July 21, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

American Indians: An integral part of the past

As a girl, American Indians fascinated me.

What I learned mostly came from movies. In fact, my maternal grandfather’s twin brother, Charles Huber, was a Hollywood makeup artist, with credits in many cowboy and Indian films, including working with Boris Karloff when he portrayed the Indian Chief in the movie Unconquered.

In reality, however, Native Americans themselves were regularly conquered through wars and treaties then removed from native areas. (The number of those killed after 1492 is controversial: We’ve been told between 2 million and 100 million.)

The more I understand the American Indian path toward 2006, the more I realize how wronged they were and how rich is their heritage. In Indianapolis, visitors can enjoy their history by visiting the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art.

Once, while in the Colorado mountains, my sister, Beverley, and I befriended Delaware Indian Chief Billy Littlesoldier when we meandered away from clifty road edges where our husbands and children enjoyed panoramic views.

Imagine how thrilled the children were to meet an Indian chief! Then imagine our surprise later that summer when Chief Littlesoldier and his new bride, Vicki, an Indian princess, hitchhiked to Indiana and stayed with us. However, their real destination was a Pow-Wow in Tippecanoe so we took them there.

I recalled all this recently after reading Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees: A First-Person Account of a Woman’s Six-Week Captivity by the Sioux in 1862. Sara R. Wakefield wrote about what she and her two small children experienced as well as the difficulties they faced when they returned home. She was ostracized for sympathetic views toward her Sioux protectors as well as her respect for their culture.

In 2004, the book was republished by TwoDots, an imprint of The Globe Pequot Press (P.O. Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437). What strikes me most about her story is how often she uses the word “Christian” to describe the behavior of many of her captors—for many missionaries had preceded her.

However, I also recall a 2003 book by an Indianapolis Catholic, Mary Rubeck Benson, a member of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, titled Follow the Warrior’s Path: Life Story of Ohiyesa, Better Known as Dr. Eastman, published by the Council for Indian Education (2032 Woodly Drive, Billings, MT 59101).

The author, well known for her thorough research on the life of Dr. Eastman, has her work cited by other experts in the field. She presents programs about her research and book, and has spoken at national conferences. (Her phone contact is 317-894-7218.)

She also introduced me to Dr. Eastman’s The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation, which initially inspired her to write the Eastman/Ohiyesa book. It inspired me to better appreciate spiritual Indian practices and ideals.

Next week’s column will present additional Catholic tie-ins.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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