|Inuit > Wyandotte
ONE WHEEL - MANY SPOKES. Excerpt
Wyandotte Chief Bearskin
A few miles later I ride by the "Wyandotte Nation" sign, which announces the tribal center. We crossed their land way back in Ohio, at Sandusky, the day I broke the Guinness World Record. I pedal a few feet past the driveway before deciding to jump off and walk back. Sherri greets me when I walk in the door. She's the community liaison specialist. She signs my Guinness form before we start talking.
"Wyandottes come originally from near Toronto, Canada," she tells me. "There are nine tribes here in this county. All of them come from somewhere else. Wyandotte's have been in Canada; Mackinac Island, Michigan; Sandusky, Ohio; Kansas City, Kansas; and here." After talking some more she asks me, "Do you want to meet the chief?"
I tell her I would like to.
"Chief Bearskin is eighty-one," she informs me, giving me background as we walk over to his office. "He's been the chief here for twenty years. He used to be an Air Force Officer, a bomber pilot in World War Two."
Sherri sees the chief ahead of us and points to him. He is walking into the tribal Center from the parking lot. Tall, with close-cropped white hair, he is wearing a green and white golf shirt with khaki pants. He walks quickly, looking as though he could play a good eighteen holes.
At Chief Bearskin's office, Sherri introduces me. He offers a kind welcome, and I ask if he has time to visit.
"Have a seat," he offers, pointing across his desk. A small bearskin hangs on the wall behind him. On his desk is a model of the bomber he piloted in WW II and his flight log. Official commendations from other agencies and other states are displayed on the walls of his office.
I tell the chief about riding through the Southeastern states and finding so many places where Indian removals have taken place. "How many people know the story of the removals?" I ask him.
"Not many," he answers, "and even if people knew it they wouldn't believe that our country did those things. Our people have a saying here, though. You can't march forward by marching backwards. The United States is still the greatest country in the world."
"I've spent a lot of time on the road this summer," I continue. "I've been wondering how our unknown Indian history affects our actions as a country today. I've been thinking about how we reacted to 9-11, and now the talk of war with Iraq."
"We're policing the world," he answers simply. "We should be making friends in the world. I could talk about this on and on." And he does, from his experience as an Air Force Squadron Commander, consultant to Washington D.C., and leader of his people. I sit here soaking in the wisdom of this eighty-one year old man.
In one breath he tells me, "Your vote doesn't matter. I go to Washington D.C. often, and I see how things work, how votes are traded and people don't even read bills. If people knew what goes on in Washington, there would be a rebellion."
In the next breath he tells me, "We're still the greatest country in the world, but we should have a hundred-year plan for our country. Every person elected to serve our government should agree to work for that plan. If they don't agree with it, then they should get out so we can elect someone who will work for the long-term good of our people and our country."
"With everything you're telling me, why do you still say this is the greatest country?"
"People have more freedom here. We've gone a long way down the road of abusing that freedom. Sometimes I'm glad I'm eighty-one and won't be around much longer, but we're still the best."
I tell him about taking this year off for Anne and me to look at what we want to make of our future.
"Follow your heart," he advises, "and care about people. Care about everybody. It doesn't matter who they are or where they come from or anything. Care about everybody—that's what I'd say."
When at last I get ready to leave, he asks, "Do you need anything for your ride? Food, money, anything? We've got a cafeteria right here."