Guest Post by Crystal Dawn Draffen
Growing up my cousin and I would watch Westerns with our grandmother. We always suspected she had some Indian blood. She was always on the side of the Indians and her secret love crush was Cochise. The idea of being part-Native American was very intriguing to me. I had no idea about the real Native American history in our country. My education was based on old John Wayne westerns and episodes of Bonanza and Little House on the Prairie. I always felt that the white settlers abused their power and the country was stolen from the people who lived here first.
When I was born, my parents were already separated. My mother began dating a black saxophone player and she got pregnant. The first man I called Daddy was actually my younger half-brother’s father.
I was kidnapped when I was just over two years old and given to my paternal grandmother to raise. I was still holding on my milk bottle and my grandmother wanted to ween me from it. She decided that someone she knew, who was black, should come up to me and grab the bottle from me and say no very loudly. It was 1958. I was just over two years old. She told me that the man came up and did what she asked and I just looked at him. I was not frightened, as she was hoping I would be. I thought about this numerous times over the years and have only one explanation. My brother’s father was the first Daddy I had ever known and when I met him 30 years later, he said, “You used to call me Daddy.” So, the racist things never worked on me. I never saw black people differently, I never saw anyone differently. People, we are all people: 99.9% the same.
My curiosity of other people/cultures was apparent at a young age. In grade school we had once a week religious education. The churches were all around us so the school would allow us to leave during the day to report to the church where we would be instructed on religion and then return to school. I had always wondered about the differences in religious beliefs…as in “What God are they worshipping and why isn’t the same one we worship?” In 2nd grade I decided to find out the differences by going each week to a different church instead of the church I was affiliated with. After two weeks the school caught on and I was called into the Principal’s office! Where had I been going they demanded to know, and so on and so forth…. Well, I explained to the powers that be that I was wondering about the differences and wanted to find out for myself about these other Gods. I was told never to do that again and that I must go to my own church.
When I found my mother at the age of 18, she told me she grew up on a reservation in Maine. I was dumbfounded. You are the granddaughter of an Indian Chief, she told me. I could barely believe it. I was so pleased. My heart was filled with joy. A year later, I met my grandfather and had a long talk with him. “You have the heart of an Indian,” he said to me. I was blessed. I was also the sister to half brothers and a half sister. We are all different and all the same. Just like the world, we are a MIX. Unfortunately, it seems grandmother was less a mix than I was. She has no Indian heritage, according to DNA from my cousin. But how crazy is that? She wanted to be Indian but she disliked black people. She didn’t have a grasp of the hardships the white man caused the native people, to her the old west was romantic.
For me, my education had just begun.
-Crystal Dawn Draffen is writing her memoir.
About the photos: There is one photo of the four of us when I was four years old. My aunt and uncle had essentially kidnapped me from my grandmother; they took me to see my mother and siblings. I lived with my aunt and uncle for almost two years according to an older aunt who I could not remember. I just spoke with her last summer. I cannot remember and neither does my cousin who is near my age. The other photo is me and my siblings in 1981, taken in the hospital in Boston where my mother was. She died on New Year’s Day 1982. The other photos are from one of my brother’s art shows in NYC and the check I donated to the Darmstadt Homeless Shelter after raffling off an original and two giclée pieces. All photos are property of the author.