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'Silver thread' links Indians to past, eternity

For lonely young Indians searching for some meaning in their lives and grasping for their roots, there is "a thin silver thread that links all of us to our past and to eternity."

"We are," said Pat Smith, a volunteer American Indian consultant at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, "and always will be, linked to our ancestors."Sister Smith spoke at a fireside that opened the recent National American Indian Family History Conference at BYU.

Native American genealogy can present almost insurmountable challenges. Navajo Patriarch Sam Little, who also spoke during the conference, told how he lost his real name.

"In about 1928, when I was 5 years old, agents from the Bureau of Indian Affairs came to our hogan. They took out their pencils and started asking what our names were. Now a Navajo child will have one name when he's youngT, another when he grows up, and another when he is an old man. Because Navajo names are hard to spell and pronounce, my Indian name was put in the trash. They told me my name would be Sam Little and they told me when my birthday would be," Brother Little related.

Little, who traveled from Mesa, Ariz., to participate in the conference, explained that BIA records were incorrect, they listed the birth order of his sisters wrong and he didn't even know his parents' real names or when they were born. "But the Lord goes to work for you if you ask Him," Brother Little said. After receiving assistance from Dr. V. Robert Westover of the BYU History Department, Brother Little was able to complete his four-generation sheet and do the ordinance work for his family.

Sister Smith told about a 16-year-old Arapaho youth she met at the Family History Library. He came in without paper or pencil, looking scruffy and unkempt. Three times Sister Smith was prompted to talk to him. She finally approached him and asked, "What tribe are you from?" The young Indian said his father was Arapaho but his mother was Quinealt Taholah. "I want to know who I am," he told her. Through her own research, Sister Smith knew she was also of the Quinealt Taholah tribe so she told him he was a distant cousin to her and pulled out some books on his ancestors including Chief Charlie Lighthouse, from whom he was descended.

After photocopying some records for him, Sister Smith said, "When I handed this young boy these records, he gave me a big bear hug, pounded me soundly on the back and gave me a son's kiss on the cheek."

Conference attendees also participated in a session at the Provo temple where Native American names were provided.

Tribal genealogical resource presentations were given at the conference on Eastern Woodland Indians by Daniel Bartosz, Indian genealogical worker; Ute Indians by Edwin Cuch, social case worker for the Utes; Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole) by Denise A. Anton, who is Cherokee/Shawnee, and Linda Stokes of Choctaw descent.