Moving back to the Southeast has had a profound effect on me, especially when it comes to erasure. Our tribal names are everywhere. My family history is everywhere. Buildings and streets are named after those who fought and removed tribal people who originally lived here in the Knoxville area. I can name relatives who fought against removal. (These are Creek lands, as well as Cherokee.) They want to be remembered. And it’s the first place I’ve lived, since Iowa City, when I was at the Writers Workshop, that Natives do not have an everyday presence. It’s beautiful here. I feel the heartbreak of being forced to leave.
So yes, I might be a little touchy about erasure. History is right here, right now. We are in it; we are making it.
I remember years ago when I performed at Auburn University, which is near the Battle of Horseshoe Bend grounds. When I stood up and said I was the granddaughter of Monahwee, whom they call “Menawa” there was a collective gasp. I was essentially a ghost standing before them. They assumed we were all dead, massacred. No, I said, we are over 60,000.
I would rather sit together at a table and speak with history.
I am wondering how well the Internet ultimately serves us, or history. It is easy to spread false news, gain hits on social media, become “famous” if you have an angle that will set off an addictive urgency, or become anyone you want to be. Isn’t that the American Dream? You can become famous or win the lottery. We can be addicted by gossip, flagrant lies, and to the smell of failure by others. We are all susceptible. Internet speeds it up and spits out it out. Yet the Internet highway, is going to be gone, in a second, when it goes.
I would rather sit at a table and speak with people about these things.
I have made mistakes, and am trying to clean up my own story, the collective story, and help my family and people, and this beautiful place, before I leave here. Those mistakes have led me to some painful understanding.
I believe that ultimately we are all related. Not all ancestors want to help us. Some were troublemakers when they walked this earth and their spirits are still troublemakers. Some here are lost and want to cause harm. Others loved us, love us, and will continue to take care of us. Each generation brings forward the collective story: history.
So today I will attempt to move forward with a kind of grace found in a few words, closer to understanding.