Arapaho Great-Great-Grandparents: International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

By Malkia Charlee NoCry
Feminist Philosophy Editor
9th August 2012, 19:45 GMT

1893 – Two Arapaho women and child

Today marks the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.  The day, only 16 years old, was put into effect by UN Resolution 49/214 on the 23 December 1994. After many decades of diligent global activism, demanding the Human Rights of Indigenous People are heard and their culture, language and society is recognized (sometimes termed the “Fourth World”).

This is a day of celebration, from years of marginalization and silence by the colonial invaders who committed genocide and further propagated isolation and stemmed progress through segregation, robbery and systematic destruction of their culture and rights.

I am a Black woman. I hold this true, because my culture and my identity is shaped from an African-American vantage point. My father is a jazz musician. My mother is a Black poet. I grew up reading The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes. So my Arapaho ancestry is something that I don’t often think about.

1980s Arapaho Woman

My Great-Great-Grandparents on my mother’s side were named Charles and Alice Wilson were of ambiguous race. Charles, an extremely fair-skinned man with blue eyes, and Alice, quite brown (but just brown) with long hair that she often “sat on”. They died when my Great-Grandmother was quite young – 8 years which could have been around 1908  or 1909.  All we know about them is they were Arapaho, Native American and somehow they got to Baltimore, Maryland in the early 1900s.

Since then, Great-Grandmother a light brown woman with curly hair, lived a life as any African-American motherless child would. Elizabeth Mae Wilson-Kennedy (just Kennedy once married) scrubbed marble stairwells and watched babies at ages that I was sitting around eating cereal and watching cartoons. She married an educated waiter who worked at a gentlemen s’ club, and they had a daughter. Living in the segregated North, in the 20s she saw The Nat King Cole Trio and Billie Holiday, and could be caught ducking under tables in restaurants so her boyfriend’s wouldn’t know she’d gone out with the girls. My Great-Grandmother was a well-known and well-liked woman in the community – the African-American community where many Native American’s fled to escape the persecution and constant resettlement by the colonialists.

Indigenous Woman in traditional dress (notice the picture is labelled “squaw” – a derogatory term for Native American Women).

In the United States, Columbus Day (October 12th every year) is the day many Indigenous activists seek to rename  “Native American Day“. With Columbus’s “discovery” came the assassination of my people – my Native American and African people. My Arapaho blood… sometimes I can feel my limbs hurting, my soul bleeding for all I don’t know about me. Charles and Alice… was that even their names? What were their parents like? How should I honour this day? I am what is left of that line…

I hold on to this truth… “If we wonder often, the gift of knowledge will come.” – Arapaho Proverb.

This day is a very important day. It is the culmination of activism over decades, over centuries to allow the autonomy, the sanctity and the sovereignty of nations of people whose lives, livelihood and culture were raped and robbed from them. This day is a victory, a victory for those who didn’t believe they would see this day come.

Or died before this day could come.

Word’s can not describe how I feel to see the UN acknowledge my people. This years theme: “Indigenous Media, Empowering Indigenous Voices”.  We should take this initiative to heart, write about our culture, publish those who know their past and record our future.

Arapaho craftswomen – James W Schultz photographic collection, 10 Montana State University Libraries

I will end this with a poem by Kamaria Muntu, one in which she wrote for her ancestors.

We are all still searching. But I can guarantee, what I do know I cherish.

And will pass on.

Oh Indigenous that is My Blood
~ For Leonard Peltier
By Kamaria Muntu ©

Caught the vapour in my own profile
There are beads of reason here
The scent howls up mountains
Through caves
Like your brother the wolf
Walked across a limb of water he did
A splinter of time
Borne in the legacy of doves and frost
A beautiful place
Before the siege of what;
What inhuman eats and sweats and frets as we do?
We have yet to comprehend the funerary tribe

Caught you there my gone grandmothers of twilight
My sloping breasts became as yours, feathered shell
I was called to the lodge
The down daze moving against winter and spring sweets
I will not inherit your fragrant masses
Your soil spackled in brave and tender hearts
Land and people of my soul, kindred and relation
I do not come to love lightly, the timbre of my words
Shake the forest
Visions swell my eyes where Eagles claw our collective dying
We are here again with you
They are coming again with their Jesus and germs
Swastikas, camps and very large guns

May we see this time arrows in the hands of ghost-dancers
May we righteously defend one another
Or scale to the fire of your curses?
Reprinted with permission from “This Peace of Place”, Coal Publishing, 2012.

Big Fox – Arapaho man, 1898

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