I’ve often wondered if children today still carry on the old Thanksgiving tradition of dressing up like Pilgrims and Indians, as many still refer to Native people.
I can remember doing so and especially the year or two when I had a pair of black shoes with buckles that snapped on. You could take the same pair of shoes but have different sets of snap on buckles which would then work with any number of outfits you had. This particular pair of buckles were silver squares with black belt like centers. Perfect Pilgrim shoes as far as I was concerned.
As children we were taught so many different concepts between we and them, us and they, folks like us and folks different from us. For the life of me I’ll never understand why so much time and effort was put into teaching those concepts. But with that in mind, when it would come time to dress up for Thanksgiving; it always fell to my mind that I was a Pilgrim. You know, those people who came from England, who settled at Plymouth Rock and who invited the Indians over for dinner.
I was recently told that my great, great, great grandmother was Cherokee. When a person is given information that they are Cherokee, there is a good chance it could be true, especially those of us whose ancestry in the Midwest goes back several generations through areas along the Trail of Tears. In my case it came from a family member who would know, so I have no doubt. But as a general rule, if a person were to find this out through a careful search of their family history; there is a very good chance it is true.
The Cherokee people were the most documented group of Native Americans in our nation’s history. This is due in part to the Trail of Tears with its copious documentation, as well as Cherokee being a people who had their own alphabet and were many times able to read and write thanks to Sequoyah an intellectual leader, teacher and inventor who created the Cherokee alphabet in 1821, and adopted by the Cherokee Council in 1825. Literacy of the Cherokee quickly surpassed that of surrounding European-American settlers and still stands to this day as the only written language created by a then illiterate people.
The news of my ancestry came to me shortly before my husband and I traveled across Oklahoma this fall. No other state in the lower 48 is more associated with Cherokee than is Oklahoma. Stops along the way, called “tourist traps” by my husband, are indeed many times filled with cheap imitations of otherwise true arts and crafts. A little something like a label saying “made in China” is usually the give away.
But having looked on a Route 66 informational guide I knew which stops were historic along the route in their authenticity. One such place had in its most back room, several locked cases. In those were true beaded moccasins, pottery, jewelry, as well as dresses and robes. One look at price tags might make some say “I’m not paying that!” But on closer review one can only imagine the amount of time and effort that went into hand making something that was a true piece of art within itself.
This Thanksgiving will be a very special one for me. For the first time in my life my ancestry will be represented on both sides of the table if you will. This new discovery makes me proud, very proud. In the words of my ancestors I say, “Yigaquu osaniyu adanvto adadoligi nigohilvi nasqur utloyasdi nihi.” Translation, and my wish for all of you this Thanksgiving, may the Great Spirit’s blessing always be with you.