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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Adoption Indian-style: Culture, Tribal Ways Still Matter

Commentary: Culture, tribal ways still matter

The New Mexican
Posted: Saturday, September 01, 2012
- 9/1/12


By Harlan McKosato

Personally, I love being Native American. It’s different than being an “ordinary” American. I was adopted recently by the Youngbear family from the Meskwaki tribe in Iowa. The Meskwaki (People of the Red Earth) are the Fox within the Sac and Fox. I am Thakiwa (People of the Yellow Earth), or Sac, so we’re close relatives. It was an honor to be chosen, and with it comes certain responsibilities.
This adoption is not a legal matter. It is a matter of the heart. I was put in place of a much respected man within the tribe, the late Dan Youngbear Jr., the grandson of the legendary Fox Chief Pushetonequa. Adoptions are a long-held tradition of many tribes and traditional tribal families, although many families have let this part of the past slip away.
I spent several days in Meskwaki country, getting to know the history of my relatives as well as their modern existence. I stayed at their luxurious resort hotel and casino, visited their settlement (or reservation), their powwow grounds, their museum and the Iowa River, and I visited with my relatives who came up from Oklahoma to witness the occasion.
Here is an excerpt from the book Mesquakie and Proud of It, by author John M. Zielinski, published in 1976: “The [Meskwaki] are a unique tribe of American Indians. They are of the most ancient Algonquin stock — their language, legends and lore show less influence from the white culture than almost any other Indian group.
“When most Indians were being unceremoniously herded from their ancestral lands, the [Meskwaki] refused to give up their beloved forests of Iowa for the open plains of Kansas. They had been called the ‘scourge of the northwest’ by the French who waged a war of annihilation against them for more than 100 years. Yet they chose a peaceful means to fight for their land in Iowa.
“At a time when most of the major Indian battles were yet to be fought the [Meskwaki] turned to diplomacy in the early 1850s and began lobbying for the right to live in Iowa. By 1856 the state legislature passed a law giving them the right to live in Iowa. In the same year Governor Grimes agreed to hold the deed to their land in trust for them. Indians, no more than animals, had any right to own land. They were not made citizens until 1924. [The] land was bought and paid for with [Meskwaki] money … it is a refuge against time and change.”
The adoption ceremony took place Saturday evening and most of Sunday. One of my aunts described it as “pretty.” The setting was scenic and not too hot for July. The Youngbear family was very giving, and the people from the community were generous with their time and energy. It was a refuge against time and change, at least for a day.
The previous weekend, my son and I traveled back home to Oklahoma for a Native American Church ceremony in a tipi along the Cimarron River with my Ioway family and folks who traveled down from Wisconsin from the Ho Chunk Nation. It was held to offer blessings for my younger cousin, who joined the Navy. This has been a family tradition on my mom’s side for generations, and it’s a common practice of many tribes to bless their warriors before they go off to battle. I felt blessed to be part of the ceremony.
I share this with you because these traditions define who I am as a tribal person, as a Native American. You can kick me off the tribal rolls, you can take away my tribal ID card, the government could strip recognition of my tribes, but no one can tell me I don’t love being Indian.
Harlan McKosato is Sauk/Ioway and Director of NDN Productions.

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