Looking from outside, looking within

Osage man wearing tear shirt

Who determines authenticity?

I recently wrote about the lawsuit that Geronimo’s relatives brought in an effort to have his bones returned to Apache country from Oklahoma, and noted how his great great grandson Harlyn Geronimo was described in news accounts by his beads and boots, which the Washington Post reporter said “projected a sort of authenticity.”

In a very odd twist, authenticity is often determined by folks outside the focus or subject of interest. In the instance of the news coverage of the lawsuit, the reporter judged Harlyn Geronimo by noting that he “projected a sort of authenticity” by his appearance. When I looked at the photo in the news story, the first thing I noticed was that Geronimo was wearing a ribbon shirt, a fact apparently lost on the reporter.

I assume that the reporter knows little about Indian country, or he would have noticed that the ribbon shirt–also called a tear shirt–identifies the wearer as indigenous. In my family–and this is not necessarily a tradition in other families–a relative makes the man’s shirt. A friend of mine who is Chickasaw said she always thought the shirts were called “tear” (like clear) shirts to refer to the Trail of Tears, and that “tear” referred to weeping. I was told the shirts were called “tear” (like hair) to refer to the fact that the women had no scissors nor knives on the trail and they “tore” the shirts with their teeth. I have made several shirts for relatives and my daughters and decided to tear the pieces rather than cut them.

Although the Osages were not known for participating on the Trail of Tears, some were indeed herded from Kansas and Missouri to Oklahoma. During my visit this week to the reservation in Oklahoma, my cousin Leaf told me that her father’s grandfather was among those on the trail. Her father’s grandfather donated one of his lots to the people of Grayhorse, and that land became the site of the cemetery where we gathered this week to lay a stone for my mother.

My mother is now surrounded by relatives, and we honored our families this week under the shades of oak trees at Grayhorse. My mother, who was English, French and Osage didn’t worry about authenticity. She knew who she was.

Here is a short I found about the cemetery on Youtube: http://il.youtube.com/watch?v=UDkMIhbRkUQ


About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in authenticity, framing, Geronimo, Indian, Osage, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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