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So, another Thanksgiving in Indian Country, Essex…

November 25, 2011

‘This engraving is the only known portrait of Pocahontas rendered from life. During her stay in England, Dutch engraver Simon van de Passe captured her likeness and recorded that she, like the artist himself, was 21 years old. It was the first of many depictions of Pocahontas intended to demonstrate that a Native American could adopt the demeanor of a “civilized” European. The Virginia Company—backers of the Jamestown settlement—likely commissioned the engraving with this in mind, hoping to attract more colonists and investors.’ Source.

On the right, “Pocahontas Unmasked” by Rose Powhatan (Pamunkey/Tauxenent). That still doesn’t look much like any coastal Virginia people I have seen, but she can have her tattoos. 😉 And a smile.

So, another Thanksgiving in Indian Country, Essex.

I meant to write something to post today about community, diaspora, and identity–coming from a cultural complex which places a lot of emphasis on family, community, and place–with the inevitable side dish of disability complicating things further. But, I have been continuing with the low (though gradually increasing) energy and trouble wrapping words around what I want to say.

But, I will say that it still feels particularly weird spending the Thanksgiving holiday living in Greater London, of all places, totally away from family and as the only human in the house. And I am almost glad that Mr. U headed off to Edinburgh earlier today, so I don’t feel nearly as compelled to either try to keep a stiff upper lip or have him witness and probably get worried about the little emotional storms. Suppressing it is not really going to help, so I am having a day with spells of grieving and anger, both from personal PTSD and thinking about the effects of multigenerational/historical trauma that helped create it and lead me to join the diaspora. It’s hard to sort out the personal from the multigenerational, and it is indeed all political at the same time.

I am glad in a way that I have been as socially isolated in meatspace lately as I have been, in part because of not having to deal with well-meaning questions about what I’m doing for Thanksgiving, and am I flying home? There’s been no need this year to try to come up with a truthful but non-confrontational-sounding explanation for people who further ask why I don’t want to celebrate. (I guess I could just use an abrupt “my mother is dead” now, for why I’m not celebrating with family, but that’s really no better.)

I also keep thinking about the need for reclaiming/reviving/even totally inventing our own holidays out from under the American/British cultural mythologies and Christian hegemony. Though, ha, decolonization is not just for the holidays! 😉 If you don’t want to do the common public holidays, what do you have left?! This is also complicated not just by most of the traditional festivals being very tied to place and climate (Green Corn in Britain, where I haven’t even wanted to try growing any corn and am part of no larger community celebrating?), but by having married someone from a very different cultural background. Nobody in the house is a theist, and his choosing not to celebrate helped break me of the Christmas habit and guilt–but it doesn’t seem right to either celebrate things alone to great extent, or to try to get him celebrating “holidays” that aren’t his either. (The term is even coming out of Christian hegemony.) Even if he did, totally on his own, choose to have a kilt made in one of my family’s tartans for our wedding. Which I still find touching.

Mr. U, with the "Best Man". Mostly because I think he's cute in a kilt. 😉

I have to think again about the divide-and-conquer way in which some other people from Native backgrounds have been taught to look down on people like me–in a very non-traditional manner–because of my (actualy classic type of) coloring, because my family comes from a Non-Treaty background (other than the “Powhatan Federation” and Trail of Tears refugees), because I also honor the Gaelic and other portions of my heritage (including the West African bits *gasp*), because I needed to move away from home and family (for whatever reasons), and because I did marry a fine man who happens to be Swedish (coming out of mostly matrilineal cultures that did a lot of not-so-disruptive exogamy, sometimes out of necessity after the invasions).

I am also glad in a way not to be spending the day in the usual–already overwhelming–extended family gathering, and having to keep my mouth shut and unilaterally try to get along with people who have learned to behave in some pretty lousy ways which would not have been even vaguely acceptable before all the forced assimilation. I am glad not to have to listen without contradicting my emotionally abusive grandmother while she says all kinds of (internalized/horizontal) racist, homophobic, and just generally hateful xenophobic honestly emotional empathy-free stuff, since dementia has lowered her inhibitions. (She was no doubt thinking it before, but did not feel free to say it. Much, at least.) I am glad not to hear her get fixated again on how trashy and horrible my grandfather’s whole not-passing-well family was, largely because they were (*gasp*!) Tutelo/Tsalagi in culture. I am glad not to have to listen to my trained-by-grandma uncle* go on about illegal immigrants, and watch him fight cognitive dissonance over any number of topics–while we are not supposed to notice how much he’s drinking, much less consider that this might be a problem. Overall, I am glad not to just have to suck it all up lest I be cast as The Grinch Who Refuses To Pass and identify as an “Indian descendant”, who insists on ruining things for everyone else with my lack of enthusiasm for celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in the first place. And I am not yet over worrying that somebody will jump on me over such unflattering but AFAICT true observations. No wonder I used to have to pop Xanax like candy to get through some occasions…

And that is all both personal and political, as well.

This year, I am less physically up to cooking a big dinner to celebrate on my own terms like last year, though I wasn’t really up to it then either. And I can just imagine most of the ancestors I’d be trying to honor saying, “Go lie down! You’re not doing anybody any good, hurting yourself like that. Shoo!” And I am on my own, other than the animals. But, I will make some (no sugar!) hot water cornbread to share with the dog and bake half a small butternut squash to go with leftover October beans from the fridge for my supper, and maybe burn some cedar (which behaves rather differently in Eastern traditions I know of.) That will have to do.

(Later: Actually, he wanted some of everything, including the beans and squash. As long as I hand-fed him morsels. 🙂 The cats weren’t even trying to beg food off me.)

On the ancestors front, here is an interview with my Nana (my late, other grandmother), from an oral history project. No doubt she got interviewed because half the community knew her as Granny Bunce. The first time I read through it several years ago, there was too much grief to pay much attention to what she was saying (and not saying, trying to be polite), but I may come back to some of it later. Partly from the perspective that this is a kind of womanhood I really don’t mind being assumed to identify with.

I was going for a reprise of “Trail of Tears“, but here’s an appropriate song for the day, on a more positive note, which just came up on random mp3 play, with excellent timing:

“Bill Miller performs Praises at NMAI’s Living Earth Festival on August 7, 2010. He’s joined on stage by Derek Miller.”
Source. And lyrics (English version only, I’m afraid).


* On one occasion, I was absolutely gobsmacked and heartbroken when he referred to Native people as “Them”–in a defensive “They were just as bad as We were/are” context–while looking through one of my books on Southeastern artwork. I believe immigrants and learning to speak languages were involved there, as well. When his own father could have been the model for this portrait, to the point that I initially wondered what was up with my Papaw and the turban (alasdulo, actually–from a rather good graphics-based Cherokee WOTD site).

"SEQUOYAH (1770?-1843) by Henry Inman (1801 1846), after Charles Bird King"

Yep, there are a lot of topics best avoided there, largely because I love him dearly. And did I mention that I have younger cousins growing up with these ideas? I also can’t help but think again about my Papaw feeling like he needed to continue living with someone who openly looked down on his whole background and family, and who otherwise emotionally abused everybody around her. That makes me want to cry.

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