Leonard Sam Mitchell Hatch Evans, Jr. looks for all the world like a full-blooded Irishman – short, well-built, with a bushy red beard. He drinks like a true wahoo and is fond of a dark green vest that makes him look more than a little like a leprechaun. But his upbringing was scattered with remnants of a life most of us only read about. Leonard is part Abenaki and Blackfoot.
Speaking of his three-quarter Abenaki grandfather, Leonard recalled, “I got to learn a lot about hunting – the right way – from him.” He learned to honor the animals they hunted. “First thing in the morning we would…sneak through [the woods] and work together. It was always ‘make the first one count, make it clean…’ And if it wasn’t as quick as it should have been, finish it quick.”
After making a kill, Leonard leaves a tobacco offering and arranges the entrails a certain way. “A piece of the liver gets hung up in a tree for the ravens,” he said while gesturing, and I can’t help but think of the corvid connection to the ancient Norse religion. My own tribe, the Lenni Lenape of Pennsylvania, also has a story of a corvid, Rainbow Crow, who brought fire from the heavens.
My upbringing was very white compared to Leonard’s. Everything I learned about native peoples, I learned myself or was taught in school. I didn’t even know my tribe until fairly recently, and I am still learning much about them. From an early age, I adopted the ideals of respect for the creatures and land around us. It always felt right to me.
That level of respect for non-humans is also a common thread with my other native friends, Cat Jones and Josh Gainer. “Me being partial Native American is kind of the reason why I’m at Sterling,” Josh mused, “for its…love for nature…and an overall respect for things other than humans and overall appreciation for life.” Josh’s childhood was split between upstate New York and a Cherokee reservation in North Carolina where his great-grandparents live.
Cat, like me, was raised white. Like me, she is only recently delving into the native side of her heritage (Mohawk, in her case). Despite being estranged from that part for so long, she has a deeply ingrained regard for all life. She appreciates the sacrifices our four-footed brethren bestow upon us, and she has a gift for helping people to understand what nature says when it speaks to us.
At the end of our discussion, Cat asked what message I am trying to send with this post. I realized that any message I send around this topic would necessarily center upon appreciation for the Sterling community and consideration for the spaces around us and the other life inhabiting those spaces. Although most of our student body is not of Native heritage, many parts of student life incorporate a deeper respect and awareness than you may find at other schools.
I learned from my friends that Native Americans highly value knowledge – not only collecting it, but also giving it away freely to those who will honor it. For some people, this poses a problem. As Leonard says, “How do you fill a cup that is already full?” If you are considering attending Sterling, I urge you to leave room in your cup so that we may fill it.