Being Native American and living in the UK has been an unstable identity, almost an oxymoron.
Some people early on in my time here didn’t quite know what ‘Native American’ even meant. I suppose they thought I was just saying I was born in the United States, rather than immigrating there.
I have lived in England since 1985 and based myself in Exeter. One might think it fortuitous that I landed here in a county where there are so many links and reminders to the earliest voyagers across the Atlantic and around the World.
At times I do feel I was brought here by unknown forces.
This feeling came specially when I saw the Simcoe Memorial in Exeter Cathedral and found it contained a lone figure of a Mohawk or Haudenosaunee brave on it. Or, when I walked up to the memorial plaque in Bideford Church which recalls the man they named ‘Raleigh’ but who was captured in his homeland in North America and brought to Devon to act as a servant to the local Lord. Can Raleigh see me looking at him and his memorial?
Many people who know me well here are aware of my Native American ancestry and appreciate how rare a thing that is. They are interested certainly and even admire those in my Indigenous past who fought against oppression and the loss of their lands, their language and their culture.
They even shake their heads and say how sorry they are that this went on and that the results are what they are. They don’t really feel responsible for all this of course.
The bottom line is that European Westernised people haven’t changed anything as yet, they haven’t said sorry and meant it and they haven’t addressed the elephant in the room, which is that they cannot bring themselves to say that the world their ancestors live in has been built on the horror, death and decimation they have brought to so many others.
Even though I live in the western world of privilege and economic stability and do not have to confront the everyday trials of life on an Indian Reservation, I still feel the hurt.
My suffering comes from the grief and trauma experienced by my ancestors but handed on to me via my DNA.
I am grief-stricken and my heart hurts to see such things as the Exeter Rugby club call themselves the Chiefs and by that mean the Indian Chiefs. The club rebranded themselves as late as 1999 and took on the logo of an Indian Chief’s feather-bonneted head which created a fanbase of supporters who like to ‘dress-up’ in fake feather-headdresses and do the war whoop and the ‘chop’ during the club’s matches.
The Exeter Chiefs have a mascot, too, whose costume and persona can only be described as derogatory and utterly thoughtless, his name being ‘Big Chief’, a comic figure who runs around with a large toy-like plastic war club. Only a few months ago, the Executive Board of Exeter Rugby Club announced the retirement of 'Big Chief' the mascot as being denigrating to Indigenous North American peoples. Too little and much too late I feel.
This team and its supporters aren’t being honourable or respectful and everyone knows it. It brings back all of the embarrassment and humiliation which I experienced in grade school in the US when my Anglo-American mother innocently brought in some films taken of the annual Pow Wow dances held at my Dakota father’s birthplace on the Crow Creek Dakota Indian Reservation in South Dakota (where I am also an enrolled tribal member).