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Marrying into the Tribe

New America Media, Commentary, Connie J. Davis Posted: Feb 28, 2010

HOOPA, Calif. -- Born, and mostly raised, in the inner-city projects of Fresno, Calif., almost everyone I knew was Mexican or African American. We picked grapes every summer, along with the migrant workers, to raise money for school clothes.

How I met my native: I was living and working in San Diego, and went to Redding for Christmas to visit my parents. My sister talked me into going out to a bar. She saw Dana, my future husband, across the room and said, "Hey, there is someone I want you to meet." I took one look at him and thought, "That's the guy I'm going to marry."
Dana and Connie Davis, 1985Dana and Connie Davis, 1985
I got his phone number, went back to San Diego, quit my job, broke up with my boyfriend, who was one of the Navy pilots flying (and filming during our time together) in the movie Top Gun. I packed my stuff and moved to Redding so I could start dating Dana.

I hadnt noticed that he was Native American. It never even crossed my mind.

We went on a first date, and hated each other. He thought I was a bitch and I said that if I ever saw him again I would shoot him! We had a second date, and it was pretty much the same result. We tried one more date and have been together, happily, for the last 25 years.

But theres more.

Dana's father was almost full-blooded Hupa. His mother was a first-generation German from Russia.

Dana was born in 1957. They left the reservation in 1964 and he was raised "off rez." He had dreams about the rez, every night, all his life. The valley was calling him home.

Raised off-rez, not welcomed by the whites, he was regarded by the Natives as an apple (an insult for someone who is red on the outside and white on the inside). There was resentment from the rez because his family was doing alright, wealth wise. He went to private schools, had a membership at a private golf club, and had all of the amenities of home ownership.

The first time I met his mother, at dinner at her house, she took me aside when no one else was around and said, Youre not the one for Dana. We have someone already picked out for him. She is Hupa and has a son the same age as Jason (Dana's son). Flabbergasted, I did not respond. She returned to the dining room and was the perfect hostess the rest of the evening. If I had known then what I know now, I wouldn't have eaten the food.
The Davis FamilyThe Davis Family
They didnt approve of me because I was white. The woman they had picked out for him was an alcoholic and a drug abuser, but, hey, she was Hupa. Even a drunk Hupa was preferred over a straight white.

The drunk Hupa remained a close family friend to the mother and the rest of them. They adored her because she was Native. Meanwhile, no matter what I did, I was never good enough for his family. I stopped trying to please them long ago and just took care of my husband.

The first time I traveled to Hoopa, just past the "welcome to Hoopa" sign, I felt kind of funny, a spiritual turning of sorts. Dana said it happens to people who are tuned in to the spirit world. I never thought of myself that way.

After his father died after having spent many, many years in a wheelchair, we had the funeral in Hoopa. On the way back to Redding, I kept getting a vision, like a movie playing in my head. In a place I had never seen before, at night, under a deep canopy of trees, standing next to campfires, were many old Indian men, talking in Indian. I saw his father, a young man again, walking up and speaking to the elders in Indian.

It was many years later, on a visit to Hoopa, as Dana was driving me around the Reservation, that we went to a place called "Mike's Point." The moment I saw it, I said excitedly, "That's the place. That's the place from my vision!" Dana explained to me that Mike's Point is one of the Traditional Dance places, a spiritual place of deep meaning to the Hupa. It has been in use for tens of thousands of years. (Unlike other tribes, the Hupa retained their original land and were not moved onto a reservation. The reservation was built around their land.)

After the vision experience, I spent about 10 years reading and learning as much as I could about Hoopa and the Hupa people.

About five years ago, when my husband's health began to fail, I decided to "bring him home." After coming back to Hoopa, the dreams he used to have stopped. He was home and the valley had another one back. He was like the salmon, you see? Drawn back, destined to die.

His health is no better now. I may lose him at any time. Despite the hardship of being an outsider, a white, and the poverty, I would not trade a single day of rez life for anything. And after he is gone? I don't belong here. My tribe is borrowed during his lifetime. I am glad they let me in for a while.

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