Sometimes I remember what race I am. Sometimes it is made very clear to me how white my skin is. The National Congress of American Indians is holding their conferences here this week. Last night we went to Wild Horse Pass at Gila River for native festivities and to meet up with Katie who is here visiting for the week. I had a few observations while we were there.
There were several booths set up representing the 22 tribes in Arizona. Cooper, Beckham and I were wandering through them while Seneca and Dent were finishing their dinner. As we approached the Navajo table, I said to Coop, "Look Cooper, this is your tribe." That does not sound like such an idiotic statement to me, but if you are attending a native event and hear a white lady say to one of her seemingly white children, "this is your tribe," you might think otherwise. I had a woman behind me say, "did she just say this is your tribe?" She was completely baffled and quite obviously thought I was a little off my rocker. It bugged me. I know it shouldn't have, but it did. I am not questioned when I have Seneca with me. She helps me fit in and without her I feel strangely like an intruder. This woman was not incorrect in questioning my judgement, but my children are indeed Navajo... registered members and all. They have access to every right and privilege that a darker-skinner member does. I think I could have tactfully explained myself to this woman, and the others around giving me weird looks if I had thought a little quicker, but I didn't and therefore simply smiled and moved along with my little light-haired children. Denten gently reminded me that our boys will deal with that misunderstanding their entire lives and all it will take is a little explanation, which is true, but in that moment, I didn't like that I wasn't take seriously- it was like my glowing white skin gave me away as a fraud or something. But I'm not.
Cooper's favorite part of the evening was the native dancing. This is the case at most native events. He is drawn to the colorful costumes and the rhythmic music. Standing and visiting while watching is not acceptable to him, he needed to find a seat. A good seat where he could see all the dancers. This requirement meant him sitting next to complete strangers and often engaging in conversation with them about some aspect of the dance, but the strangers didn't mind. The most entertaining was the White Mountain Apache dance, which was either a hunting or a war dance with faces covered, big stick headdresses and lots of bells. Coop sat through these dances a long time, the people we were with were amazed a little boy with so much energy (previously displayed) could sit still for so long and be so captivated.
All in all, it was an enjoyable evening. Katie mentioned during our conversation that people often thought she was Mexican. I guess I've never had the occasion to have someone mistake me for belonging to a race of people other than my own. It will be interesting to see how my children face that as they grow. If it is with any of the grace and dignity of their father, my worries are completely unfounded.