Truth and Reconciliation

It’s Truth and Reconciliation Day today, in Canada. A new holiday, for an old injustice. Not that old, in some ways; the last residential school only closed its doors in 1996, meaning while I was going to high school and going on my first dates, native kids were still being taken from their families and forced to get “educated” in a system designed to destroy who and what they were.

I’m going to the ceremony later today, in remembrance of the many — too many — children taken, and children killed, as part of this program.

And while I know this day is not about me, and shouldn’t be, I did my own little part in digging up the truth this week. I finally researched the old story my parents have always told me, about how my dad’s grandmother was Blackfoot. Said she was born on the reservation, that she had long, perfectly-native-straight black hair that she used to unwind at night to brush out, before bundling it all back up again. Mom claims she has a picture of two “relatives,” dressed in Native garb, outside a teepee that’s been erected in my great-grandmother’s yard.

Well, thanks to ancestry.ca, I now know that’s all BS.

My paternal great-grandmother, Mattie Vera Franklin, was born in 1903, in Texas. Not on a reservation. Her parents, Jason Pope Franklin and Maggie Ann Ussery, were also born in Texas. And their parents. And all of them were white.

There’s no mention of any of them in the Dawes Rolls. No ‘In’ in the race column of the Census docs. Instead, there’s Social Security cards, draft cards, birth and marriage and death certificates. All proclaiming over and over again that all my ancestors that far back were US citizens. Settlers. Colonizers.

Nothing more.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. What’s one more lie my parents told me? But this one I thought might actually be true. My “beard” simply won’t grow over most of my face, my hair is preternaturally straight, I tan faster than most white people burn, I…I’ve been ridiculously naive about this.

Mom always told me she wanted to get us put on the tribal rolls, but we were just one step too far to be accepted. I never went around bragging about my Blackfoot connection, or wearing moccasins or any of that Pretindian crap. It was just, this little part of my identity, a connection, however slight, to a history and a people bigger than myself.

And it’s all lies.

So I’m going to apologize to the people I passed on this lie to, thinking it was real. And stop spreading it myself. And recommend that if, like me, your family’s white but there’s some legend in there about a fur trapper and a Native “princess,” go do the research before telling anybody else.