Someone asked me the other day “What is it like being a young biracial woman in todays modern world?” I honestly didn’t know what to say and I was puzzled. When I think of me my whole being the first thing that comes to my mind is my whit, not the color of my skin, or my racial back ground.
One thing I do know is I come from a long line of strong women and men who fought for what they believed in. They believed that one day they would not be judged by the color of their skin, their creed, or called a dirty Indian as they walked the streets. My Great Great Grandmother was Chief Sky Woman, one of the few female Ojibway War Chiefs. She ruled over Madeline Island, people came to her for advice, she protected and fought for their survival.
Her daughter my Great Grandmother Geneva Grace would suffer, endure, be relocated, assimilated, and worst of all the Government would steal her children away in an attempt to get her land. The land that he mother was buried on, a land she had called home, and raised her children on. They succeeded, they bought her land for $5.00 and a bus ticket to Minneapolis. They told her that this was a new day and a better way to live. When Grace got to Minneapolis she was told that her children had died in transport. She didn’t believe them, she searched, went to the police, yet no one cared, she was just some old Indian. Grace could feel that her children were alive, she never gave up, one day she would see them again.
While Grace moved on, her children were becoming “white” they were beat if they spoke their tongue, their hair was cut, buckskins were traded in for uniforms. Best of all they were told “if you pray to your savage God, you are going straight to hell!” My grandfather at 5 years old had no idea what Jesus was, all he knew was that this thing called a Bible was now his god. That little 5-year-old boy, was sold to a man in Lake City Minnesota for $500.00 and he was no longer called Red Squirl, he was to be called Clifford Raymond Palotee.
Even thou my grandfather had been raised white, he knew that this wasn’t the way and started to question this so-called man. Mr Palotee, told him the truth, told him where he came from, and that he was an Indian bought during the relocation period. Armed with his real last name Clifford set out searching. He made friends with the souix indians and they showed him the way. One day a call came, his daughter had found his mother.
Grace never gave up looking for her children, she was reunited with her son Clifford when he was in his 60’s, her child had finally come home. Her daughter June was living in Arizona, her oldest son Walter was in California. This woman who fought who suffered and endured, could finally wrap her arms around her children. She was whole.
I am reminded of Chief Sky Woman, Grace, and my Grandfather every day, they are my connection, a link to the past. To a culture so rich that it will set your heart on fire. because of them and others like them I am able to stand here today. My GrandFather was able to mary an Irish woman, and have 13 children that stand for a better day. A day where no one is judged or ridiculed based on their skin color.
Yet we have traveled so far, yet we have walked so little. When I go out to the reservations to motivate the youth to go to college, my heart is broken. Its like stepping on to a third world country, the Government has yet to deliver on their promises, people go hungry, violence is prevalent, and shacks stand as homes. Yet somehow this is ok. It’s not ok, we owe these people something, we are standing on their land and the only time we care or turn an eye is when a Casino pops up.
For me being biracial, means standing up and using my voice to make a difference. I made a promise to Dot five years ago: that I was going to attend law school and make a difference in Indian Country. I am holding on to that promise as I know a 98-year-old woman out on the Padowadamee Reservation is holding me accountable, that she believes that I can change the world, one day at a time. The elders hold out hope that the seventh generation of Indians and mixed bloods will change the world, that we can make it a better place. I intended to make good on my promise, as for me I come from a long line of innovators, chiefs, and judges who never backed down. I will not back down either, as we say Indian Country “Let your inner Indian fly!”