Chapter 12: Acceptance

One morning Mother told me we were going to make some containers to hold the last of the fat fried from a bear killed a few days before. She showed me how to make a container by pulling the skin from a deer's neck without ripping it, then sewing up one end of it. Each container would hold four or five gallons of bear oil, I guessed. “Put these in the longhouse,” she said after we had filled three containers. I bent over to grab up the first container, but I can tell you that five gallons of bear oil in a deer-skin vessel is a heavy and awkward load. Mother laughed at my contortions to manage my load, and together we moved the oil into the lodge. The warm days of early fall gave way to the chill days of early winter. Each day I felt more accepted by the tribe, and somewhat more accepting of them, too. Quickly I was learning their language and their customs, yet still I longed for my White family. Always I carried my Hannah doll with me. Indian leggings held no pockets, a function the Lenape seemed not to appreciate, so I carved a small hole in the top of the doll and hung her around my neck on a thin leather thong. One by one the other children would see the doll and ask me about it; I explained that it represented my spirit family. Only Water Moon and my Indian Mother knew it was really my sister Hannah. Early on I learned that since the day the tribe adopted me into their family, they believed I had no further connection with my White family. Any mention of them was considered disrespectful to my new Indian family. Over time Mother taught me to take care of myself like an Indian: to gather, store, and cook our meals, to repair my clothing and make new as I needed it. But I quickly discovered that this was work only for squaws and children like me. Not even Water Moon participated in this. I longed for the day when I, too, would be taken off with the men to learn the ways of the braves. When the men went off to hunt, they often stayed away for many days at a time. Finally they would return with a wondrous assortment of wild animal carcasses. These we roasted or dried and stored alongside the grains in the longhouse. After one such trip, Smiling Beaver suggested we do a hunting trip of our own. He was the boy who laughed at my white legs on my first day in camp. I had taken an instant liking to him. I enjoyed his curiosity and enthusiasm. He was not at all a serious boy like some. “Racer. I will take you to Kit-a-tinny Mountain. We will hunt and fish for three days. Then we will come back here. It will be good. I will teach you the ways of hunting small game.” I was excited, partly because I knew that this was a break from the “women’s work” I was supposed to engage in as a youngster, but partly, too, because this was the first time Smiling Beaver had made such a generous overture to me. Besides Water Moon, he was my favorite of the Lenape children. “We must talk with Mother and Father,” I replied, trying to contain my excitement. “They must agree.” “Yes,” Smiling Beaver said, unsmilingly. Two days later, Smiling Beaver and I found ourselves in a wide, green valley coming down from the heights of Kita-tinny Mountain. A quick stream danced down through the middle of the valley. The unmistakable signs of beaver – trees nearly or completely chewed through – were everywhere. With his simple tools, Smiling Beaver built a

beaver trap at a likely spot in the stream. We figured to catch a beaver, skin it, eat it, and take the hide back to the village. In the afternoon, we traversed up to the top of the ridge, looking for other small game. With our bows, we killed three squirrels which we skinned and ate raw. Late in the day, feeling flush, we backtracked down to the stream where we had placed the trap. Suddenly Smiling Beaver dropped to the ground behind a small yew tree and motioned me to do likewise. Even from a distance we both sensed something was off. Something – or someone – had disturbed our hunting site. I followed his stare and saw in the distance a White man examining our trap. We watched as this furtive little man glanced around. Satisfied, he squatted down, pried open the trap with his foot, and removed the beaver that we had caught. He stuffed the beaver carcass into a bag slung over his shoulder, grabbed his rifle leaning against a tree trunk, and stood up to go. Smiling Beaver jumped up. “VOUS PETIT CHIEN FILTY!” he yelled in his loudest youngster voice. With an astonished glance in our direction, the man began running at a terrific speed through the woods and out of sight, taking our beaver with him while leaving the trap behind. But I was so astonished at what I had just heard I did not care about the beaver or the trap. In my confusion I nearly tripped and fell into the creek. After all, I spoke French well enough. I knew I was not mistaken. Smiling Beaver had yelled nearly flawless French at the retreating figure of the little man. But how could that be? And how did he know if the thief was French? I stared intently at Smiling Beaver. He lowered his eyes and dropped his arms to his sides, slumping to the ground; I sat next to him. “Smiling Beaver?” I didn’t quite know what to say. “You speak French?” I asked in Lenape. “I did not know . . .” He looked at me sharply. “You understood what I said?” he asked sheepishly. “Yes. I also speak French. My Father . . .” Here I corrected myself: “My White Father spoke French. I learned it from him. But where did you learn it?” For quite some time Smiling Beaver was silent. I could see he was engaged in some fierce internal struggle. Finally, haltingly, he began to tell me his story. “I am like you. I was adopted into the Munsee tribe. My father was French, a trapper man. My mother was Ottowa Indian. We lived with the Ottowa near Big Lake [Lake Superior]. I spent much time with my father when he was not trapping. I learned his language and my mother’s language. He was killed by the Yangwe soldiers three or four winters ago, at the same time that the Iroquois captured my mother and me. They kept my mother and sold me to the Lenape. Black Grouse and Towassink adopted me after their son was killed in battle. I never saw my real mother again.” I was stunned. I had so many questions I did not know where to start. “But . . . but you look Lenape,” I sputtered. He smiled a crooked little smile. “I look Ottowa more than Lenape. And I look a little like you, maybe? Some French?” Now I realized he spoke the truth. Black hair, brown eyes, brown skin, yes, but he did not have the high cheekbones of other Lenape, or their wide feet and short fingers. I just shook my head, then asked, “Do you speak French often?” “No, never,” he replied forcefully. “Do you know what you said in French?” I asked. “No, not really.” “You called that thief a dirty little dog,” I said, smiling Smiling Beaver laughed out loud. “Good. That is what he is. Only a dog steals another man’s traps.” Then, blushing, he added, “I do not know where those words came from. I must have heard my father say them. I do not know.”

“So, you can talk French if you want to?” I asked. “Maybe,” he answered slowly. “I remember very little of it.” He paused, then said even more forcefully than before, “But I do not want to talk it. I talk only Lenape now.” I was still curious. “Did you know that man? How did you know he was French?” “Yes, I have seen him at the trading post. And I know him to be French by the gun he carried and that odd little hat he wore.” Smiling Beaver thought a moment, then chuckled and looked at me sideways. “Anyway, I could not call him a dirty dog in Yangwe because I do not know that language as you do.” I was a little surprised at this remark, since we had never discussed the fact that I could speak English. With that, Smiling Beaver stood up and began a quick pace downstream. We never spoke of that incident again. But now I had a new understanding of my young friend, and felt a new closeness to him. Could this be part of the connection I felt with him when I first saw him after the gauntlet? Perhaps. The two of us ran back to the village in great spirits. A game of Te-hon-tsi-kwaks-eks, or LaCrosse, was underway in the flat area near the river. The game was played with a stick about three feet long that ended in a sort of crook with a large, flat triangular surface of webbing; the ball was a fist-sized lump of deer hide sewn together. The object of the game was to grab the ball with the stick and fling the ball at your own goal. Sometimes the game was played with two opposing teams, but this time it was a free-for-all. Smiling Beaver and I rushed to join in. As usual, the action was fast and hard. The young man with a limp was in the middle of it all, ferociously swinging his game stick while attempting to capture the ball from his opponents. He was one of the toughest players in the village. He was very good at scooping up a loose ball with his stick, then doing a complete circle on his good leg while using all his strength to fling the ball toward his goal. This was Mud Turtle, whom I had noticed playing the game on my first day with the tribe. When I first heard his name, I thought it appropriate, for he reminded me of a slow-moving, dim-witted mud turtle. He seemed always to be on the verge of open hostility. He was indeed a member of the Turtle clan who called themselves Unami, or the People Down the River, as were many in our village, ‘tho his fellow Turtles were as friendly as any in my own Wolf clan. Most of the Lenape chiefs came from his clan. Mud Turtle’s bad leg slowed him down when running, but it certainly did not slow him at all in this game. Smiling Beaver had grabbed up a stick and was charging after the ball with Mud Turtle right behind him. I swung in to try to deflect Mud Turtle and the others. The ball got loose from one of the boys and Smiling Beaver grabbed for it with his stick but Mud Turtle beat him to it, scooping up the ball with one fast, clean motion. I was running fast at him to try to kick the ball loose. Mud Turtle began his turn and I tried to duck out of the way, but to no avail. I was already off center when Mud Turtle’s stick hit me on the side of my head with a thundering blow. It threw me face-down in the dirt. Dazed and confused, I struggled to get up and out of the way, for the play did not stop. I lurched to my knees, then collapsed. Smiling Beaver glanced over, saw what was happening, and ran over to help me to my feet. Blood gushed from the left side of my face. I felt weak. With Smiling Beaver’s help I staggered off the field of play. As we left the area I saw Mud Turtle glance over at me with a triumphant smirk on his face. My blood ran hot. That was not to be my last run-in with Mud Turtle. “Racer, I believe you are practicing magic.” It was now many moons after the ball game. Monotowan and I were just returning to the village after a day trip hunting for nuts. Monotowan, which means White Antelope, was a light-hearted soul who seemed always to be laughing and dancing. I believe she was two or three winters older than I, very pretty. In many ways she reminded me of my twin sister Hannah and I very much enjoyed her company. Mud Turtle was watching for us, standing astride the trail, looking fearful and blocking our way. “We do not allow children to do magic,” he said with a sneer. “Only the shamen can do magic.” I was dumbfounded. What on earth could he mean? And what was he hiding in his fist?

“You have been doing Yangwe magic against us. Now I have proof.” “Mud Turtle, what proof could you possibly have?” White Antelope asked. She did not seem to be frightened of him in the least, ‘tho to tell the truth I was. “I have his magic doll,” Mud Turtle replied slyly, opening his fist. My Hannah doll! He had my Hannah doll! I was so angry I began to sputter: “Give me that doll,” I shouted. “That belongs to me. It was given to me by my sister.” I tried to snatch it way from him but he was too quick for me. He just danced backwards, laughing. “You do not have a sister,” Mud Turtle snapped. “You have only a brother, Water Moon. That is why I know you are doing Yangwe magic. You are not to be trusted.” Now, I knew that the Lenape firmly believe that when they washed away all the Whiteness from me on the day of the gauntlet, they also washed away all my former White family. Even White Antelope seemed a little surprised by my statement about my White sister. Water Moon and my Lenape parents were the only ones who knew the truth about my Hannah doll. As I fought down a sense of rage, I suddenly remembered something Kistalwa had once told me: “The Fox is physically and mentally quick and can teach you ways to respond to situations by using the power of inner instincts and knowing.” From somewhere deep inside me I felt a quietness pervade my entire being. I took a deep breath and the rage slowly left me with the exhale. I looked directly into Mud Turtle’s eyes. Quietly said to him, “You are right, Mud Turtle. This doll is magic. But you are wrong when you say it is magic to be used against you or my Lenape family. This doll is magic because it is something the Yangwe have that we do not have. We have no way to remember what our great ones looked like. But the Yangwe do. They have dolls like this. Truly it is like magic. But it is not black magic. It is magic we Lenape must one day have if we are to defeat the Yangwe.” Mud Turtle was surprised by my statement. He looked at me for a moment, then turned on his heel and limped back to the village. But he did not give me my Hannah doll. As Mud Turtle ran off, White Antelope turned to me and said, “Racer, I did not know about your Yangwe family. I see that your sister was very important to you. But you are important to us now, your Lenape family.” With that she gave me the sweetest smile, a smile that seemed to light up the space between us. Several days later, I found my Hannah doll placed on my bearskin rug in the longhouse. Mud Turtle had obviously put it there, but we never spoke of that incident. I heard later that Monotowan had mentioned the incident to her parents, who mentioned it to Mud Turtles parents, who forced the issue with their son. Thievery within the tribe was a taboo, strictly unacceptable.

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