This past week has been a whirlwind of activity and news from far away. It has been extremely enlightening. At my age, being enlightened is almost a craving — to be challenged and educated and still yearning for more information is invigorating.
Over the past six months, after a poignant visit with cousins in Oklahoma, my mother decided to see what was in her DNA. She paid for and received her mail-in DNA kit and promptly send her DNA sample back. The result: Inconclusive and they sent her another test. The second test was also inconclusive. After the third try, she had them send the test to me. At the same time, she had two separate tests from a different company sent to both my sister and myself. While I am still waiting from the results of my first test, the one my sister and took show, actually, that we do not share any DNA. In fact, my first three “likely” regions were Saudi Arabia, Rwanda and Brazil. My sister’s most “likely” regions were Russia, Asia and Venezuela.
What is even more interesting here is that two years ago that my application for official status into the Cherokee Nation was accepted. With much research from my sister and mother and cousins, I received my official membership card as did my children, who are the last of our bloodline to receive the designation. My grandfather, I had been told for years, had original Cherokee fishing rights in Oklahoma. A distant relative’s name is actually on the Dawes Roll, which was “Officially known as The Final Rolls of the Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory, the Dawes Rolls list individuals who chose to enroll and were approved for membership in the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole.) Enrollment for the Dawes Rolls began in 1898 and ended in 1906.). Nowhere, on any of the completed results did we show Indian ancestry in our DNA.
Today I went to the dentist. My hygienist, Marilyn and I clicked immediately. In fact, her explanation caught my heart: Every day, you meet someone who shares your spirit. Marilyn shares mine. Marilyn is originally from the Congo. She has been through challenges in her life, she knows she must write a book someday, she loves her children unconditionally, she is a strong woman and she has a sister in Atlanta. I can honestly say that we have all of those things in common. Every single one.
I told Marilyn about my DNA, that the first test showed I could be from Rwanda. In fact, I joked, with all the other things we seem to have in tandem, maybe that means we’re sisters. While we laughed about it, I have become more and more convinced that somehow, there is a connection to all of us that is deeper than we realize.
Lately, in my mayoral role, I’ve been hosting roundtable discussions about race and policing and I have learned a lot. I was raised to believe that colorblind is a good thing, that appreciation for culture is invaluable. Lately, I have learned that acknowledging race, to some, is also acknowledging culture. Without the open, respectful dialogue, I may have missed opportunities to have meaningful relationships. All it takes is dialogue to learn, and respect for both shared opinions and the space to allow a difference.
My family acknowledges that our first DNA tests were probably a scam. There is no sign of Indian blood in our tests. Our great-grandmother on our father’s side came here from Poland — that didn’t show up either.
But I don’t care anymore. I’m claiming Rwanda and Saudi Arabia and Brazil as my history, because maybe that will be the icebreaker. Perhaps I can start, in my own small way, to say that it doesn’t really matter what branches have grown out of our family tree, as long as we grow together now.