Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Home Safe

After three weeks away, I hardly know how or where to resume my usual work. I've traveled on planes, boats, trucks and cars, driven two horses and carriages, and ridden on two buses. My brain is still spinning, but I saw lots of people I wanted to see, not spending enough time with any of them, but at least back in touch with friends and family. Not all the news was good; there are illnesses and misfortunes, but mostly I had fun. A friend and I went to Nova Scotia to see the sights and search for ancestors. I was very excited to think that I had discovered, just before leaving for my trip, a Mi'kmaq ancestor, and poured over literature, visited heritage centers, bought a wonderful anthology of Mi'kmaq poetry and history, and imagined how life might have been for this woman who lived 400 years ago, married a man totally out of her culture and bore many children. I toted that book, The Mi'kmaq Anthology, all over the back roads around the Bay of Fundy, trying to see back into her view of that geography. It was hard to do; she wouldn't have had roads, motels, pubs, and TV. The best I could do was stand on the shore and pretend all this modernity was a mirage.

Back in the states, I went to the genealogy forums and learned--it was all a big mistake. Though many people have registered an "unknown Indian woman" in our pedigree, maternal DNA has disproved the idea. It's more than an idea, though. It's a longing. Every relative I had told of this possibility was honored, pleased, to find a possible link to a woman so different from who we are today. I'm still happy to have encountered the wise museum docent who married into the Mi'kmaq world, still happy to read the myths of Glooscap, a culture hero, and to learn about the trials of Indian children wrenched from families and punished for speaking their mother tongue. So this unknown woman, not a blood relative, has given me more than her DNA. She has given me a shift in perspective, an enlargement in my viewfinder, a picture of life and family that includes me anyway. Thanks to Rita Joe and Lesley Choyce for their book and for their courage in teaching us all, again, about diversity. Sometimes, family is what you make it.

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