The most prominent misunderstanding about native people living in North America is that we are all the same.
Truth is, life at Rosebud is different from life at Gallup.
We visited relatives in June in South Dakota, where we attended Sundance, shared meals with family and told stories of growing up.
You can look at the family tree and trace the lines where we intersect.
My great-great grandmother, Julia Lessert, left her brothers and sisters in the Badlands when she married Edward Herridge.
She took her children to Osage country—now Oklahoma—where they settled with our Washashe kin.
My side of the family is enrolled with the Osage, and my mother, her mother, and her grandmother were born in Indian Country, while most of the Lesserts, enrolled with the Lakota, remained in South Dakota.
Sitting down to dinner with the Lakota Lesserts, we swap Osage and Sioux words—some are the same, some different.
I tell my relatives the jokes we’ve heard about mealtime and dogs, and I say the Osage words for dog and second son are eerily alike.
The word for coffee is medicine and we chuckle that you can’t find a good cup of coffee in the Badlands.
Two medicine men share stories—one trained in Western empiricism, the other in indigenous ontology.
They find common ground.
We learn from my relative John the word hokahey.
In popular parlance, hokahey is translated as, “it’s a good day to day,” John says.
But it also means, let’s get going.
Let’s get this show on the road.
Pity that the term, like so many Indian expressions, customs, artwork and beliefs, has been reduced to a bumper-sticker.
Hokahey was snatched up by a motorcycle company to embellish a grueling long-distance ride.
You can buy t-shirts and coffee-mugs or get your chest inked with hokahey.
As for the Lesserts, sitting around the table eating a home-cooked meal, we all agree.
It’s a good day to live.
Seems I spend an inordinate amount of time explaining to students that my family comes from more than one Native culture, and that anything I say about pan-Indian ideas is wildly inaccurate. Students and others struggle to grasp the amazing diversity of culture that is the Americas.
It does seem odd that people readily and easily accept the cultural diversity in Europe, but fail to see diversity amongst the original inhabitants of our much larger continent.