While NPR's "We Shall Remain" throws much-needed and appreciated focus on Native American history and issues, watching the series causes me to reflect even more on my shrouded heritage and mysterious paternal grandfather, Roy House (there at left). He was from Oklahoma but died in 1925 in El Paso in a train accident. Neither my dad (his son) nor I or my brother ever heard much about Roy.
He claimed he was French-Canadian. How many of those did one find in Hugo, Okla., back around 1917? My great-grandfather, Dr. Hale of nearby Boswell, Okla., simply referred to Roy as an "indian," I learned from oral family history. There was no other way to know Roy's family history. Not many documents exist, and that's the way they wanted it. That was safely distanced from the dangers of being identified as Native American.
My mother's side of the family, at least in terms of my Jackson County, Ala.-born maternal grandmother, was just as evasive about Cherokee heritage. I don't know whether Grandfather Roy was Cherokee, but that was the unspoken genealogy on my mom's side. And my maternal grandmother used to grab me when I was little and try to shake a "reality" into me whenever I asked about our "Indian blood." "We are black Dutch," she would hiss. Portuguese? Right. I had a friend, a full-blood Choctaw from the Choctaw rez, who laughed when I told him that. "My grandfather used to tell us that we were black Dutch. Never knew what that meant," he said, "until I read your article about it."
I wish I could sit with my Grandfather Roy and my great-great grandparents in North Carolina and talk about our grandmothers long past and our grandfathers and hear their stories. "We Shall Remain" stirs those longings. Too bad the mainstream news media only care about Native Americans now and then.