Over a delicious lunch at a café built next to the mansion, the six of us chatted about family secrets. I wondered how we know what we know, meaning, how do you separate realities from embellishments? Which yarns wrap around our hearts, a few threads short of truth?
One of our family stories is that my grandmother, Mary Leticia Grove, in her twenties learned to fly an airplane. She and her sister, Wyoma, (we called her Aunt Wymo) then cashed in their headrights and took a worldwide cruise, where they met the Barnes brothers and married them.
My lunch companions asked how much I knew about my ancestry and I told them we knew we were Osage, but the Oglala connection seemed like lore. Granny always said we were part Sioux, but we didn’t know then that Chatillon’s first wife was the daughter of Bull Bear. So the stories survived but not the evidence.
Visiting the Chatillon-DeMenil mansion verified the lore, coupled with a few histories written about Chatillon that confirm his relationship with Bear Robe.
People sometimes ask me “how much Indian are you?,” suspicious of my fair complexion and blue eyes. Anyone who studied biology knows it only takes 2 generations to produce a blue-eyed child if one parent carries the gene, and I’ve stopped apologizing for my appearance. If someone asks I can produce my tribal ID or CDIB card. But I don’t offer. Not anymore.
Indians have apologized for decades about our how we dress, what we eat, how we live and what we believe. My work in communication and ways-of-knowing is partly informed by these apologies: I examine ways we can leverage Native beliefs about science, health and the environment so that our views become part of the discussion, rather than disparaged as quaint, or blithely forgotten.