My heritage changed.
If you were to look at me, you would notice that I suffer from vitiligo, have a woman's nose, and wear a single white sequined glove in a shadowbox around my neck. Just kidding. If you were to look at me, which you can't, because I don't like that sort of thing, you'd probably quickly register the following qualities: White. Glasses. Hair. About as tall as the top of a fast-food restaurant soda dispenser. Bookish, if sedated. White.
Well, I'd have you fooled. I myself had been fooled, until Thursday, when my dad came around and mentioned that I'm 1/16th...Seneca. Not Seneca "Indian." Not "Native American." I'm 1/16th Seneca Nation, and the other 15/16ths of Chris Onstad had better GET THE HELL OFF MY LAND!
Only joking, of course. I know Native Americans aren't typically yelling things like that. I mean, I don't really know much about Native Americans. Until Thursday, Native Americans were the guys on the cross-country team who could finish the 3-mile varsity course, go home, have a good sweat and maybe a rain dance or two, then come back and half-heartedly cheer as I bumbled across the finish line ("yaaay for Chris"), my sock garters having long since fallen around my ankles. But now that I am a Native American of a legally-actionable level of extraction, I have a vastly different impression of...myself.
You see, an uncle of mine had recently been messing about at Ellis Island or someplace like that, popping down to trace the family heritage in between vast seas of split pea soup at Houlihan's, and he unearthed this data. I'm quickly inclined to believe it, too. The rest of my genealogy is pretty hot stuff: my great-uncle Niels Onstad was the wealthy Norwegian shipping magnate who married Olympic figure skater Sonja Henie in 1956, after all. How about a side dish of hard-ass American Indian, Chris? Yeah, that sounds good. Set it down next to the buttered lutefisk. I'll get to it.
(If you're wondering: no, I'm not wealthy, despite the "shipping magnate family" thing. Apparently my ancestors liked Linie more than they liked staying alive and keeping the business solvent. Note to self: breakfast potatoes should be in the form of hashbrowns, not aquavit.)
So, now that I have this fresh take on myself, I'm going over Seneca history and identifying personal traits that are in keeping with the Seneca character build. Here are some of the more prominent ones:
1) The Seneca diet was based on corn, beans and squash. I love corn and beans (well, beans, mostly), and I identify with my Seneca ancestors who had to choke down slimy, bitter squash until they moved out and got their own teepee with their buddy He Uses Socks For Napkins.
2) The Seneca culture is matriarchal. The men went on long hunting and fishing expeditions while the women kept it together at home. This explains why I don't care about anything and just want to leave my house to have fun most of the time, and why my wife was the one who unsubscribed me from VIBE when a friend jokingly signed me up.
3) The Seneca adopted many of the customs of their white neighbors. So have I: I drive a car instead of a horse or wolf-drawn litter, get most of my food from markets, and will usually finish out an episode of Seinfeld if I happen to come across it while channel-surfing.
4) The Seneca are stereotyped as getting mad when the government tries to keep them from selling tax-free cigarettes on the Internet. eBay shut me down in '01 and I've been enjoined ever since—I may be asked to speak at next year's summit of the Iroquois League, at which I will be selling cigarettes, out of my trunk, no cut for Uncle Sam.
5) Some Senecas spoke Mohawk. Can you imagine anything more raw than cutting a dude down to size in Mohawk? Until now, I've just thought of a "mohawk" as an ass-kicking haircut, but an ass-kicking haircut with its own language? I bet that language has 137 different words for "bruise," and a one-syllable word that means, "let's get some Jäger and make out with sluts until we puke." Onkwehonwehneha sata ti...you cunt.
I have much more to say on the topic, but it just struck me that I ought to get back in touch with Stanford and see if any retroactive scholarship money can be mailed my way. Can you imagine not playing the Native American card when filling out scholarship applications? That would be like folding with a royal flush, hitting on 21, or finding a hunk of gold on a hiking trail and saying "Huh! Neat!" before chucking it down the hillside.