By a very grateful Lara Trace Hentz (adoptee/author of One Small Sacrifice)
Chasing Ghosts twenty years? Yes. It took me 20 years to attend the Harlow powwow in southern Illinois on Sept. 6. This family reunion was a first time for me, meeting many many new Harlow cousins. (It’s that very same reunion my birthdad told me about when I asked him about our ancestry. Sadly I only met my dad once in 1994. I wanted to go after I met the Harlow Girls who’d read my memoir but Hurricane Irene had stopped me.)
When I got to the picnic pavilion in Pana that Saturday, I had to explain who I am: I am the granddaughter of Lona Dell Harlow (who died early at age 49.) When I said I was Earl’s daughter they got confused since there was an Earl Harlow too. “No, my dad was Earl Bland. I was given up for adoption. I met him once when I was 38 years old.” One cousin said, “Are you the one who wrote that book? My dad had a copy of it.” Then I can only grin! “YES, that’s me!”
I drew a chart to show people I knew my Harlow branch: Bessie, Lona (mine), Lily, Thomas, Earl. I explained how I found my dad Earl and later decided to write the memoir about my search.
The Harlow clan have been holding this powwow for 36 years. I was initiated. (I can’t tell you how since it’s secret.)
This gathering reminded me of the August Meetingheld by New England tribes for the past 300+ years, when tribes would gather annually and give updates on marriages, births, deaths and significant events in an individual’s life and in their families. This happened in Illinois too. (There wasn’t dancing but lots of laughing.)
Being there made me think of destiny. I was thinking of my grandmother Lona, who they called Lonie. I was looking around at all their faces and thinking of her face, definitely the one who I resembled. I was looking for me in their faces, too. This family to me represents continuity, tradition and culture. This is something I didn’t have growing up. I am very grateful I have it now.
The Harlow girls, three female cousins, who stayed with me the entire day of my sisters funeral, were there with me again. Their attention and love is something new to me so I was emotionally overwhelmed, without words to explain what I was feeling.
The Harlow girls had told me how much I resemble my great-granddad James, who was married to my ggma Mary Francis, always called Granny. (My great grandparent’s love was so great that when he died, she died a few days after.)
What was also a big part of this recent journey was my finding out I had just taken the Potawatomi Death March trail through Illinois. When we drove through Danville – I didn’t know that in 1838 the Potawatomi started to march from Indiana single file to Kansas. Read more about the history here. Their chiefs resisted leaving Indiana and were put in a cage on a wagon. The heat nearly killed them and a priest had them released.
We stayed in Decatur and there is a Death March marker there, too.
Knowing Illinois Indian history is important to me. My Harlow cousins say it was always known and important to them that we are Indian.
Here’s what I am reading:
Any society that legally sanctions an unregulated profit-driven adoption industry over a child’s best interest is sick and inhumane. Baby Veronica’s Birthday LINK
Love is the real power. It’s the energy that cherishes. The more you work with that energy, the more you will see how people respond naturally to it, and the more you will want to use it. It brings out your creativity, and helps everyone around you flower. Your children, the people you work with–everyone blooms. – Marion Woodman
…Researchers speculate that in an attempt to rise above the prejudice and overcome social ladder boundaries, many mixed race people remained silent on their African and Native American heritage in order to fit into white communities. – Black And White In America: Study Reveals Many Americans Have Mixed Race Background They Were Unaware Of (LINK)
By Lara Trace (Harlow-Bland-Morris-Conner ancestors)
My unmarried birthparents Earl and Helen lived on the southside of Chicago in the 1950s when I was conceived. Many people had relocated to cities for work (watch the LOOKING TOWARD HOME documentary). Both my parents were from rural areas. My father Earl Bland joined the Navy at age 18 and as far as I know, didn’t identify as Indian but knew he was. (Earl was mixed-American Indian and Euro – mostly Irish.) The women in the Allen-Harlow-Bland-Morris family had strong intentions to maintain and live American Indian”culture.” The Harlow clan, to this day, hold an annual powwow gathering and talking circle. No one I know in the family was enrolled in a tribe. Their migrations to Illinois from Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky enter into this. And it’s a concern. I was not there to hear the stories of who, how and why.
I know what my father told me when we first spoke. Could he have been wrong? Did he say Cherokee because it’s a common name, more known than the Potawatomi, Huron, or Sac and Fox? (We have a real problem in the US with so little Indian history being taught or written. Unless it’s taught at home, you’ll have a hard time finding evidence or proof of American Indians still living in Illinois.)
I had no reason to question my father Earl when I was 38. I took him at his word. Obviously I had questions about why I was adopted out, why they gave me away and not many questions about ancestral charts proving Indian blood. The reason I bring this up is the Indian Identity Police. Some are suggesting if you are not an enrolled “member” of a federally recognized tribe, then you should not claim your Indian ancestry.
But Why? I am a member of a family whose women identify as Indian for generations.
As an mixed-race adoptee, it’s been a jagged pill for me to swallow. I followed my instincts, not expecting I’d ever find answers. Before I finished the memoir One Small Sacrifice, my sister Teresa and I worked with a genealogist to find proof on the Morris-Conner side. (One great-grandmother Mary Francis Morris was raised by relatives who are Watson-Wards, who are enrolled Cherokee.)
How many tribes are now petitioning the federal government for “recognition” to be deemed sovereign? Over 200 tribes, such as five tribes in Virginia who are not “federally recognized.”
“How did you know you’re Indian?” My dad’s youngest sister Janie asked me once on the phone. My aunt told me many stories about Granny Morris-Conner smoking a pipe, using tobacco as medicine and how she always knew she was Indian.
Not hesitating, I told my aunt, “I always knew.” But I told her that until I met my father, I didn’t claim Indian ancestry. I believed it but never said it. After I met Earl and was told then I did become a “Native” journalist in 1996.
For me and for other adoptees, you’re on the Red Road with no map. You can only follow the voice in your head.
Five years prior, in 1991, I was in Mexico and woke one night and started writing Red Man: Through the Eyes of Many. First it was a poem then developed into a series of children’s stories. I had no evil intention. I was sitting on a cold tile floor in a bathroom at 2 a.m.: this writing came like a vision and the stories just flowed out. Later, with miraculous synchronicity, back in Oregon, I met Merle Locke, a famous Oglala Lakota ledger artist, who told me to go meet his sister Ellowyn. I drove out to Pine Ridge, South Dakota, she read my stories, liked them lots, and taught me history at her kitchen table, history you’d never find in a book.
That same trip I did my first sweat on the Rosebud rez.
Like my grandmothers, I walk the red road without enrollment papers saying I’m Indian.
In mid-April my husband and I took a road-trip to visit our friends from Austria who also keep a family home in Gulfport, Mississippi.
My friend/sister/relative Dr. Raeschelle Potter-Deimel (left) is originally from Gulfport and at one time worked as an opera singer at the Met in New York City and on many stages in Europe and Austria. After opera, Rae became a renowned doctor of anthropology in Vienna! (She has American Indian and African American ancestry.)
Rae and I met in person at the American Indian Workshop (AIW) in Munich in 2005 but we’d actually met earlier via phone and email when I was editor of the Pequot Times in Connecticut. Rae had told me about the AIW and put me in touch with them. So my academic paper Power Politics and the Pequot: America’s Richest Indians was my first paper at AIW; then it was published in Poland, Italy and Germany. Many European historians were curious about the modern-day Mashantucket Pequot, including my friend Rae …luckily I had spent 5 years editing their tribal newspaper and their annual reports (1999-2004). With so little known or written about this hugely successful tribe, I offered a more modern view of their activity and successes. I was interviewed by the BBC and a German TV station so my Pequot paper was NEWS! (Of course I was very pleased they liked my presentation… I am now an official member of the AIW and invited to give a paper every year…) Later Rae and I wrote a paper together on the adoption projects and we continue to talk on the phone and make every effort to see each other when they come to the US.
Dr. Rae, the anthropologist, lectures about Native American history in Europe and writes and gives papers regularly. What I never realized until I met her: in Europe they teach a true version of Native and American history, with all it’s complications, gore and tragedy. Europeans actually know more than Americans know about American Indian history… Rae, in particular, is aware of the discrepancies and revisions in American history textbooks that purposefully glorify the invader-conqueror-colonizer and portray American Indians as vanquished, disappeared, drunk and/or dead.
Currently Rae is drafting a book on Texas Lumbee history and even though I retired from my publisher duties at Blue Hand Books in January this year, I do plan to help her get this remarkable book published in the near future. This trip we met to talk about the Lumbee book and just smooze like sisters do…
I’ve now been to Gulfport twice, my only trips to the Gulf Coast, and both times I remembered a story my birthfather Earl Bland had told me. I was sitting at his kitchen table in Pana, Illinois when I was 38 (in 1994), meeting my dad for the very first time. He was standing up and calmly said, “You have a brother in New Orleans and I think he’s an attorney.” I NEVER forgot this! (Did I ask questions? No. I was in a state of shock just being in reunion.)
From Gulfport, it is an easy drive to New Orleans. My husband and I had lunch in the French Quarter our last trip. Again Earl’s words haunted me… I have a brother in Louisiana. But how could I ever solve this mystery or find this missing brother? I didn’t know his name! Earl died in 1996 and he never elaborated on his story.
I could have a brother (?) or I did have a brother. I wasn’t sure. Teresa and I were close; she was my half-sister (same dad) and she never mentioned this in the 20 years we’d been in reunion! I wasn’t even sure if Earl had met this son. Yet somehow Earl believed he was an attorney? (Earl raised 5 kids who are my half-siblings. I’ve met them and we all thought I was the only one given up for adoption.)
When Herb and I got back from our roadtrip, we headed to Philadelphia for a funeral. My husband’s cousin Gwenny had died. The night before her funeral, sitting in our hotel, we watched on TV how two sisters who were separated by adoption met in a writing class at the same college in New York City. This was my first time seeing them reunited on TV. More than one person had told me about this miracle!
Because I wrote my memoir One Small Sacrifice and mentioned my first father is Earl Bland and his name had made its way onto the internet and onto Ancestry.com, my mystery brother found ME…
YES!! Ronnie and his wife had wanted to find Earl Bland for many years. They asked their daughter in Texas to help search. Their daughter is named Tracy. My brother Ronnie chose her name — yup, my adopted name! It was Tracy who found my memoir and emailed ME!
Ronnie did live in New Orleans but he wasn’t an attorney. He had served in the Navy (same as our dad Earl) and worked many years in law enforcement and is retired. Ronnie was adopted by a relative (his aunt) and was told the truth when he was 13. And he carried a small photo of Earl Bland in his wallet. (Ronnie is ten years older than me so our dad Earl was 18 when Ronnie was born.)
When I got home, I could hardly wait to talk to them! I spoke to my niece Tracy (two hours+) and she has shared all my emails with her dad. I’ve emailed photos of Earl (and our family) and all the ancestry records I’d scanned.
(Remember we just drove through Alabama to get to and from Gulfport! REALLY! We had lunch in Mobile, Alabama where my brother Ronnie had lived and worked many years!)
Ronnie emailed me a few days ago. He lives in northern Alabama and wants to know how soon can I come visit.