I don’t know about all of you, but I love reading stories of people reuniting with long lost family after having their DNA analyzed. Those stories seem to have offered a shortcut to the magic of genealogy and what seemed like an endless treasure hunt for relatives. I believe there seems to be, for most, a longing to know where we belong… where we come from. For those of us who know the names of our ancestors, it is even more exciting to learn about how they lived their lives. The feeling of standing on common ground, wondering what they saw, how they felt during a moment in time, what they experienced…
Personally, my DNA must look like minestrone soup! My father is Seminole and because our Tribe subscribes to blood quantum, he is enrolled as full-blooded. My mother, however, is full-blooded European, with half of her blood quantum coming from Norway and the other half being a mix of Italian, French, and Irish.
My brother and I were raised identifying, proudly, as half Seminole and half “Heinz 57.” As kids we didn’t understand why our mom identified as steak sauce but as we got older we came to understand the humor. As proud as I am of my mother’s heritage, I was raised a Seminole and she wanted it that way. Our mom is a rockstar, just so you know, and although I don’t write about her side of the family, I know that I should because they are a huge part of my life and I wouldn’t be who I am without their love and support.
As you can probably tell, I spend a lot of time thinking and researching where I come from. Working full time as the Director of the Tribal Historic Preservation Office for my Tribe (Seminole Tribe of Florida), I frequently rely upon the knowledge of my ancestors in an effort to protect our people today. We don’t believe that once our ancestors pass away that their spirits, souls, and power of life ceases to exist. The lives of our ancestors affect our people today and the way we live will affect grandchildren or generations we will never meet. I often think about what life was like for my ancestors. What was it about their lives that led to my ferocious need to protect the ancestors? Believe me, if you have ever sat across the table from me in consultation, you know ferocity and the refusal to compromise is an understatement. Maybe the combination of Seminole and Viking blood is to blame?
When my father tells stories about his grandparents, I soak it up like a dry mop. I find myself googling my ancestors’ names and looking for them in collections I come across at work. I also find that when things get tough at work and we are facing tough times or adversaries, I turn to old newspaper articles about two of my great grandfathers, Futch Cypress and Robert Osceola, both born during wartime, for strength and guidance. Early newspapers captured glimpses into their lives. I stare at the images and try desperately to see myself or my relatives in their faces. I look at their expressions and wonder what was on their minds? I realize their lives during wartime had them face to face with the United States Army. During their lifetimes they saw railroads being built, people moving into Florida and Miami grow into a tourist destination. Did they ever consider themselves not at war? Honestly, I don’t think I do. The newspapers went from covering the Seminole war accounts to writing about Seminoles as a Florida oddity. What should become of the Indians now? The United States military failed to move the Indians out of the way by removing them to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, so now what?
As I look into their faces captured on newsprint and read their words, I feel like I am able to share a sliver of time with them. I would love to ask, in their lifetimes would they ever imagine they would have a granddaughter with European blood? What would they even think if they were to witness what we have become today, as federally recognized tribes, just to survive as a people? Would they even consider us Seminole?
These are tough questions that I struggle with as a half Seminole, half Heinz 57 woman today. But, that struggle isn’t an obstacle, it’s motivation. I only hope that the words I write today and the work I do will serve as a legacy to generations of grandchildren I will never meet. I want them to know that regardless of the destructive practice of blood quantum, they have a grandmother fiercely proud of her ancestors and equally proud that they carry my minestrone soup in their genetic makeup.