When I tell you that my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you’ll understand. Or not. I’ll write this anyway, because ever since last week things have changed. Apparently — I mean, nobody knows — our world is running backward. Or forward. Or maybe sideways, in a way as yet ungrasped. I am sure somebody will come up with a name for what is happening, but I cannot imagine how everything around us and everything within us can be fixed. What is happening involves the indivisible, the quanta of which we are created. Whatever is actually occurring, there is constant breaking news about how it will be handled — speculation, really, concerning what comes next — which is why I am writing an account.
Historic times! There have always been letters and diaries written in times of tumult and discovered later, and my thought is that I could be writing one of those. And even though I realize that all lexical knowledge may be useless, you’ll have this record.
Did I mention that I’m four months pregnant?
Nearly a decade ago and almost two months into my first pregnancy, I had an abortion. I am telling you because it is important that you know everything. My decision came about the instant I took the dipstick test — no. I would close this door. In doing so, I opened a different door. If I hadn’t had an abortion then, I would not be having you, now. This time the dipstick test filled me with yes.
So I am twenty-six, pregnant, and I haven’t got health insurance. This would completely upset my parents, who actually have more than they need. It is also, without question, a perilous time in the history of creation. Unless the swirling questions are answered soon, you will be born into this unknown state. But whatever happens, you will be welcomed with eager arms into a family that spans several cultures. There are first of all my adoptive parents, whose lyrical name is of British origin. Glen and Sera Songmaker. They are truly beautiful people, there is no doubt, no question, and although I’ve given them a great deal to worry about, they’ve dealt gracefully with me for the most part. They are forgiving people, Buddhists, green in their very souls. Although Sera is annoyingly phobic about hand sanitizers and food additives, and many years ago Glen had an affair with a Retro Vinyl record shop clerk that nearly tore the family apart, they are happily married vegans. They are the dearest people imaginable, except . . . Except I’ve never understood how I was adopted — I mean, the legality there is definitely to be questioned. There is this law called the Indian Child Welfare Act, which makes it almost impossible to adopt a Native child into a non-Native family. This law should have, even had to, apply to me. Whenever I mention it, Glen and Sera hum and look away. Even if I scream, they don’t look back. Still. They are good parents, they will be wonderful grandparents, and you’ll have aunties and uncles and a whole other set of bio-based grandparents, the Potts.
As I mentioned, yes, I denied and disregarded the knowledge of my biological family for a short time, but perhaps you’ll understand if I explain how my ethnicity was celebrated in the sheltered enclave of my adoptive Songmaker family. Native girl! Indian Princess! An Ojibwe, Chippewa, Anishinaabe, but whatever. I was rare, maybe part wild, I was the star of my Waldorf grade school. Sera kept my hair in braids, though I famously chopped one off. But even one-braided, even as a theoretical Native, really, I always felt special, like royalty, mentioned in the setting of reverence that attended the study of Native history or customs. My observations on birds, bugs, worms, clouds, cats and dogs, were quoted. I supposedly had a hotline to nature. This continued through high school, but waned, definitely waned, once I went to college and hung out with other indigenes. I became ordinary, then. Even worse, I had no clan, no culture, no language, no relatives. Confusingly, I had no struggle. In our talking circles, I heard stories. Addictions. Suicides. I’d had no crises in my life, besides the Retro Vinyl clerk, so I invented one. I chopped off both braids, then stopped going to classes. I’d been a snowflake. Without my specialness, I melted.
From “Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich. Copyright © 2017 by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.