From My Past

IndianTotumThing, originally uploaded by carolsLittleWorld.

If I were to do one of those “49 and a half things you didn’t know about me and probably still don’t want to learn now” surveys, one of the things that might pop up, over the course of conversation, is the fact that I’m part native American. Now, I don’t *look* native American (not that all native American people have a “look” mind you) and I don’t sound native American, but, I actually *am* part native American. I believe that I’m 1/8th Mohawk Indian (yes, the people with the haircuts.)

To answer your most pressing questions: no, I don’t live in a tepee. No, I don’t have long, black, straight hair. No, I don’t scalp people on a frequent basis (in all fairness, not many Indians did that.) I don’t own a tomahawk, nor do I run a casino (and, no, sorry, you can’t move into my house for the purposes of opening such an establishment-I’m pretty sure it’s outlawed and you need special permits, none of which I can help you obtain, since I don’t communicate frequently with the “tribal elders” nor do I live anywhere near where my ancestors first settled.)

So, bottom line? My native American ancestry does not get me much, other than, perhaps, legitimate bragging rights and the ability to own feathered items completely guilt-free. All that and, well, I guess, I get to take pictures like this without having to hear cries of “you’re exploiting my people” since, well, in this case, “your people” = my people (and you can’t really exploit yourself now, can you?)

Native Americans believed that the spirit of a man could be “possessed” with spirits from the earth. Animals, in particular, could serve as the model for what we would not call “human” characteristics. This belief gave rise to many of the popular Indian names (“White Eagle,” “Crow,” etc.) Many tribal names came from the animal kingdom’s equivalent of the profession so, for example, if you were a scout, you would not be named “scout” but perhaps something like “Hawk Eye,” “Eagle Eye” or the like.

I’m especially glad my family did not follow this tradition because then, for certain, I would be named something like “lazy painter” or perhaps even the less amiable-sounded “napping idiot.” (I’m fairly certain that last one would not make me very popular around the campfire.)

Until next time…



  1. Unknown
    December 1, 2009 / 3:45 pm

    Have you ever heard of Nadya Kwandibens, Ojibwe photographer – she does a lot of good work breaking stereotypes for Native people – and

  2. Carol
    December 3, 2009 / 11:28 pm

    It's so great to hear about this work, thank you so much for posting the links. I'll have to do a blog post about her at some point.

    I know it's hard because the Native American traditions can be very anti-photography (the whole "shadow catcher" and all.) I'm glad to hear that the medium can be embraced as well.

    I really think that with the Native respect for the earth, nature, and the spirit world, Native American photographers can do stunning and thought-provoking work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *