When she was little Marie Fielder knew she was different.
“I remember being scared that if I was a bad girl I would have to go to native school,” said Fielder, 55.
Alpena’s woman with Native American blood in her veins described a boarding school where, she was told as a child, Native children could be forced to assimilate, stripped of their traditional customs and forced to learn the English language and English manners.
Discrimination and misunderstanding of Native Americans was evident when Fielder was growing up in the Upper Peninsula.
His father, a thoroughbred American Indian, helped establish the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, one of 12 federally recognized tribes of Michigan.
When he started working on the effort, Fielder said, his family threatened to deny him.
When Fielder was growing up, being an Indian “wasn’t cool.” His parents – even his father – were cautious about tying their children to their heritage, fearing the discrimination that was an accepted part of American culture at the time.
Endemic racial stereotypes said natives were steeped in poverty and social problems, Fielder said, an image her parents hoped to distance her from.
“They didn’t want us to be identified as part of this,” she said.
Hoping to protect their children from discrimination, they pushed for education – but not indigenous traditions.
Fielder’s youth, tinged with fear of Indigenous schooling and his parents’ warnings, came of age surrounded by a changing world, in which societal change leads to increased appreciation of the history, culture and people of the American Indians, Fielder mentioned.
The recent national trend to end Columbus Day celebrations is notable and welcome, Fielder said.
“To me, it’s a joke,” she said of Columbus Day. “Why do we honor someone who slaughtered the natives and just landed here on a boat?” “
She applauds the nation for moving forward on the possibility of abolishing the holiday and celebrating it for what it said it should be: recognition of the Native Americans as the first people of our nation.
Many Americans already call October the Day of the Indigenous Peoples.
‘THERE IS NOTHING HERE’
Fielder moved to northeast Michigan at age 23, away from the welcoming and increasingly confident community of his Upper Peninsula tribe.
“There is nothing here” celebrating indigenous culture, she said of her current home, so different from the culture-steeped tribal lands in the UP
To be part of native activities, she must drive. She drove when her children were younger to expose them to Indigenous experiences.
Fielder goes to St. Ignace, Sault Ste. Marie, or Escanaba to reconnect with the locals and attend traditional events. His travels to the north give him a sense of serenity that can only be found in tribal lands.
“It feeds me,” she said. “I feel like I’m surrounded by people who understand me and whom I understand. And it’s a comfortable feeling.
“I FEEL AMERICAN”
People are regularly surprised to learn of Fielder’s Aboriginal heritage.
Her face, unlike her father’s handsome classic Indian profile, does not have an indigenous look, she said, instead reflecting her mother’s French roots.
“But I do feel Native American,” Fielder said, patting his chest with his fingertips.
Although she said it would be nice to connect with other local natives, she has not met any other tribesman in the Alpena area during her many years of local life.
“It’s just not a population that exists,” she said. “And that’s sad.”
Census estimates show that there were 317 American Indian or Native Alaskan residents in Alpena, Presque Isle, Montmorency, and Alcona counties in 2017.
Raised with respect for her heritage but without teaching her traditions, Fielder, as an adult, now seeks to connect with her origins, learns basket and quill weaving, and attends events and classes advertised in a Indian newspaper.
The diary contains mini language courses, from which Fielder slowly learns excerpts from the language of the Great Lakes tribes, called Anishinaabemowin.
Fielder attends powwows when she can, reveling in their party atmosphere and the celebration of history and heritage. She described the costumes, drums, dances, crafts and food with relish.
“The best fried bread you’ve ever had,” she added.
“AMERICANS ALSO WANT”
Her father had a cane made for his daughter, harvested and prepared for her and dressed by a native. Two eagle feathers hang from its leather-wrapped handle, feathers that, by law, only American Indians can own.
A membership card in her wallet means that Fielder has the right, as a native, to hunt, fish and harvest anywhere on treaty land, the boundaries of which, she said, s ‘extend to Alpena County.
A few years ago, when his father was still alive, he suggested that they visit a medicine man to receive tribal names. In a ceremony accompanied by sweet smoke from the burning of sacred plants, the medicine man, who knew nothing about Fielder’s life, named her Waa Ba No Kwe – Eastern Sky Woman.
“I have always loved sunrises,” said the eastern resident.
In an Alpena that doesn’t quite feel like home, the connection-hungry, indigenous-rooted resident speaks on behalf of a people who, despite their differences, are, below, like everyone else.
“We want the same,” she said. “We want a strong country. We want a strong family unit. We want rights and freedoms.
Fielder shows around it a region steeped in Polish and German culture, where meals, traditions, clothing and even dances allow a people to preserve and celebrate their heritage without fear of judgment or discrimination.
“Native Americans want it too,” Fielder said. “To be able to celebrate in a way that is meaningful to us and in a way that brings us peace. “
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.
The Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan is working to update its Native American Gallery, mostly comprised of prehistoric Native American artifacts, to reflect the more modern and continuing role of Indians in Northeast Michigan. He recently kicked off this effort with a new exhibition on the 200th anniversary of the Treaty of Saginaw titled “Indigenous Treaties: Shared Rights”. Visit the museum at 491 Johnson St., call 989-356-2202 or visit bessermuseum.org/history for more information.
Coming October 26
Northeastern Michigan is increasingly ethnically diverse. Starting October 26, The News will begin publishing a four-day series examining the experiences of residents of color in northeast Michigan and whether the community is doing enough to accommodate them.