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