Indigenous Peoples Day seems as good a day as any for this particular post.
Ask me who are you? Where does your family come from?
Me answering at age 7: “I’m a real mutt. I’m British, and German, and Cherokee, and Scottish, and Irish and just all mixed up!” Yeah – I was sort of an ignorant dope back then. But I learned a bit. Maybe.
Me answering at say age 27: “My family is primarily from Great Britain – especially Wales but also Scotland and Scots-Irish, with some German and Sioux mixed in for good measure.” Somewhere between ages 7 and 27, I learned my family history did not include the Trail of Tears, but rather our mysterious ancestor, for whom we have only a name, was part of the Plains people.
Me at age (lets just blur this out because I like denial) “Let’s take a DNA test and find out for sure. That would be cool.”
So I did. After seeing all those commercials of people discovering their heritage, taking fun vacations, or buying new hats, or learning new dance moves, I wanted to know what adventures could be found in my spit. This seemed particularly important, after a third or fourth or some cousin did one that had a surprising result and led my family to question what we had been told about one of our forebears.
My results are in. Ancestry will not invite me to make a commercial. I am boring. My ethnicity is overwhelmingly Great British. My German shows up as a “low confidence region” of Western Europe and clocks in at 2%. My “Native American” DNA heritage clocks in as zero, which is the same percent as European Jewish, Russian, Middle East, African, Chinese, and pretty much everything else.
In the commercials, people are delighted to discover new backgrounds. I did find one. The test came back a high confidence of an 8% heritage from Italy/Greece. One of those Roman soldiers must have gotten bored whilst invading England in the first century. Those kinds of trysts happened, so it’s not much of a surprise. Unlike the commercial-people, my DNA test shut doors of possibility.
2017 is the first year that Indigenous Peoples Day is not part of my personal genetic heritage. Most years, I had given thought to that bit of my past and wished I knew more about the indigenous part of my heritage. I wondered where “my people” had come from, what sort of housing they slept in, and what sort of beadwork the matriarch created. I bemoaned not knowing that part of myself and had wondered if I would have a richer, fuller life if I could connect with the indigenous part of my heritage. As it turns out, there is nothing to know – only a hollow where my curiosity once lay.
I’m embarrassed for the times I have misrepresented myself out of ignorance, and I hope my transgressions will be forgiven. I can only hope that what was once empathy stemming from vague sense of being part of the indigenous story will transfer in empathy for fellow human beings who have a rich heritage that all Americans should acknowledge and respect.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I should probably look up a good recipe for bubble and squeak, whatever that is.