I was thinking about a girl who was in my kindergarten class. In the 1950’s and 60’s, we hadn’t yet learned to use words like indigenous or Native American or First People. She was an Indian. She had beautiful shiny black hair, cut in a straight line just below her chin and she usually sat next to me on the floor during story time. I was a timid child. Being in school was scary and new but she was warm and friendly. I remember she once showed me a band-aid on her knee and whispered she would let me watch her pull it off. I was mesmerized by her confidence.That girl disappeared from my life after kindergarten.Today I suddenly thought of her and wondered what had happened to her.. I impulsively looked on Ancestry and found her name in a 1950 census. A girl born the same year as I was and who had lived in the same town. She had several siblings and her parents were considerably younger than mine were. The form stated “IND” beside each name in the family. In capital letters. IND. The other day I watched a TED-talk by an indigenous woman from the Oaxaca State in Mexico. She was asking that people not see her or others who look like her and automatically label them as “Mexican”. Her ancestry was indigenous and her first language was in fact, an indigenous one. She didn’t consider herself Mexican and didn’t begin to learn to speak Spanish until she was around ten years old and moved from her village in the mountains. I thought of that when I saw IND on that online census form from 1950. Was my kindergarten friend Chippewa? Ojibwa? Menominee? Did anyone ask? Did anyone care? I followed what I could but the only other thing I found was a photo someone had posted of an older woman with that name who was maybe in her mid sixties when it was taken. The birth year was correct. It was the correct place. I couldn’t find anything except that one picture. A photo of a beautiful, proud, smiling, dark-skinned woman. I looked closely and decided it could have been her, I hoped it was. I wanted it to be.
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