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.

I Miss Those Old-Fashioned Family Arguments

My family and I have disagreed on politics for a long time. I turned left even before going to college, rejecting the conservatism I was raised in.

Their conservative beliefs — shared by most people where I grew up, in West Texas — seemed hollow and hypocritical to me. They talked a big game about freedom, but sent me to the principal’s office for daring to wear a hat to school (only girls were allowed to wear hats in those hallowed halls, I was told). They talked up their faith, and turning the other cheek, but it was me that was supposed to turn that cheek, not them, as they let their sons bully me between classes. And they wrapped themselves in patriotism, but only for “real Americans,” like them, not liberals or Californians or anyone living back East…or me.

There was no place for me, in their America. Except at the bottom of the ladder, to be kicked and laughed at. Open season on nerds.

So I left Texas, and I left their beliefs behind. I didn’t give up on my family, though. I argued with them, often and vigorously. They were amused at my liberalism, I’m sure — there’s a smirk a right-wing person gets when they feel a leftie is talking out of their ass — but I was sincere.

And they argued back! We had good discussions, for many years. They pushed me to refine my thinking, and I used to think I was helping them, too, to see the other side of the argument. We didn’t have much in common, anymore, but we had good, old-fashioned, no-holds-barred, debates. All in good faith, and with love.

But we don’t — we can’t — argue like that anymore.

Things started changing during Obama’s presidency. I didn’t notice it at the time, but looking back a pivotal moment was when my older sister, in all seriousness, sat down across from me after dinner one night for a chat.

“I need to ask you about something,” she said. “You’re pretty up on things, you know what’s going on.”

I shrugged. “Sure, what’s up?”

“I know the IRS is building camps out here, in the desert, to round up people with guns, and you know, conservatives. So what I do, when they come for me?”

…and I was speechless.

I mean, I said all the things I thought were right: The camps weren’t real, no one was coming for her or her guns (which she doesn’t own) or conservatives in general. That President Obama had no such plans, and would never do such a thing.

She listened, and she nodded. And I thought she believed me, and felt better.

But now…Now I’m not so sure. When my family’s constantly posting things about how the election was stolen and the Democrats are all Muslims that want to put Oklahoma under Shari’a Law and Black Lives Matter protestors burned down the entire city of Portland in a single day. I feel like that conversation was my first glimpse that something was wrong, that my family was slipping from conservative to right-wing, and losing their grip on reality.

Could I have done something, said something, back then, to keep that from happening? Could I have reached out more, found conservative but reality-based news sources to help them feel comfortable staying with us in the real world?

Because I can’t have arguments with them anymore. I have to spend all my time trying to convince them that these things they fear are simply not true.

And I can’t get through to them. No matter how many news articles I link. They’re “fake news” from the “mainstream media,” and so can’t be trusted.

Not only can’t be trusted, but challenging their reality this way is taken as a personal attack. They’re not “lies” they’re “conservative facts.” I can’t…I don’t know how to respond to that.

And all the time I spend fact-checking, they’re continuing to like and re-post articles spreading hate and fear about liberals, about BLM, about…well, about me. Not directly, but people like me. My friends. My neighbors. Our fellow citizens.

I’m…angry, sure, but also sad. Because I’ve lost something that was very important to me. I’ve lost my debate partners. But more, I’ve lost my family.

And I don’t know how to get them back.