Aside from pow wows that I was subject to periodically as a young girl, there weren’t too many places that I could learn about being Indian and being proud to be who I was. I don’t remember many words of encouragement from the world at large.
We were urban Indians when I was really young, and living in a single-parent household. One summer, my brother and I went to visit our dad while he was living in Jackson.
We were sitting on the porch at his sister’s house. And for some reason, I thought Indian dads were supposed to be storytellers. So I asked him if he would tell us an Indian story.
He arose from his rickety old lawn chair, and said to my brother and I, “Oh yes. Dads do tell their little Indian children stories. I’ll be right back.”
I remember sitting on the cold cement of Aunt Joyce’s porch. I could feel the coolness against my bare legs, and no matter how long I sat there, the cement just never warmed up.
I was excited. I figured my dad probably knew everything, being a grown man and all. And he probably knew all the old Indian stories, cuz that was what grown Indian men with children are suppose to know. I thought all grown ups knew everything.
Daddy Jim came back and sat down in his chair, almost falling into it since his hands were cupping something. And so he began by looking at us first.
“I’m going to tell you guys an old, old story. Gather ‘round now.”
My brother and I sat Indian style on the cold cement floor of the porch, full attention. Our little hands folded just so in our laps, we looked up to our father, this great Indian man who probably knew everything Indian that there was to know.
Hell, he probably invented a lot of Indian stuff too. Our dad was our dad. And he was the grown up, so he was suppose to know this stuff.
With one hand outstretched, and the other hand above it, he reached in his open hand to gather his offering. I don’t know why he was using Quaker oatmeal, but I guess that was as close to corn as he could get without opening a can of creamed corn. Man that dad of mine was clever.
He offered his grain to the four winds, to the grandfathers of the east, then the south, the west and finally the north. And then he brushed his hands off right over my brother’s head with a glint in his eye. I wondered if this was his Indian baptism. Geez, why did he get to be sprinkled with this blessing and all I got was oatmeal dust in my eyes. Probably because he was a boy.
So I straightened up even further, to show my dad that I was bigger and could sit up even straighter. Any straighter and I would have fallen over or strained my 8-year old back.
And then he began. “The story I’m going to tell you first, is an old Indian legend.” This story was going to be important. I could tell. Indian legends are always true. That’s why they’re legends. And my dad had his solemn face on. The one they use when it’s time to settle down and be serious.
“A long time ago, there was this old Indian. He lived way back in the woods, by the swamps. He had to live there, little ones, because there was the white man who needed to have furs for their wives, and meat to feed their broods.
He was an ancient Indian, kids. His face was so wrinkly, that you would have thought that he was probably a hundred years old. In fact, he was so many moons old that even the old ones were young when he was that old.
A lot of people were afraid of this man. And this old man didn’t like being afraid of. He was after all, just an old man. But the neighbor kids were afraid of him, and wouldn’t visit him. He never had any friends to call on him either. For some reason, no one came to see him.”
I was very intrigued by this point. I figured the old fella must have been pretty scary looking or people would want to take care of him. It’s part of our way to take care of our elders. Or at least it was.
Well, the old man had to finally leave his tribe. No one paid any attention to him anyway, and so he went off to be by himself. And that was how he came to be a trapper for the white man. Just him and his old dog, Musky.
After many moons, little ones, the old man became pretty good friends with these white traders. He was beginning to understand what they were saying, but could hardly speak their words. But he was still good friends with them.
One day, his old dog had to lie down and walk to the other side, where our people and our pets go when they die. But the old Indian didn’t know where his old Musky had gone.
The old Indian was quite lonely now. After all, Musky was the only real friend he had. In fact, the whole rest of his life he searched and searched that area for his dog. And when someone ran across him in the old trapping swamps or in the woods, all they heard was the old Indian muttering to himself: “Musky gone.”
And so that’s how Muskegon got its name.
Man. That was it?? My dad. What a storyteller.