White Indian, Red Indian, Wood Indian (2020)
Digital Collage over Oil on Canvas , 3'x4'
When I was young, I identified myself as a ‘white Indian’. I keenly observed, “Dad and [my brother] are black Indians, Mom and me are white Indians.” This became a favorite family story we chuckle about every once in a while.
I was never truly bothered by my multi-ethnicity or the color of my skin until I started applying for colleges and had to check boxes. I didn’t want to lie, so I checked both the American Indian/Alaska Native and the White boxes. As I reflected on my life I realized that I had always thought of myself as a ‘White Indian’. I treated my heritage like a fun fact, surprising new friends by telling them, “Yeah, I’m 50% Navajo.” It’s understandably surprising because I certainly didn’t look the part.
On September 27th, 2019 my Aunt Martha passed away. She was from my Navajo side of the family that I barely know. My father drove out to the reservation to attend the funeral. Being across the country in Michigan I did not go. I probably wouldn’t have known anyone there anyway.
The next day my dad called me and told me that I was listed as an honorary pallbearer. I was honestly shocked that they even knew who I was. Perhaps I’ve been scared of being rejected by my Navajo family because of my lifestyle and the color of my skin, but at this moment I realized that I might be the one rejecting them.
It wasn’t difficult to find multiple old pictures of my father and me posed in front of wooden Indians from around the country. It seems like it had become an unspoken tradition. Almost every time we saw another Indian Statue, we stopped to get a picture. In a time when I am more aware and critical of Native American representations around me, I should probably be finding these effigies problematic, similar to how I find the Redskins logo and other sports imagery problematic; but I would be lying if I said I didn’t think wood Indians are still a little cool.