Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids
Edited by Reinder Van Til and Gordon Olson
William B. Eerdmans Publishing | 388 pp | $15.60
Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Entertainment. Discussion »
Mother's Day is tomorrow. It is a great day to reflect on the influence our mothers have had in our lives. My siblings and I are blessed to still have our mother with us. My mother turns 81 this July. She is a strong Potawatomi woman, who has never hesitated to voice her opinion or ask hard questions. This trait she passed on to her children.
Children learn from their mothers through observation. My mother seldom would sit me down and say, "Son, I am going to teach you a lesson today." No, I too learned from my mother through observation.
One valuable lesson of how one person can make a difference by speaking up and asking a hard question I learned from my mother when I was only fifteen on a wintry Saturday morning.
She asked me to attend an Indian meeting at the old Westside Complex near downtown Grand Rapids with her that she had been invited to attend. When we got there we were among probably only eight people who attended the meeting that morning. My mother had been invited to come to the meeting to discuss American Indian affairs with Michigan State Senator Milton Zaagman.
The state senator apparently was reaching out to the American Indian constituency that particular morning. This was long before Indian casinos, so the fact he met with a small group of Indians was a rarity then and as I think about it now, it was an admirable gesture on his part given the small size of American Indians in his state senate district which represented less than one percent of the population.
At the meeting, my mother raised her hand and in a very respectful way told the Senator Zaagman that it was ridiculous that the Michigan Commission on Indian Affairs consisted of more people who were not Indian than of those who were. She asked him poignantly how people who were not Indian could possibly know what American Indian concerns were. The state senator took out a small white index card and wrote my mother's comment down and told her that he would look into the matter.
A few months later when I got home from school, my mother showed me a small article in "The Grand Rapids Press" newspaper that, as I recall, consisted on only two small paragraphs: it reported that Senator Zaagman had created legislation calling for the Michigan Commission on Indian Affairs to be made up primarily of American Indians. Until the Commission on Indian Affairs was dismantled by Governor John Engler in 1999, the Commission had to consist of a majority of American Indians because my mother raised her hand and asked the hard question of the state senator.
I have told this story about how one person can make a difference to countless classrooms, both high school and college level.
It is part of "Even Though I Was Not 'Raised Indian'" an essay I wrote for "Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Grand Rapids," published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing. Donœt let the title of the essay fool you. I was not adopted and raised by non-Indians. The title really means my family did not choose to raise me, my siblings or cousins in the traditional sense of being Indian. Unfortunately, I know less than ten words of the Potawatomi language.
However, I am honored I was chosen to have an entry in "Thin Ice," along with entries by President Gerarld R. Ford, former First Lady Betty Ford; Civil Rights leader Roger Wilkins; R&B Singer, turned Reverend Al Green; Filmmaker Paul Schrader, among others all of whom grew up in Grand Rapids.
Another essay in the book about American Indians is "Potawatomies on Waterloo Street," by Albert Baxter that depicts lives of the Potawatomi living in Grand Rapids in 1838.
I set out to write about my mother teaching me the valuable and important lesson of how one person can make a difference in honor of Mother's Day, it is only proper to highlight "Thin Ice" where I first told the story.
And for Mother's Day, I thank my mother for teaching me to not be afraid to voice my opinions and to ask the hard questions.
posted May 12, 2012 10:30 am edt