Yesterday, going through old files on my laptop, I found a letter from October 1994 that I never sent–so really, more of a letter to myself. It described how my Innu ancestors would interrupt my daily life with their insistence on being recognized and acknowledged. I hadn’t thought about that for a long time, and wanted to remember it by including some excerpts of those reflections here. What a magical time it was.
“A few weeks ago, a friend from Vermont told me he had heard a rumor that Yvette Michel, an Innu leader from Maliotenam, was coming to visit me in Boston. This was the first odd thing. I certainly hadn’t heard anything about it. I had met her very briefly but didn’t expect her to remember me. A few days later I learned from someone else that she was doing a speaking tour in New England for the Coalition for Nitassinan. The Coalition was a group of activist traditionalists. Nitassinan is the Innu name for Innu territory, meaning ‘our land.’
“Then, I got a message from Mary Frongillo, a white woman who has been living in the community of Maliotenam for a couple years. We had spoken once before by phone. She said they had heard there was a Native spiritual gathering of some kind in Boston the coming weekend, and someone had told them I would know about it. Well, I didn’t know anything, but I made a few phone calls and found out about a gathering a couple hours away from Boston. That’s when I got a hint that maybe I should go too. But I didn’t know how I’d be able to get there, and I couldn’t afford a donation (to help with food for the elders), etc.
“Still, it felt like spirits were interrupting my regularly scheduled programs for a special bulletin. So when I called Mary back, I told her all the info, and that I was thinking about coming. She said they would be near Boston before hand and could give me a ride there and back, and we could be a camp together. So that’s when I cancelled everything, and decided to go for it. By Friday afternoon I was sitting in the sun in front of our two little tents, watching eagles fly overhead, trying to follow French (Yvette speaks French and Innu) through a mixture of translation and memory. The weekend weather seemed totally in love with us–it was sunny and warm during the day, cold and clear at night. I felt afraid at first, being shy, and especially without my favorite power: easy words.
“But eventually, I relaxed into a bilingual state of consciousness, full of the earth again and taking in so many little stories and practices of Innu culture, in a way in which I had never before had the opportunity. Things like bannock, a simple Innu bread, which we ate with our meals. I watched Yvette make two loaves, stirring flour and salt and baking powder together with water, forming a flat round loaf, pressed into a cast iron pan with flour in it, cooked about half an hour on each side. Mary was a wonderful translator, in the wider sense of the term, for she told me many things from her experience, things which someone notices because they are not from that place.
“During the last two years, the more I reckon with being white, the more the Innu part of me asserts its presence. I now believe I need both of those parts. The better white person I can be, the better I can also be Innu. So the white person fights the racism I see in the New Age theft of symbol and ritual, and searches out the spiritual wisdoms of European ancestors. And I do believe white women need to be doing this–we need to search out our own ancestral traditions and powers of the earth, rather than turn to Native or African American women as a kind of ‘spiritual surrogate.’
“But in the meantime, whenever I have thought I should let go of my desire for the Innu part of me (‘I’m not Indian enough for it to count–five generations back.’ ‘Don’t be a wannabe.’ ‘I should just be white, acknowledge my privilege and leave it at that.’) it hasn’t been supported by the spirits. It was after I was learning the Runes, and creating a link to Freya, ancestor goddess of Northern Europe, that I first met people who were helping the Innu and learned about their struggle against hydrodams. I said to myself, I am chasing after my European ancestors, but the Innu ancestors are chasing after me. A month later I was in Quebec city testifying against the dams, and meeting members of the Coalition for Nitassinan. That was another spirit interruption.
“So even as I was trying to be more ‘successful’ as a white person–ie. using my educational privilege, trying to make more money than just barely getting by, still in service to my values–I was interrupted to spend a weekend on the earth, on Indian time, in a setting where people don’t have much at all but share what they have with who needs it–all these values that exist in Innu culture, (and in other Native cultures), and which I wish existed more in our culture.”
The Innu ancestors won’t let me go.