Finding My American Indian DNA

Looking for truth in family lore

american indian wigwam
Perhaps my American Indian ancestors lived in a wigwam

For as long as I can remember the paternal branch of my family tree has related the story of our American Indian heritage. I have always been told that my Great-Grandfather was from an indigenous culture. The mystery, for myself and my father, has always been “what native culture do we belong to?”. Even my paternal Grandmother didn’t know for sure. She traveled to Oklahoma several times, hoping to find the answers.

You might be asking, “Why didn’t she just ask her father?” Well, he was secretive about his heritage. He rarely mentioned his past and even then he was guarded. Typically, he would have a looser tongue after ingesting a great amount of whiskey but even then he would clam up if questioned too much. He did relate that his father told him to stay away from the reservations, they were not good for the people. For a long time we believed that he had run away from a reservation, but now I wonder. We do know that he was terrified that if he told, even his children, where his people were that he would be forced to go back.

For years, my father and I have tried to unravel the mystery. Dad felt certain that our heritage belonged to the Pottawatomie. That never clicked with me, it just didn’t feel right. After years of searching and contemplating, I have been pretty convinced that we probably belong to the Ojibwe family. Well, until recently, that is.

Test Your DNA
dna kit

DNA Confirms American Indian Ancestry

So, just before Christmas the dna testing went on sale. I decided that would be a perfect gift for my father. Just before I hit the button to place the order, I decided, “Oh what the heck, just order two!” The test kits arrived very quickly and I couldn’t wait to get the ball rolling. I went ahead and spit into the tube of one kit and saved the other to give to Dad. My results are back; we are still waiting for Dad’s.

Turns out that the family legend has truth in it. Dad was wrong about the Pottawatomie and I was wrong about being Ojibwe. From the results it looks like we are most likely from the Apache culture. From the area on the map that shows our dna matches it just about has to be correct. There were connections in southwest New Mexico, northwest Texas and the Durango and Chihuahua regions of Mexico. Researching the specific areas on the map found that one culture was common to all of those areas, the Apache. Certainly there were other indigenous peoples in all of those areas but the only one that was in all of them were the Apaches.

I still want to narrow it down further to find out which band of Apache my ancestors belonged to. It could be Lipan, Mescalero or Jicarilla from what I have found so far. I am kind of leaning closer to Mescalero than the others. As for Great-Grandpa escaping a reservation, it might be more sinister than that. He would have been a child when the Apache were moved to reservations. It is extremely possible that he was one of the children who was taken from their family to be adopted by a Caucasian family. That would explain a lot! For one thing why he had a very European name and the other is that there are no records that I have found for him until the day that he married my Great-Grandmother. My search has been narrowed down by a considerable amount.

I will end this post for today but plan to visit the topic again as I find answers to my true American Indian DNA.


Wounded Knee

It has been several decades since I first read about the massacre of American Indians along the creek called Wounded Knee and I have to tell you my heart has always remained heavy over what happened there. My heart is heavy again with a battle that seems to be raging once again in South Dakota over that very piece of land. Maybe I should first tell you what happened back in 1890 then go forward from there.

wounded knee
Chief Spotted Elk Shot At Wounded Knee

The annals of history say this was the last battle of the Indian Wars, but it hardly seems a battle it was more just plain and simple a massacre. The members of a detachment of the US 7th Cavalry had intercepted Spotted Elk with his band of Miniconjue Lakota along with some Hunkpapa Lakota near a butte about 5 miles away from the creek. They marched the Indians to the creek and on December 29, 1890 decided that the Lakota had to be disarmed. There are different accounts of what actually happened that morning but the most repeated one is that a deaf man called Black Coyote could not hear what the soldiers had said. When they tried to take his gun away he began to scuffle with the soldiers. He had paid a lot of money for the gun and did not want to lose it. During the scuffle somehow a shot was fired and the soldiers opened fire on the group. By the time the shooting stopped over 300 people were dead which included innocent women and children. Many from both sides were wounded. A blizzard that lasted three days came about right after this “battle” and the dead were left where they were. The government hired civilians to come back and bury the dead. As if killing all of those Lakota wasn’t disrespectful enough…they decided to bury them in a mass grave!

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

Now we need to back up just a bit in history. The American Indians for the most part had all been herded onto reservations earlier on. In 1887 (some 3 years before Wounded Knee) there was a law or act that had been issued. It is known now as the Dawes Act but is also referred to as the General Allotment Act. It seems that Senator Dawes of Massachusetts and his fellow members of Congress felt that there was a need to assimilate the American Indians into the society of the whites. One way to do that was to allot land to individual Indians and make them promise to live more like the whites…farm, ranch and that sort of thing. The “trick” (and there was always a trick!) was that this also enabled our government to allot land to non-Indians. What they really wanted to do was open up some of the land that had been designated as a reservation to white settlers and business people to be able to live on those lands. Now, is it not odd that in the land of Wounded Knee and the Lakota there is a placed called the Black Hills and there was gold in them thar hills! Tell me that wasn’t the REAL reason for this despicable act of Congress! Long story short, somehow in the mess of all of this a non-Indian was allotted the very land where the Wounded Knee Massacre took place.

Over the course of the decades that have followed the land has been owned by 3 non-Indian families (never once owned by a Lakota) with the last owner having purchased it in 1968 and he is trying to sell it now. This 40 acre tract sits within the Pine Ridge Reservation but is not actually a part of the reservation because it is owned privately. The man, I won’t glorify him by calling him a gentleman, is trying to get somewhere between 3.9 to 4.9 million dollars for land that has been appraised at being worth $7,000. In 1973 there was another incident at Wounded Knee where the members of AIM stood their ground for 71 days. It was a nasty time and during the course of all of it the present owners property was destroyed. I get that he is still angry over what happened in 1973 but I have to ask. Wasn’t the man insured? He should have been! Johnny Depp has publicly said that he is very interested in purchasing this land and giving it back to the Lakota. I really hope that he is successful. Although from what I have read, he won’t be able to just give it to them. It would appear that an act of Congress is needed for that land or any land to be given back to a tribe. So, Mr. Depp if you are able to purchase it, sell it back to the Lakota for $1. That makes it legally transferable, I think. It would cut the red-tape and the Lakota at Pine Ridge could have their land back. To them it is sacred. They can’t afford the outrageous price that the current owner wants but I’ll just bet if something reasonable were offered, they would take it.

It has been around a year since the reports were brought out that Johnny Depp wanted to buy the land and as far as I can see there has been no progress as far as his purchase goes. I also can’t find any information that would indicate that anyone else  has purchased it. Hopefully the right thing will be done no matter who buys the land, we can at least hope.

The Passing of Chief White Eagle

Last week on January 24, 2011 the world lost a good man. Most people knew him as Chief White Eagle but his real name was Basil F. Heath. Born on the Iroquois Indian Grand River Reservation in Canada on March 18, 1917, Heath eventually settled in the United States. His beautiful soul left his human body in Rochester, Indiana.

Before becoming involved in movies, television, and radio Mr. Heath served in WWII and also was an iron worker and welder. His agility in walking on steel beams high in the air eventually got him some stunt work in the movies and then that lead to actual roles. He was known to often quip, “My good friend John Wayne killed me seven times on the screen.” Continue reading The Passing of Chief White Eagle

A Plea For Help For Lakota Children

I am writing today with a plea for help for a cause that I think is most important, Jumping Eagle Safe House needs our help. Most specifically the children who are living at the safe house and Donna and Billy Jumping Eagle who provide the home for children to live in need our help.

The Jumping Eagle Safe House is located on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The Lakota are 7 bands (tribes) that make up one of the 3 major sub-divisions of the Sioux Nation of Native Americans.  Pine Ridge Reservation has been reported to be the poorest area in the United States.

I have recently become a supporter of the  charitable organization One Spirit who have earned the trust of the Lakota with several programs that assist the Lakota people in preserving and revitalizing the Lakota culture, language, and self-sufficiency.  This charity also works at meeting the basic needs of Lakota families, children, and elders. They strive to cultivate an intercultural relationship that recognizes that we are all related (Mitakuye Oyasin) and that Native Americans are an equal and valued part of our society. One Spirit is a group of volunteers which means that no one gets a salary from the donations that are made…it all goes to meet their mission statement and actually provide real help and support.  I don’t know about you but that really means something to me to know that!

Donna and Billy Jumping Eagle provide a safe haven for up to 20 Lakota kids to live when it is not safe for them to stay at home on the Pine Ridge Reservation. These children have different reasons for being there. It might be that there is no room left at their family home, it might be from their environment being riddled with alcohol or drug abuse, it might be that there is violence at their family home. At Jumping Eagle Safe House the children are loved and kept safe. They are encouraged and required to attend school. They are encouraged to keep in contact with their parents. The kids have not been removed from their homes by a social agency and the parents are fully aware of where they are and can have contact with them, in fact, it is encouraged. The kids are taught about horses which is an integral part of their Native American and Sioux culture. They are visited by Elders and taught the oral traditions that they need to know.

Here is my plea to you today; Donna, Billy, and these children need our help. One Spirit has pledged to build a dormitory for Jumping Eagle Safe House. This summer children from the ages of 10 to 17 were sleeping on the deck, in abandoned cars, and under trees at the house. Winter is coming and some of the kids will have to sleep on the floor in sleeping bags provided by One Spirit. As much as Donna, Billy, and One Spirit have done to help these kids the conditions need to be better. One Spirit wants to make that happen. There are no State, Federal, or even Tribal funds that go to Jumping Eagle Safe House! Our donations can help to get the dormitory built.  A donor/supporter has agreed to match the money donated up to $40,000 so there is a potential to raise $80,000 to build the dormitory.

I know times are rough for most of us right now, it is even harder for these kids. No donation is too small to offer your support for this project. A $5 donation becomes $10 – a $25 donation becomes $50 due to the generosity of the matching donor. You can visit the website of One Spirit and make your donation through PayPal or get the address to send a check.

~Mitakuye Oyasin~ We are all related

I also want to note that the image of children in this post is not from the Safe House, it was a public domain photo that so appropriately was titled…The future of Pine Ridge Reservation.

Calvin Begay Native American Jewelry Maker

One of the award winning Native American jewelry makers of today is Calvin Begay. This designer and master craftsman was born in Gallup, New Mexico in 1965.

Calvin’s mother and uncle taught him the art of jewelry making. At age 10, he designed his first piece. Calvin Begay has become a true master in every aspect of the design and manufacture of Native American silver jewelry. The Gallup Inter Tribal Ceremonial has bestowed many awards to Calvin including Best of Show in 1989. Arizona Highways and Southwest Art have featured his jewelry in their magazines.

I love Calvin Begay jewelry, most especially his inlay work. He takes traditional techniques to a new level by creating flowing and contemporary styles. His choice of materials blend so harmoniously and fluidly making a piece of art to wear and treasure for its beauty.

The Calvin Begay Jewelry pictured here is only one of his designs. I love the combination of turquoise, lapis-lazuli, and sugilite mixing together to form what looks to me like a bird in flight. The pendant is worked in 14K gold instead of the traditional silver.

There is powerful medicine in the gemstones that Calvin used for this pendant. The lapis-lazuli will open your mind to the knowing that you are a part of “All That Is”, the awakening to the perfection of the self.  Turquoise is associated with the male energy of protection and wisdom.  Many believe that turquoise aids in protection by absorbing negative energy away from you.  Sugilite is one of the most important love stones. Spiritual love and wisdom is represented through its rich purple rays.  Wearing a piece of jewelry with these particular gemstones provides strong and loving medicine.

Had you thought of the Native American Totems that are incorporated into the jewelry made by artists like Calvin Begay and the jewelry makers of the past and present? Each stone has a traditional meaning with its own type of medicine.

~Mitakuye Oyasin~ We are all related