This Saturday, I will join the Women’s March on Washington in honor of my mamma – Betty Laverne Mekelburg. This weekend marks what would have been her 81st birthday. The march begins, I recently learned, one block from the National Museum of the Native American.
This is profoundly meaningful to me for a couple of reasons… My mom was born on a reservation. And, I never met my Native American grandmother, who meant so much to her.
As the story goes… my mom was born on an Indian Reservation in North Dakota. Her mom was white and her dad was Native American. She always told me that, as a white half-breed, she never fit in on the reservation. Her community, she recalled, always whispered and pointed at her curly auburn hair and the fair freckled skin that covered her youthful frame.
The only solace Mamma seemed to recall from her early childhood was her Indian grandmother. This full-framed lady, with salt and pepper hair, was a safe-haven of hugs topped off with a secret stash of warm breads and government issued butter and honey. Back then, Grandma’s embrace was the only thing that would wash away mamma’s whiteness. While my mom never shared much about her past, I do recall a certain fondness spilling out whenever she’d mention her native grandmother.
Mamma’s time as an Indian was cut short. When she was about five years old, the Catholic nuns arrived to remove her and her siblings from the reservation. The details of the sudden exit were never discussed, but she vividly remembered the trauma of nuns dipping her in kerosene to kill any mites, or other germs, that may have been infesting her small, white body. With sadness, she told the story of how they shaved her head to clear out any possibility of lice which may have nestled in her locks of red hair. They took every measure to clean up the “little Indian half-breed”.
I can’t imagine how traumatic and horrifying this experience must have been for my young mamma.
Arriving in her new life, mamma quickly learned that the 1940’s white America was no place for an Indian half-breed. In that regard, her fair skin and red hair served her well. After leaving the reservation, she assimilated as quickly as possible, and never looked back. So much culture and heritage tossed and discarded – a family tree pruned for survival.
There’s a huge gap in the story of my mom’s life. What I did learn from snippets of her early childhood is that racial intolerance, no matter where you are born, or where you end up in life, breeds hatred and fear.
People are people are people. I believe that all lives matter. Part and parse as we may, our DNA proves that we are all human with hearts pumping blood and lungs breathing air. The rest is a distraction.
I join the Women’s March on Washington carrying the spirit of Momma’s native soul. In addition, I march with the intention of universal healing across all racial divides. Too many stories of hatred and bigotry line our path to 2017.
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