Elizabeth Warren’s true American lineage

Elizabeth Warren might be excused for wanting to be Native American. She
can claim an old American soul, going back generations in Oklahoma. In
the heartland it is almost universal for those who have been there for a
few generations to claim Indian blood; that is, to wish it were there
even if it isn’t. It is not so much a lie as it is the acculturation of
personal and regional American myth; the fabric of old-soul American
consciousness. “Our spirit will walk among you,” said Chief Joseph.
Indeed it does.

{mosads}Indians come to us as dream guides, spirit guides and, like Sacagawea, actual guides to our most important journeys at once physical and metaphysical. Those who have made these journeys tend to honor them. C.G. Jung, when watching Americans leave their factories, said we the paleface had come to walk “like Indians.” One early commentator said we, like the Indians and unlike the Europeans, live without fences. We play Indian as children to call up the intuitive feminine. We name our cars after the noble and brave “Grand Cherokee.” We call to the spirit of Geronimo going into battle. When we want our heroine true, like Katniss, we put a bow and arrow in her hand. “We are all Americans here,” said Ely Samuel Parker, the Seneca Indian, aide to Grant at Appomattox, suggesting that with the bloodshed at Bull Run, Chickamauga, Chancellorsville and Cemetery Ridge, we sanctioned our place and belonged here with the Indians.

The first poetic vision of Europeans in the new world was that of James Fenimore Cooper, who conjured Natty Bumpo. He had an “Indian name” — he had several: Hawkeye, Deerslayer, Pathfinder — indicating that he had been “reborn” in the new world in the Indian spirit. It is the oldest and most important myth in the American canon of our folklore, from Lone Ranger, who died and became “born again” via agency of an Indian shaman, and Fox Mulder, who returned from the dead via Indian intercession in “The X Files,” born anew with the past burned away in death, to enter a new age under the flag of the White Buffalo.

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So Warren’s claim to be “part Indian” is correct in mythical terms. Every old-school white Oklahoman is in this regard even if this in nominally not true. But it is not a lie to want to be Indian and to imagine your ancestors were. It is to be free of Europeanism. Emerson saw the laggard Europeanism within the Yankee mind as a curse of the unformed American, living half in shadow. It would bring temptation unnatural to us raised free in the forest; fascism, as in Italy, Spain and German, and the perennial virus of French nihilism.

Warren in that regard brings a fresh, classical Americanism from the heartland back to us in Boston where we still have tendencies. The James brothers, both William and Henry, would appreciate it. Henry in particular, in The Bostonians, could only find one worthy character up here, the country cousin Basil Ransom, a lawyer visiting from Mississippi. We are lucky to have Warren among us. She adds stock and substance.

I hope Mitt Romney remembers this and incorporates Indian blessings and ritual in his inaugural ceremonies as Canadians do and as they did in those terrific Winter Olympics in Salt Lake in 2002. And I hope Elizabeth Warren doesn’t back down on this, because wanting to be Indian, like Hawkeye, makes us in a deeper sense fully American.

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