Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mixing of the Bloods

Three recent events inspired me to write on this topic. First: November is Native American Heritage month. Second: Immigration reform and the acceptance of refugees are increasingly in the news. Third: On November 18, 2015, Five Star Publishing released Bear Claws, the second book in my trilogy, The Iron Horse Chronicles.

In my books, one fictional character is Charles Lone Eagle Munro, Jr., the son of a white mountain man and a Cheyenne Indian mother. I portray Lone Eagle’s struggle to identify with his proud Indian heritage while also acknowledging the adverse impact Manifest Destiny is perpetrating on that culture. Lone Eagle insists he is Cheyenne, although he is not full-blood. Will Braddock, the trilogy’s protagonist, thinks of his new Indian friend as mixed-blood. Paddy O’Hannigan, the antagonist, refers to Lone Eagle with the derogatory term half-breed.
According to the Navajo Times, the 2010 United States Census, reveals 5.2 million, 1.7 percent, of the US population is classified as American Indian and Alaska Native. Of this population, 44 percent of American Indians are considered “mixed-race.” The Navajos claim the largest percentage of full-bloods among American Indians at 86.3 percent.

America has long been known as the melting pot, usually interpreted to mean the beneficial blending of different nationalities and races. The Native American designation used by the government draws the ire of some American Indians, who prefer to be called “Indians.” Notwithstanding any argument over the “political correctness” of nomenclature, the arrival of Europeans in the Americas led to a blending of races that has greatly diminished the percent of full-blood, original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere.

The mixing of the blood of Caucasians with Indians occurred early in the years of European settlement in the Americas. The story of Pocahontas, and her coming to terms with a world that was changing around her, is often the middle-grade reader’s first exposure to this blending of the bloods. Pocahontas was not mixed-blood, but her son was. Her story has been repeatedly told in print and on screen. Of the many books on this subject, The Double Life of Pocahontas by Jean Fritz won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for its portrayal of her story.

Another middle-grade novel of the blending of the bloods is Sacajawea by Joseph Bruchac. A Shoshone girl, Sacajawea had been captured by the Hidatsa tribe, then married at a young age to Toussaint Charbonneau, a Quebecois (French) trapper. Lewis and Clark engaged Sacajawea and her husband as guides. The great Corps of Discovery Expedition probably would not have been successful in its famous trek to the Pacific Ocean without her help. Sacajawea was not mixed-blood, but like Pocahontas, her son was. In my book Bear Claws, I introduce fictional characters who are related to Sacajawea. One of them becomes the romantic interest of Lone Eagle.

The female involved in starting a mixed-blood family is not always Indian. Cynthia Ann Parker was a white woman whom the Comanches captured when she was about ten years old. She married a Comanche warrior and had three children by him. One of these was Quanah Parker, the last great Comanche chief. I had the privilege of meeting three of Quanah Parker’s great-grandsons during the 2015 Convention of Western Writers of America in Lubbock, Texas. They participated in a workshop on writing about Comanches, which was chaired by my friend Lucia St. Clair Robson. Robson’s wonderful book about Cynthia Ann Parker, Ride the Wind, won a WWA Spur Award. This book might be a struggle for some middle-grade readers, but it would be well worth the effort. An easier read and a fine book for the middle-grade student is Where the Broken Heart Still Beats by Carolyn Meyer.

Both full-blood and mixed-blood Indians have a right to be proud of their heritage and the  contributions they have made to the protection and betterment of all those who claim a relationship to the people who inhabited the Americas before the mixing of the bloods began. In The Iron Horse Chronicles I try to respect the legacy of the American Indian.       


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