My Blackfeet Grandma, My Afro-American Relatives--and Me, in Between

By Francine Mathews, Blackfeet and Black Woman

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My intent here is just to express what is on my mind, as well as in my heart. I needed someone to talk to, and I thought of all the people I know (as much as one can know another via computer) your (Brooke Craig's) heart seemed as close to mine as is possible.

These last few years I have felt much like an old coat or shoe that had been lost for ages, just sitting in an old lost and found closet waiting for someone who recognizes me to pick me up and take me home.

I have mentioned to you that I am of Indian (black feet) and African American descent. Since childhood I have been teased quite badly by other children because of my skin color, or hair. Even my own brothers teased me (and at times still do to this day) and told me that our parents found me as a baby and adopted me. I believed this for awhile, because my brothers are dark in color, and I am a light caramel, and my hair (back then) was very long and straight, where theirs was very coarse

One day my mother sat all of us siblings down, and pulled out some old photographs that she had. I was in awe. There were only three pictures in all, but they made a big inpression on me. They were of my Great Grandmother and her sister. My mother said to me, "This is was your grannie Phoebe and her sister Eva. They were black feet indians of pure blood."

(Back then I had no idea what "pure" blood meant. Neither of the women in the photo could have been an inch over 4 feet 11 inches tall. To this day, I cannot tell you where those photos are. They have gotten lost in the shuffle

I remember how breathless I was at seeing grannie's photo. When things got rough for me as a child, I used to pray and ask my grannie (not God, who I was raised to believe in) to help me, and show me how to be strong. When I would be punished and sent to me room, I never seemed to mind much, I'd talk to grannie, and feel much better inside.

As I got older, new problems arose for me, I decided to pay more attention to my African American heritage. I was very afro-centric after I saw the movie "Roots" by Alex Haley. I remember once going to school in my newly brought African garb. Some friends (or so I thought they were at the time) laughed at me so hard that by the time I ran out of the school, the halls were full of laughing people.

What one of my "friends" said to me was this.:

"Girl, what do you know about being African. You're not a real African! Look at you, your not even Black, you're too light! If you did have an ancestor that was a slave, they probably had life real easy. I'll bet your ancestors were house nigga's! I'll bet they worked in the big house all day, and serviced their masters all night! They weren't real slaves. The real slaves were the ones who worked the fields and got beat all the time! What do you know about real African Slavery?!"

I'll never forget those horrible words or the sound of my black sisters' and brothers' laughter at my expense. I cried and cried for days.

I have been told even as an adult, that I am not considered a true African American. How horrible, to be judged by your hair, skin, or eye color. How unfair.

As an adult, I have come to realize that what others believe me to be, or do not believe me to be does not change what I truly am. When I attend family reunions on my father's side of the family, I hold my head high when the photographs are taken. Though I and 2 distant cousins are the only ones of all the people there with this light complexion, I am certain most know which one is me in the pictures.

I wouldn't be surprised if someone looking at one of those family photos would think "Oh, her, she always look like she's proud of something".

At the age of 15, I decided that I would write a book. In this book I would bring together two people of different cultures. Indian, and African American. For years this was only a dream, but one day I came across a very moving, very touching letter posted on the Cultures BB on Prodigy.

[Note: This was a letter from Cherokee Brooke Craig, whose story "Death of an Eagle" appears here.]

The letter was about two women of different cultures who had become sisters of the heart and spirit. Though I cannot say for sure what it was, something drew me instantly to the author of this beautiful letter. My heart began to beat faster, as tears rolled down my cheeks. I read the letter over and over, and even copied it on my printer.

Finally, I felt compelled to write this author and tell her how touched I was by her letter.

[Brooke encouraged Francine to write a book. No one in her family, nor her husband of 11 years, has ever believed she could do anything like that.]

Since that day (which has not been long ago at all) this woman has been a sort of life line, if you will. She has taught me so much about my grannies people (I do not speak of Black Feet, but of all Indian people). She has taught me about wholeheartedly accepting others even though they are different.

She has been completely open, completely honest, and sincere in all that she has said.

I searched most of my life for something. I have always felt left out, as I said earlier, like I was lost, but thanks to the wonderful person she is, I feel deep within my spirit that by finding out so much about such a wonderful people, and culture, that I have finally been found!!!

Though grannie is gone, and I cannot see her or sit silently at her feet and listen to her every word, I feel as though she has sent me to the next best thing, a woman as kind, strong, and honest as I dream my grannie was.

Thank you Brookie for being who you are, and thank you for helping me to feel the love that flows from your people, whom I now consider to be "my people" as well.

Though I do not understand yet, about spirit guides and the like, or who you consider directs your life, I believe in Almighty God with all my heart, and ask him to bless you always.

Grace and Peace,

Francine Matthews

CREDITS: The modern-style deer dancer was drawn in black-and-white india ink by an unknown artist for Akwesasne Notes in 1975. When I was doing my "salvage Notes art" project a couple of years ago, I somehow felt very strongly there should be a double-reversed mirror image--dancers with colors (black, white and greyscale) intrchanged, as well as back-to-back. Somehow that image perfectly fits in my mind Francine's story. I colored my FreeHand digitization black-outside-red-inside for one deer dancer, and red-outside-black-inside for the other. Eyes and outlines of both are the color of sunlight and they dance on the blue of my twilight or dawn sky, day changing to night, night to day. But I framed this picture in white. Think about why, why I did that, what it means about racism in the Americas.

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Page prepared by Paula Giese graphics and layout copyright 1995.

Copyrights to the stories are held by their respective creators. This story copyright Francine Mathews, 1995.

Last updated: Thursday, June 29, 1995 - 7:47:29 AM