Remembering Our Ancestors On Native American Heritage Day | Gram was a storyteller – in every sense of the word. Sometimes her ideas and thoughts seemed too abstract for my young mind, something I wish I could have appreciated more now that I’m looking back. As I reflect, I imagine her way of sharing information was similar to the way the Native Americans passed along wisdom on the reservation where her mother grew up. It’s like it was in her essence to be this way.
The way she captured the attention, of both young and old, for her stories was nothing short of clever. The older the grandkids got, we tried to outwit her, but it rarely worked. She would usually grab someone’s attention when they casually entered the room by blurting out a statement like, “Well, Micheal isn’t going to Boston after all.” And then whoever was within earshot wondered – Who is Micheal? What was he going to Boston for? What’s stopping him? Why is she telling me this? It was like she cast a mystery into the room and beckoned for a willing mind to figure out what she was thinking. So out of respect for Gram, someone always ended up playing detective and picked one of the questions to follow up her statement with. It was game over from there.
I didn’t mind sitting with her when this happened. Usually in each conversation, she would find a way to talk about our family genealogy. I had hoped that the more I heard the same stories, the longer I’d remember them for myself – especially the stories about my Great Great Grandpa and Grandma Reed.
Theodore Owl Reed was a Cherokee member and grew up to be the greatest pioneer of education for the Native Americans. When he attended Carlisle Indian School, he played football on Pop Warner’s famous Carlisle Indian team with Jim Thorpe and later went on to work at the Department of Interior serving many tribes in South Dakota and Oklahoma. He met and married Grandma Jean while serving the Sauk and Fox in Oklahoma. She was a widowed Irish descendant which made their love story that much more fascinating!
Even as a little girl, I felt proud of Grandma Reed and how she weaved Native American heritage into our family lineage. She progressed beyond a massive cultural norm and connected us to something special.
Listening to my Gram tell these stories, I could sense how meaningful this was for her to bring our awareness to our heritage. The pride and love that she felt for her family was tangible. I felt it. Our conversations helped me connect to my family origin, to get to know people that I wouldn’t otherwise meet in this lifetime. In a way, she passed along the essence of our lineage through storytelling. It reminds me of the movie “Coco”. Similarly, if we don’t share stories and remember our ancestors, then they become forgotten and their legacy is lost.
There are many things to learn from those that came before us – both good and hard lessons. In the spirit of recognizing Native American Heritage Day this year, I’d encourage you to share a few stories about those people. Pass along their essence through conversation. Connect with those around you through simply remembering those that have passed along. Hold dearly whatever memory serves your heart to hold onto and let go of whatever needs to no longer be attached to your life. Enjoy the present and have gratitude for the past.