, so has my fierce feeling of connection with my Native American ancestors. I am 25 percent Nanticoke, making me a member of the tribe, and almost another 25 percent Cherokee. My entire Native American heritage comes from my dad’s side. Every year, as a sort of tradition, my father; usually my mother; I; and now my sister and brother, go to a pow-wow that visits Rockville once a year. There is music, dancing, food, stories, crafts, and things to buy. I have watched as, as time has passed, my sister was added to the group attending the pow-wow, and as recently my brother was added to the masses.

I remember when I was probably about five or six, when my dad took me to the pow-wow; mom had to stay home. It is my first memory of going. I remember my excitement as I walked into the large room filled with chanting, jingling, chatter, and laughter. The whole room was vibrating with each beat of the drum, and I remember wanting to go dance, do crafts, and beg dad to buy something for me—all at the same time! I settled for bouncing in my chair as I watched the dancers dance out in the little cleared area which was centered almost perfectly in the middle of the room. After a little while, I began to ask my dad about the flags hung around the room, and discovered there was one for each tribe. They were full of reds, oranges, and yellows. I pestered him, asking which flag went with which tribe. Eventually, he and I found the Cherokee flag. At the time, I knew nothing of the “Trail of Tears,” or even that the Cherokee people were well-known. Even without that knowledge, though, I felt a surge of pride that I could be traced back to these people. We quickly began searching for a Nanticoke flag. I still distinctly remember my feeling of anger when it turned out it was not there. I wondered why one tribe could be considered more important than another. Were they not equal in greatness? Were the other tribes better? I worried little about these questions, for, as I realize now, deep down I knew every tribe was equal, no matter how big or small, or whatever the problem was. That flag, though, has been a reference point for me when I realize I’m being too arrogant or I’m feeling down. I recognize I’m not any better than anyone, just as no one is much better than me. We are all equal.

Many years later, when my sister was about three and I was about eleven, both my dad and my mom took us to the annual pow-wow. We walked in and my sister, ever the impatient, active one, began to hurry around, taking in the sights, sounds, and, of course, activities she could participate in. I remember laughing a little to myself as I sat down to watch the dancing; it has always been my favorite part. The dancers left the cleared area, and the speaker began talking about the Native American music, specifically the drums. The drums were huge, and many men sat around each one. They each had one large drum stick that they beat on the drum in a pattern. The speaker told the listeners that to drum at an event, you not only had to be a man, you had to be serious; you had to come to the drum in the right state of mind. I remember thinking of my sister and my reaction to her. What did the drummers do if something was funny? Did they, could they, truly have that much self-control? Now that I play the drums and have my own set, I also wonder how they managed to reign in that surreal passion that resounds with each whack. This memory reminds me that self-control that far surpasses anything I am capable of does exist; it reminds me not to think there is no other option when I blow up at a family member, particularly my sister.

Two years later, the final member of my family came to be, my brother. We took him to his first pow-wow when he was about two months old. We walked in and I felt the same weightless feeling I always felt for just a second right when I walked in. My sister immediately exclaimed, “Come on, Daddy! Let’s go do arts n’ crafts!” and took off running. My mom wheeled the stroller with my brother over next to a chair. I sat down next to her, alternating between watching my brother and watching the dancing. He was fascinated. He couldn’t possibly have been able to see the dancing, but even just the music kept him happy. I thought about how my family had grown and changed, and how much we all loved one another. After thinking about this for a bit, I realized with a start that it was not a bad analogy for how my internal connection with my ancestors has morphed and helped me in my day-to-day life. My ancient heritage has helped mold my modern life.




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