Red and White . . . and Blue

By Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

The church was full.  I sat next to my husband on the back pew and opened my hymnal to the designated page.  It was the Sunday before the Fourth of July; all the hymns were patriotic.

The crowd stood and sang.  My husband stood in silence.  I tried to sing along, but my heart wouldn’t allow it.  They sang of liberty, of gleaming alabaster cities, and of gold refined.  They sang of pilgrim’s pride, the noble, and the free.  Thoughts flooded my brain about my Cherokee ancestors and how their way of life had been ripped away, their land stolen, all to give this new nation its “freedom.” 

A memory came to me.  It was my grandmother’s voice breaking as she told me how her father’s Indian land lay at the bottom of a man-made lake, taken for the greater good.  My great-grandfather moved the school house he’d built with his bare hands, piece by piece, to another location before the water took it all.

I thought about how I had been pulled out of line at London-Heathrow airport and asked what kind of name I had.  American Indian, I replied, hoping, knowing in my heart those words might work better than trying to explain my Choctaw name.  A man ushered me to an area where I stood next to a woman wearing a burka and waited my turn.  They searched my luggage and then they searched me.  I had been profiled for bearing my husband’s name – Hoklotubbe. 

I wanted to scream that my name is a proud warrior name, a name that existed before the United States was even a country.  I wanted to tell them that Hoklotubbe means “to listen” and “to kill” in the Choctaw language.  But I didn’t.  Instead, I submitted, just as my ancestors did so long ago to the invading Europeans.    

Gingerly, I closed the hymnal and placed it back in the rack.  As the others celebrated songs of Independence Day, I silently mourned.

I tell this story with mixed emotions.  My father was white; my mother was Cherokee.  I am proud to be Cherokee, but if the white settlers who raped the land and herded the Cherokees away from their homes in Georgia and Tennessee hadn’t eventually migrated into Indian Territory, I would not exist.  Or if I did, I would not have my father’s freckles and his hazel eyes.  I would not have his love of music or his storytelling skills.  I would not be me.  Why, then, is it so painful to sing of pilgrim’s pride?

Perhaps it is because Americans have conveniently forgotten the Native holocaust that gave birth to this country.  Today, the uneducated public describes treaty obligations as government handouts.  The government requires that we possess Degree-of-Indian-Blood cards to prove we are Indian, much like a show dog must have pedigree papers to prove its noble bloodline.  Native owners of restricted land, original land allotments, are required to seek permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to lease their land, and then the money is squandered by that very agency.

Quiet indignation stirs inside me.  It lives in conflict with how blessed I feel to live in a country with political and religious freedom.  My father, my uncles, and my husband are all combat veterans.  None of them were flag-wavers when they came home from their respective wars, yet my heart is full of gratitude, knowing they fought for my right to voice these very words, however blue and unpatriotic they may sound.   

The Best in Show winner of the recent Five Civilized Tribes Art Show was a striking clay sculpture by Troy Anderson titled:  "Halfbreed -- Am I Red and White or Am I White and Red?"  This piece of art spoke to me.  I identify with my mother’s Cherokee heritage and can trace our lineage to before the removal.  Yet, I cannot deny my father and his white ancestors.  They are part of me; I am part of them.

I’m glad the Fourth of July is over and those patriotic songs have been put away for a while.  In the meantime, I remain Red and White . . . White and Red . . . and Blue. 

Copyright © Sara Sue Hoklotubbe

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sara Sue Hoklotubbe is a Cherokee citizen and the author of the Sadie Walela Mystery Series set in the Cherokee Nation where she grew up.  The American Café, (The University of Arizona Press, 2011), the second book in the series was chosen as a finalist for the 2011 ForeWord Book of the Year Award by the American Library Association.  The book was also named as finalist for the 2012 Oklahoma Book Awards.  Sara was named Writer of the Year by Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers for Deception on All Accounts, (The University of Arizona Press, 2003), the first book in the series.  Both books were chosen and released by the U.S. Library of Congress as Talking Books for the Blind.

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