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A return to roots

August 11, 2010

Mom and her Uncle Henry

Mom is excited to see the Indian parts of Alaska. She was born in the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community, on the shore of Lake Superior in the upper peninsula of Michigan, a member of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) tribe.

Our plan in Ketchikan is to go to Totem Bight park, with replica totem poles and a clan house. While not the authentic deal, the poles were duplicated from worn originals, and are said to be really nice. The setting of the totems, scattered among paths in the park, seem like a wonderfully relaxing way to pass some time.

We’ll have about eight hours in Sitka. We’ll  go to the national historical park, where there are demonstrations of native crafts, more totems, and other exhibits. We also plan on catching a performance by Tlingit dancers of the Sitka tribe.

Last fall, Charlie and I took Mom to the NY State Fair and its Indian Village. The Fair was a yearly ritual when I was growing up, and the dancing at the Indian Village was a yearly must-see. It was one of the few ways I recall Mom connecting with her heritage.

I remember one story she told (though my memory may be faulty after all these years) is that she and her family would go to the cemetery and spend the day picnicking among the graves of relatives. It seems there were longhouses mentioned in the story; perhaps the graves had miniature longhouses built over them. I’ll have to ask her for clarification. In fact, I’d like to coax her into sharing more about her childhood and her family while we’re on our trip.

When I was in junior high or thereabouts, we took a family trip to Mom’s hometown. It was summer, probably July, and my main memory was how cold Lake Superior was! No swimming for us on that vacation.

Last Christmas, Mom told a story about how she and a girlfriend were playing on a bay of the lake in the winter, and two boys asked if they wanted to go somewhere on the other shore of the bay, far off in the distance.  Mom and her friend declined, and the boys set off across the frozen bay as Mom watched their figures get smaller and smaller. The boys were never seen again; at some point, they fell through the ice and, in the lyrics of The Edmund Fitzgerald, “Superior never gives up her dead.”

The only other memory I have of that trip is my Dad trying to find out where Mom’s aunt’s house was. It had been decades since Mom had been back, and nothing looked that same. He pulled off the road and stopped a young, very Indian-looking boy who was running along the road. It turned out that the boy was a cousin of ours, and led us to the house. It was odd to realize that there were numerous relatives we had never known about, and vice versa. I wonder now what the people in this small, rural, primarily Indian town thought about us back then: a long-gone native daughter, with three daughters of her own in tow, two of them most decidedly non-Indian-looking. This is me, guess I take after my dad:

Curly-girl me

 

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From → Alaska, Mom stories

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