Áksu·t, Doris Language Recovery Seed Collection
Grandma Doris, artistic revision based on her 1937 School photo. Artistic revision by Rahahę•tih
Written from the perspective of Fix Cain, Co-Founder of AoNSK
My grandmother Doris was born a twin with her brother Horis in the year 1930. Their parents were hardworking farm hands struggling to find consistent residence within North Carolina, which at the time was ruled by Jim Crow era laws. Horis and Doris were the youngest of 4 siblings until, sadly, young Horis died from complications due to lupus. Horis' untimely death would of course devastate the family, however his death would especially affect his twin sister Doris.
After Horis' death, the family would continue to face many more struggles which would consume my grandmother with a fear that would continue to haunt her for the rest of her life.
Just before her birth, the US was developing and enforcing naturalization and citizenship laws that were designed to assimilate Indigenous populations, terminate tribal identity, and claim Indigenous lands. These practices worked alongside the US residential school systems which would abduct hundreds of thousands of native children, many of which would be extracted from eastern North Carolina and sent away to schools such as the famous Carlisle Indian School. It wasn't until the 1960s did we see this school system start to fall out of favor. However to this day, they continue to affect our native communities.
During her lifetime, Doris would see an unfair tax increase placed onto native families. These taxes were designed to remove native families from the county and open up more lands to non-native farmers. It wasn't until 1967 was she able to see North Carolina's anti-miscegenation laws overturned. These laws prevented North Carolinians from marrying in with Indigenous families, something her family was already in violation of. It also wasn't until 1978 that was she able to see the American Indian Religious Freedom Act which overturned prior laws that made it illegal for native people to practice their culture and spirituality.
It didn't stop there for Doris. Imagine how normalized racial hatred around her had to be for her to be able to go into town while passing this sign as a young teen and early adult . By the time she was in her mid to late 20s, violent confrontations between Tuscarora and other North Carolina natives in nearby counties erupted against the KKK.
Unlike many of the other native populations in the state which often found sanctuary within their own neighborhoods and communities, Doris and her family found themselves alone left within their ancestors' traditional territory at the clash of Euro-American society. The only choice they had to survive was to "put it in the past", as she would say, and keep their heads down. However the discrimination did not end there. After my grandmother married my grandfather, she found abuse within his church which had accused their family of being cursed due to the "mixing of the bloods". It wasn't long after that they decided to find sanctuary within the city where they may blend in, away from the racial conflicts within rural country life.
My grandmother would pass on this trauma to her children and her grandchildren as any attempt to revitalize culture would be met by her with anger and rage. At the time we did not understand her frustration with us, but looking back at her life now, one can see that she was merely trying to protect her family from the abuse she and her parents had faced in the past.
Although my grandmother would talk about her heritage around us in private, still reminding us to leave it alone, she would never speak of it around my grandfather. Until one day as dementia and Alzheimer's began to deteriorate her mind, one of us started to talk about one of my grandfather's Tuscarora ancestors and suddenly in a fit of rage, my grandmother screamed out, "Terry is not Tuscarora! I'm Tuscarora!" Grandma suddenly went silent and her face showed fear as she turned her head t0 look over to my grandfather, who himself, remained silent. I have never known my grandfather to ever speak an unkind word to her or show her anything less than being the light of his life. However, I do not know what fear they shared in their early marriage or what rules they established as a means to protect each other. Or perhaps my grandmother was afraid that someone may have heard her—an angry mob would soon turn up to do us all harm and she was looking towards him for protection and reassurance. We will never know exactly what was going on in her mind, all we know is at that moment, it had to have been tormenting for her.
One of several versions of the famous K-KKK billboard sign that "welcomed" visitors or declared Smithfield NC to be Klan country. It stood for 10 years before finally coming down in 1977.
Grandma Doris, Lake Ontario.
My grandmother always missed the areas between the ol Black and Neuse rivers. After all, it was the home of her people for 100s if not 1000s of years. So my mother made it a point to take my grandmother back home as much as possible. Eventually it became impossible for anyone to carry her home as her mental and physical state continued to decline. However for my grandmother that was ok because in her mind, she was already back home. She would call out for her father and live out scenarios that had occurred long ago. Eventually she was in her family's cornfield giggling like a child. When my mother showed her a picture of some corn that I had grown, my grandmother looked at my mother and said "Oonawha", (corn) and "That's my daddy's corn". I immediately asked if she could repeat what she said as it sounded so much like the language, but instead my grandmother slipped back into her mind to be with her parents and siblings.
I spent the next two months with my grandparents hoping to give my grandfather a break from watching his beautiful wife deteriorate in their home. This period was one of the hardest of my life but also one of the most telling about her. It had became nearly impossible for her to talk to my grandfather in a loving tone—there was much anger coming out through her dementia. However, it wasn't towards him; it was towards herself. I recollect one night around 2AM: I hadn't slept in almost two days and my grandfather still refused himself any sort of rest. I decided to retire into a room where I could still hear my grandmother speak. As my grandmother slipped in and out of reality, my grandmother eventually accused herself of hindering my grandfather saying if he could go back, he would have never married her! The tone in-which she spoke to him sounded so hateful, but the words she used were clearly sent with love. In response to her statement my grandfather, being a dedicated and loving man replied that of course he would, and that he wasn't going to leave her now or ever. That he would relive every moment including this one with her all over again. My grandmother then asked my grandfather a question, "If I could go back in time, do you know who I would marry?" I could hear my grandfather pause and take a long sigh as if he was expecting her to say another mans name before reluctantly asking, "Who?".... To which my grandmother cried out "YOU! But you wouldn't have me!" I would be lying if I said I didn't cry at this moment.
In her honor, I have made it a personal mission to make our gardens, learning centers, and seed sanctuaries into language sanctuaries. In this way, we hoped to be able to give something back to our people something that was deprived from people like my grandmother. She may have never been able to learn to speak her ancestors language fluently nor even sing the way her great grandmother would have. But remembering stories like hers may help guide us forward in our mission of cultural revitalization by understanding how vulnerable our culture and language truly is.
A few short days later, grandma never spoke again, on April 19th, 2014, our family came together and surrounded her bedside for one last time to share their last words with her. I held one of her hands for hours until her heart finally stopped beating. We made sure she was never without family during her travel as we helped guide her from this world and eventually through her families cornfield, where she once again would be reunited with her parents and siblings.
We have set aside certain seeds into a special collection. The profits made from seeds in this collection will be earmarked for language revitalization work in our seedkeepers' communities. Our personal approach to language revival is to utilize an ecological understanding while learning to describe and communicate things you would observe in our natural world. By supporting our work, you are a part of a much larger movement to connect to our ancestors through our seeds, stories, language, and love. We do this work for Doris and for the many others!
Please see her collection below, which we will continue to grow to help contribute in our effort.