Honoring Ancestors



My heritage—in addition to being a North American native–is English, French, Osage and Lakota.

Turns out, I know more about my Indian ancestors than my English or French relatives.

It’s not because my relatives kept good records: they didn’t.

While I know little about my father’s English forebears (the Colemans), and even less about my maternal grandfather, also of English stock (the Barnes family), a lot has been recorded about my Native kin.

Many books have been written about the Osages, with the most recent the best-selling Killers of the Flower Moon, a National Book Award finalist selection in 2017.

In his famous book, The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman writes about my relatives, including the crusty Sioux leader Mahto Tatonka (Bull Bear, pictured above), whose daughter, Bear Robe, married Parkman’s guide (Henri Chatillon).

Their daughter, Emilie, wedded Louis Benjamin Lessert, a mixed-blood Osage.

While most of my Lessert relatives grew up in South Dakota—either at Pine Ridge or in nearby Stink Water or Rapid City–my side of the family joined the Osages, who were later moved to the current reservation in Oklahoma, where my mother was born.

I’ve been pondering ancestors because I’ve been studying Buddhism.

Part of the study involves making a “lineage chart” where you create an ancestral tree and write down the names of Buddhist teachers.

At first, I hesitated: why do I need a lineage chart? I already have a lineage, a history, a narrative.

I worried needlessly.

The lineage chart doesn’t reflect your relatives: it traces your teachers.

That means that my current teacher was instructed by someone, who was taught by someone, and so forth.

Buddhists keep track of the line of teachers, which—as a teacher—warms my heart.

17 April 2018













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 american, american indian, authenticity, NAGPRA, Naia, national native american history month, native american, Native American Heritage Month, native press, Native Science, nativescience, pine ridge, Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky, zen and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Honoring Ancestors

  1. Maria DePriest says:

    Love this post, Cynthia. Fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

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