An experience from my childhood had the most powerful impact for me in relation to Native people. First, I would like to say that the term used to describe all the indigenous people in the U.S. isn't accurate at all, and it causes huge arguments within the communities. Some like American Indian, some like Native American, but the majority identify themselves as "the people" and with their individual tribal name, such as Lakota, Apache, Comanche, Shoshone, etc. These people were mistakenly given the name "Indian" - they are not from India, are they? I think anyone born in the U.S. is a Native American. For this story I'll use American Indian as a general term since I don't have an exact tribal reference for use.

When I was young, maybe around 5 years old, my family went to Apple Valley, CA for a vacation. This is a place in the San Bernardino mountains - quite remote - several hours' drive from Los Angeles. (Yes, it is known for its apples and every year there are apple festivals still going on up there.) This was back in the mid-1950s. The local Indian American tribes would come to the Inn and do a powow for guests in this outdoor ampitheatre. When I saw them I was immediately drawn to them. I started dancing along with them. Afterward their performance, I kept dancing. The "chief" came over to me, this little white-haired, blue-eyed girl who felt she was an Indian. I stopped dancing, feeling a little embarrassed. He sat down with me and looked into my eyes. He nodded and smiled and I don't remember all of vocal words he spoke to me, but I recall the message he gave me - which was more telepathic, and that was that he recognized family in me and that there would always be a connection between us. He did express that he was surprised, impressed and pleased that I was the only one who had danced with them. He asked me why I had done that. I shrugged my shoulders and said something like, "I liked it - it felt good." I looked right into the eyes of that man and felt he was my grandfather. I wanted to stay with him and the tribe.

When my mom wanted me to behave properly, she used to threaten me with selling me to the Indians or Gypsies. Not a very cool way to talk with an adopted daughter, or any child, for that matter, but that was the bizarre thinking of that generation. That was to be the great fear to be sold to these savage people. In my case, I always found that to be an exciting possibility and wished she had sold me to the Indians. lol

From that moment, when I was confronted with that "chief," I knew that somehow, sometime in my life I would be involved in Native American issues, I remembered in past lives I had been an Indian. I knew that I had something to say about American Indians and one day would do so. As young as I was, I knew that it would be interesting to see how this would develop, me not being an American Indian in this life - and it has proven to be an interesting challenge. After that powow, I made my parents buy me some ankle bells to wear so I could dance at home like the Indians did.

Later on in my life, by the time I was in my mid-30s, I had read dozens of books on American Indians, visited reservations, participated in powows, and was into spirituality. I went back to school for my Masters Degree in American Indian Studies.

© Copyright 2003, Estelle Nora Harwit Amrani
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