Maybe it is this leaf induced reverence for nature that happens at this time of year or maybe it is memories of a youth spent playing Indian war games in Fall woods – either way Fall has always been a time deep with Indian meaning for me. Where I grew up in Upstate NY was deep in the heart of Indian Country. I grew up on Iroquois land – the land of Five Nations, the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas. Nearly every town was named after one Iroquois father or another and we were taught at an early age in school of the bravery of the people of the longhouses that cultivated the rich soils of upstate NY and fished the finger lakes and cast fear in the hearts of white settlers.
I always took great pride in the family story of the great-great aunt that was actual Indian blood. Despite the realities of my family tree in my mind at least that bloodline ran true in my veins. Every summer I was sent to camp Arrowhead where we taught the typical summer camp boondoggling and fire starting but it was always cast against the shadow of the Iroquois and all of our games were Indian games – usually some variation of lacrosse or Indian tag. The highlight each year was the season ending sleep over with the annual bon-fire and story telling. In the dark night around the blazing fire the Indian stories took on a deeper meaning that remains with me still – especially the story of the torture where Iroquois enemies were tied to a stake and had the great misfortune of having their heart cut out so quickly that they would see it beating in the Iroquois brave’s hand before they died. Tell that story to 10 year old boys in the woods at night and see how good any of them sleep that night.
For vacation in the summer my parents would take us back to foothills of the Adirondack mountains where they grew up. This was the Mohawk Valley — appropriately named after the ancient tribes that first settled the region. I wandered many a hillside and lakeside in those summers certain that I would catch a glimpse of a feather peaking around the Oak tree. My dad would take me to all the area forts, Fort William Henry and of course Fort Ticonderoga and I always found myself more fascinated with the stories of the courage of the “savages” that left scars on the wooden forts with their tomahawks and arrowheads. At Fort Ticonderoga I walked with my dad through the woods on the trail that was used by the Mohigans to sneak in and out of the fort. I was fascinated by the Mohigan story long before the movie made it so famous.
I still find the Indian mythology very meaningful and at this time of year I love to re-read my favorite Indian books, especially Black Elk Speaks which tells the story of this Oglala Sioux vision man who foretold the demise of his tribe to the white man. Late in his life on a reservation he told his story to John Neihardt from the University of Nebraska and it offers great insight into the Indian perspective of the “civilization of the West.”
Seeing through a different perspective seems an appropriate message for all of us who are working hard to build a community that is full of different perspectives. The story of the Oglala Sioux reminds me that there is always another side of the story and perhaps that reminder will help us work through whatever challenging community issues may come our way.