Authors’ Forward

An excerpt from our novel in progress

This is the forward to our new novel(s) in progress. –Duane & Patricia

Some time ago, one of my elders on the Cherokee side of the family told me the story of Uncle Loan. It was the early days of Oklahoma statehood, after the great Cherokee land grab, when the federal government opened up tribal lands for theft by yonega speculators, further breaking up Indian families, who had already been decimated by the Trail of Tears and the aftermath of the Civil War. Family was scattered to the far corners of the Cherokee Nation, and James Loan Morgan, brother of my ancestor, Mark Morgan, took it upon himself to be a kind of circuit rider, traveling the many miles on horseback, from Hulbert and Tahlequah, to Warner in the south, and the Kansas border in the north. Grandma Hedrick, who was Uncle Loan’s niece, would put on a big stew, and Uncle Loan would share news of the extended family. Perhaps, unconsciously, Loan was making a vain attempt to hold together the ancient clan. Perhaps he was simply a lost spirit in search of a warm meal and warm conversation.

But, for whatever the reason, he carried on a tradition which goes back to the first humans to use language, the telling of stories. Stories are the strands of the web which hold families, clans, tribes, cultures together, and help us to define ourselves in relationship to others. The oral storytelling of Uncle Loan is dying out everywhere in the world as the monoculture of western hegemony is broadcast into the most remote village. Increasingly, World Culture becomes identical to American Culture. And what is this American Culture, but the voice of an ever concentrated Market, a machine designed to make wealth for its few owners?

Meanwhile, we people of the Americas, north and south, languish in the face of looming disaster. We are paralyzed by our divisions, by race and class and sex and ideology, and by the knowledge of the horrible mistakes we have made as a species, and the immense dislocation that will now be required to correct our course. But the planet will not wait for us. The problems ahead must be ameliorated and strategies invented or resurrected for our continued existance. A new culture of survival must come out of the pieces of the past. This is the inevitable lesson of history and anthropology.

What will this culture look like? Who are we, and what do we want to become? What is the real America? Where are our stories of resistance? How will they be told? Are the tales of our ancestors still relevant to us today?

These are the questions we, the authors, want to grapple with. We have decided to tell the epic story of my family, real and imagined, a family history which in some ways illustrates the legacy of the New World. From the early settlers in Martinique and Quebec, to the Cherokee natives and the Moravian Brethren who sought to introduce them to the wounds of Christ, this is not the story of Europeans or Indians or Africans. We are their children, but we are not them. This is a story of a multi-culture, mixed-blood, Metís – Creole America, struggling for self-identity and to free itself from the legacy of continuing oppression and imperialism.

Our story is, of course, largely fictional and speculative, populated with ghosts and magic. We hope that we have conveyed a story which our ancestors might be proud to pass on, and that, in the tale, some truths have been told. That it will be helpful, perhaps, in finding the way forward.

In the words of the Martinican, Edouard Glissant,

“The poet chooses, elects in the world mass what he needs to preserve, what his song accords with. And the rhythm is ritual force, lever of consciousness. It leads to these powers: prosodic richness, guarantor of choice, guardian of conquests; the knowledge of the world in its thickness and its spread, the enlightning obverse of History.”

This has been our goal.

Now, as Cyparis might say, we will tell you this story which was told to us when we were just a tiny specks of dust under a cassava leaf. It is just a tim-tim, yes?

Duane Poncy

on becoming indigenous

Indigenous autochthonal: originating where it is found; Living or occurring naturally in a specific area or environment; native; the native people of a place

Indigenousness is a relative concept. Among mobile humans, it is especially so. Cultures, from the beginning of human history have replaced other cultures, often violently, but more often through a slow process of assimilation or displacement.

One group of my ancestors, the Cherokees, are often said to be the indigenous people of the Smokey Mountains. Residents of the Mississipian culture that existed there before them might dispute that claim, if it still existed. Still, it is fair to say that the Native Americans in general are the indigenous people of the Americas, just as we are all an indigenous species of Planet Earth.

This is not to denigrate the idea of indigenousness. European and African peoples are newcomers to this hemisphere, and it is essential that we recognize the importance of the native peoples, because they are the ones whose roots go deepest in the soil.

My point is that in ten thousand years, if our species survives that long, our current mixture of native and invasive cultures will all be blurred together, and our commonalities will be considered the indigenous culture of the ancient past.

We are all becoming indigenous. We are becoming of this place and this history and this road forward together.

With the arrival of the first European invaders, Native Americans were violently uprooted from their past, cut off from their traditions, and their language, and their sacred places. African slaves, also, were pulled up like a crop from its soil, and replanted in a strange land. In the wake of this disruption, all of us, Native, African, and European, have had to construct a new identity for ourselves.

As individuals, we have the capacity of making choices. We can take the best our ancestors have to offer us, combine that wisdom with our own knowledge and experience, and take that path forward. Or not. But our combined wisdom is what we have to offer the future. So, take it or leave it to die in the dustbin of history. Our choice.

Among the many Native American stereotypes is the wise elder who respects the earth and honors the ancestors. This stereotype is often romanticized, displacing the reality of a people in cultural decay, faced with poverty, alcoholism, unemployment, and lost heritage. Somewhere in there is a truth, but we must take the whole package. Wisdom requires knowing what we want and what we don’t want. We must understand what we have lost, in order to avoid losing it again.

The history and culture of all of our ancestors, black, white, or brown, contain wisdom and truth. In this ever-changing sea of cultural fluidity and displacement, we have a choice. We each, individually and collectively, create together the culture and ethos of our time.

stories of the ancestors

There are two Cherokee Tribes. One is represented by the Cherokee Nation, east & west, and other groups, recognized and unrecognized. This tribe is overwhelmingly made up of mixed-bloods; many, like me, are part of the Cherokee diaspora, tied only by blood, and some family stories. But even most of those who grew up in The Nation are more connected to the white, mainstream culture, than they are to their Tsalagi roots. We Cherokees, like our all-white counterparts, are mechanics and clerks and college professors, drive the same Chevrolets or Toyotas, go to the same churches, drink the same brands of coffee, and so on.

Then, there is the second Cherokee Tribe. That is the tribe of some mostly-forgotten past, which still offers its hand to the present. It is the tribe of our ancestors. The ancestors speak to us in the language of the dead. But in America today, few know this language. That is because the mainstream culture fills every moment of our lives with the chatter of the living —the young, the hip, the consumerist desire.

Many of us try to understand the ancestors by retelling the stories of the old times. While these stories are important, they aren’t enough. Unless the stories instruct us in our contemporary world, then they are only children’s fairy tales. Learning the “sacred formulas,” or the use of herbs, or grandma’s recipes will not embue us with truth.

As much as we (mostly mixed-bloods) may want to belong to that second tribe, we cannot escape the fact that we are the product of two (or more) cultures. By definition, the white, European Uber Kulture will always try to dominate. And it will be difficult to tell our (Tsalagi) stories from their (European) stories, because we are they.

Still, our ancestors have important knowledge to offer us. In order to understand them, I think we must first learn to listen.

I have some suggestions to get started.

Turn off the T.V. Go out side. Run your fingers through some soil of that place where you are living now. Listen to the wind.

Ask yourself some questions. What kind of world do I want? What is wrong with the one I have? What is the best path to get from one to the other? What am I doing with my life right now that is not in harmony? Listen to the voice that answers.

What advice would my grandmother give me? My grandfather? What lessons do their stories have to teach us today? Listen to the answers.

What are the stories, all of the stories, that have led up to the person that I am? Listen to the storytellers.

It is your ancestors speaking. It doesn’t matter if they are Cherokee or French or Chinese, or African-American, listen. They have something important to say.

by duane poncy