Now my mailbox is 3/4 of a mile from my house. It has never been any closer, but for a number of years it was another 3/4 of a mile farther.
For the last half year the mailbox is the way I connect with the wider world. Each day I long to see what kind of "good mail" lies inside. Good mail? Mail from a friend, or actually any real person. A few days ago a nice packet arrived absolutely stuffed with seeds from Virginia from a fellow Woman Accelerator. It will be awhile before any of these get used, but the plan is to kickstart spring by planting some in containers before winter ends.
What came a few days earlier is a book I don't want to finish reading, but can't put it down. June Taylor surprised me with the Louis Erdrich novel The Night Watchman and every page takes me back to the cold winters spent in South Dakota, though the action in the book takes place with the Chippewa.
The story is old, Indians fighting for their rights against the US Government, this time it was to try to stop the Termination of the tribes in 1953, with policies to end the federal government's recognition of sovereignty. The government wanted to end any responsibility they had for tribes and implement relocation as a policy to move Indians into the cities for training and for jobs, so they would become self sufficient.
In other words, the government proved to be the ultimate "Indian Giver" first taking lands, giving land, then taking that, too.
Ottawa County had tribes on that termination list.
What happened here during that era? Who spoke up, how did they fight for their tribes? Were these efforts reported? Where do we look? The Miami NewsRecord, of course: The Moccasin Telegraph, the column written weekly by Velma Niebering about the Indian doings in the area. Collections of her columns were later bound and I am on a quest to find them.
The reinstatement occurred in 1978, the year I began working as the Indian Counselor at Will Rogers Junior High School. The tribal leaders had their hands full, putting their tribal governments back together and making decisions to shape the future for their individual tribal nations. They were diplomats, businessmen, traditionalists and when you were in the room with them, you knew there was great strength and a bravery they must have learned when young that carried them through the changes they had to face and the responsibilities they were shouldering.
Perhaps that emerging pride in tribal heritage is why our Indian Club membership grew every year. Their interests varied, but always included a quest to learn more about their own tribal ways.
June Taylor's son Joby was involved in our Indian Club and became one of our dance team members, along with the new AARP Recognized leader George Briscoe, Aaron Cusher, David Coyne and many others too numerous to list here. Basing back to our culture was sometimes hard because of another US government program: Indian schools.
For our family, it was the Cherokee Female Seminary where my grandmother and her sisters went to school. She learned Latin, chemistry, physics gained a love for opera and became a lady, leaving her native language there like many who later attended the federal Indian schools did.
My friend Jon Sixkiller got to go to Seneca Indian School as a young boy after his father died and left his mother with her hands full with little children. He was really excited to go, so he could learn to be a "Real Indian." though he was already a real Indian who spoke only his native language. Disappointment came when what he came away knowing was how to make his bed so he could bounce a quarter on it.
I think about him often as I struggle to expand words in my Cherokee vocabulary. But remember how he and his mother kept the language alive by writing letters to each other totally using the Cherokee syllabary. Letters he couldn't wait to find in his mailbox.
... So I have been using the mailbox to stay connected with friends and family.
All summer, I wrote to children, printing or writing in my best cursive, and almost always when they returned their letters to me, they brightened my day because there inside, they always drew a picture. How do kids know to do that? And why don't we link back to our artistic selves and share something we create?
The holidays are coming and with it, the mailbox is going to be our conduit to our loved ones as we postpone Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings to protect these precious ones from COVID19. I am already planning what goes out and hoping for "good mail."
Hoping you get some, too!
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim