The simple side:
My Great Grandmother was Cherokee. She was my dad’s grandmother. She was of superhero status with us. She saved my father’s life, raised him, and was an all-round badass who lived only a few years less than my longest living first-generation-away grandparent. So that’s the story of my simple Native American relative.
Here’s Henry Nail, the not-so-simple one:
“that noble and appreciative people”
And that’s where it all gets fucked up. Now, obviously, for this white man to be my relative, as he is, means also that his wife and their children are also my relatives. And there’s nothing in my personal understanding of my history that in any fucking way corresponds to the overbearing and unavoidable unspoken words of American history in regards to President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act, that genocidal stain which led to the Trail of Tears, and which here leads to the unmistakable understanding that somehow in this telling my Great Uncle Nail’s contribution wasn’t about his fight to save those who he clearly considered to be his people, including his wife, his children, and their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other wise men and women of the tribe he had come to lead. Nor was it a reflection of what that tribe – my ancestors – had taught him about respect for Elders and the long wisdom of The Old Ones – all those things which led him to the conviction that he wanted nothing at all to do with those who would strip his people of their Forever Home. Or the deep love and respect which led him to reject any and all benefits that the white men wanted to confer upon him to get him to turn against his own tribe.
Instead, the genocidal assholes leaving the record cast upon him the aspersions of somehow doing my Native relatives – those who are as much, if not, technically, more, my blood – a favor.
And that is because to leave any impression that my Uncle Nail refused any and all benefits offered to him by dint of being a white man because he was ashamed of his own race is not something the white men wanted considered in their history books. Nor something they were willing to consider at the time.
But imagine how my uncle felt.
Of course he didn’t want special privileges for being white.
It’s a thoroughly disgusting thought.
More on this to come, as the MVSKOGEE Tribe debates –right now – how to distinguish who should be granted the small benefits of being conferred the status of Native American going forward… the history of those to whom this country rightfully belongs is reasserting itself.
But know this, my Great Uncle Henry Nail did not feel as if his chiefdom was built on charity.
Because it wasn’t.
Instead, he always understood the great and terrible honor on his shoulders as the first white Choctaw Chief in a time when the White Man drove his people from their land in one of the greatest known greed-driven genocidal massacres in human history.
Acting like he was somehow doing the Choctaws a favor by serving in the honored roll of chief mistakes the tragedy, helplessness, and ultimately the deep shame he had to live with for the rest of his life as some kind of charity, when no human would consider the wholesale massacre of his family and his people as a charitable endeavor.
It’s time we, as a country, looked at this.
How has there never been dramatic rendering of this incredible – and awful – shared historical irony? This irony and shame that clawed its way into the very heart of our shared American history…