I have sat on what I’m about to share since last spring, to make sure I did not write it out of the wrong spirit, but today is Indigenous People’s Day, so I felt today would be the right time to say what I want to say here.
To some of the French here in the Saint John River Valley of northernmost Maine, I am an “Englishman.” They hear my southern accent and inability to speak French, and they therefore stereotype me- although my ancestry is predominantly Scottish, not English.
But to the Maliseet and Micmac natives that were here before, the French are the intruders.
The Maliseet, themselves had taken this land from peoples before them. And they, from peoples before them. Great confederacies and conquests. Sadly, displacement and replacement has been a universal characteristic to human history- without exception.
This past spring,I was notified that a native american musher here in my state that I do not know personally, publicly criticized me for my “White man’s conquest” proposal to ascend Katahdin by dogteam because it is a sacred mountain to native peoples. Perhaps his objection is sincere. But I was told that he himself has made ascents of the mountain- as a native. If that is true, he likely feels entitled to do so because he is native. I do not know. I have not asked. But I want to use this criticism to share about my heritage and my heart.
I am the proud great great grandson of Black Hawk Hays who, despite the Indian Wars and anti-indian sentiment of his time, had such great pride in our family heritage, and the native heritage of his wife’s family, that he named my great grandfather Powhatan Hayes. This is the same Black Hawk that earned fame by fighting his fellow “white man” neighbors in the south during the Civil War because he opposed slavery. Putting his life on the line for what his family, our family, stands for.
Those who would have taken the time to ask would also learn about my Cherokee grandmother on my mother’s side. While my Scottish ancestry is most apparent in my appearance- my older brother takes strongly from my mother and would pass as full blooded Cherokee.
Further, while some might oppose this “white man’s quest,” my Ojibwe and French wife feels it is a spiritual journey I should undertake if permitted.
I find it commendable that my detractor celebrates his heritage. I even thought- before his public criticism- that if I was to receive permission, I would invite him on the expedition because of his heritage and experience as a musher. .
The beauty of the world is the beauty that made Joseph’s coat of many colors so illustrious. It is not merely the melting-pot, but rather the celebration of our diversity. It should be celebrated. It should not be weaponized.
In 1913, Musher, Missionary and explorer, Hudson Stuckled a team that was the first to ever ascend “Mount McKinley” in Alaska. When his team made the summit, he insisted that the only native on the team, Waltar Harper, be given the honor of the first in the party to step foot on the summit.
As a missionary assigned to the Athabascans of Alaska’s interior, Stuck also argued against the westernization of natives. He was hated by Alaskan sourdoughs for his defense of native culture, clothing, tradition and dance. He was chided by fellow whites for advocating in Washington DC, that Mount McKinley be given its traditional native name. According to western tradition, the first ascender of a Mountain gets to name it. He humbly requested to exercise this privilege in favor of the indigeonous peoples, and to have the mountain name reverted back to its native name. His wish was granted. McKinley is now known by its native name- Denali.
“The time threatens when all the world will speak two or three great languages, when all the little tongues will be extinct and all the little peoples swallowed up, when all costume will be reduced to a dead level of blue jeans and shoddy and all strange customs abolished. The world will be a much less interesting world then…"
He wrote these words 120 years ago. How prophetic were his words! How prophetic and how sad. If only other missionaries of his time were so attuned as he to respecting local peoples and indigenous cultures- if they had all understood that the world could embrace Christianity without being westernized. “It is not too late” Hudson Stuck argued.
This is my heart as well. For you see, many Americans are as I am, of both European and Native descent. The fact that I and many native brothers and sisters embrace Christianity, does not mean that we reject our native heritage. It is not just your heritage. Your mountain. It is now all our heritage as well. For better or for worse.
So let us all celebrate the diversity of Native Cultures today. I pray the peculiarities of each never get swallowed up. I pray that there will always be some- like my detractor- that keep them and teach them to a new generation.
Indigenous People’s Day, 2022
By Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes,
Great Grandson of Addie Powhatan Hays
Great Great Grandson of Asa Black Hawk Hays