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Nathaniel Smiley by Chris James

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Another great read by Chris. He's done his homework so this is as right as it can get. Also, the Little Bear story was heartwarming.


I've read a few Native American stories and this one mirrors them as far as names and locations since they all seem to take place in the same areas. Sequoyah with most of his work and Jess Mercer who wrote "Crossties" with a little guidence by Sequoyah.

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Chapter 4 is up. I'm liking this story the more I read it. The history I'm assuming is more fact than fiction.

I'm kind of glad he didn't post it all in one go, his last big Native American story was posted like this and I spent hours reading it in one go.

Great story Chris!

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One question, isn't the Native American two-spirited because they didn't have a word for gay? In my readings, being two-spirited was a honor and a lot of the shaman/medicine men were two-spirited. I realise you need the English words to get the point across.

Every time I want to wait until the story is finished, I end up reading it anyway. You can't put a good book down.

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I've begun reading Nathaniel Smiley after someone asked me a question and brought it to my attention. I wanted to get into the story a ways before trying to comment any, to get a better idea of it.

This is a fine story and I'm enjoying it. There are a couple of quibbles I have, characterization and emphasis, but this handles the inclusion and portrayal of Indian life (in this case, Cherokee) better than most of the gay stories I've seen. Chris has tried to honor these folks.

I should add, I'm no expert either. I'm white American, but there are Indians in my family tree, and friends who are Indian or are good friends with various Indian groups. Again, that doesn't mean I'm an expert. My dad's family is from the western tip of Virginia. So I know some of the history, including local history and family stories. I've been to Cherokee, NC (as a boy, before it was so over-touristy commericialized) and as a teen when it was) and around other places in the Blue Ridge Mountains. If you've ever seen the movie, Harlan County Wars, or heard Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton speak, then you've heard the accent I grew up hearing from my dad's side of the family. My dad could walk into any of the "pioneer village" type displays, and knew all the farm tools, because he'd used them growing up. They weren't museum pieces to him. But I grew up in Texas. Even so, the moment I step into the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Cumberland Gap, something deep down in me says, "home," a kind of peace and spiritual connection that has nothing to do with my big-city-boy upbringing, and everything to do with my farming ancestors, and that my parents and both sides of my family raised me to respect the land and the people, including Cherokee and others, who are at very least, distant cousins and friends. (And although, yes, there's at least 1/16 Indian blood in me, I don't "look Indian." I look European, white American. But not all my family do.

I'm a language geek. I don't speak Cherokee. The recordings I've heard are nearly all from Oklahoma, so they sound like my mother's side of the family. (Oklahoma and VA/TN/KY have a slightly different accent). But because of that language interest, and how I was raised, respect for native people and culture is very important to me.

I do have a couple of quibbles with the story, things I would've said or put differently, but overall, it's a fine story.

Lugnutz asked about being gay among Indians and about "two-spirits." My understanding is that that is looked at overall very differently among Native American Indians than among non-Native American culture. But because Indians are multiple, completely different nations, there are lots of different viewpoints from the native cultures, and then you get the influence of white culture on top of that, which is not just Christian, but secular too.

My understanding is that "two-spirit" doesn't equate to "gay." Instead, "two-spirit" can mean many things, anything from "gay" to "bi" to "transgender" -- to a person of one gender living as though he or she were of the other gender, in dress and behavior, essentially "transgender or transvestite" taken all the way, and accepted in the culture. Some nations believe "two-spirit" means essentially a "third gender." And what's "gay/homosexual" within those native cultures isn't necessarily what most white people would think of as "gay/homosexual." The customs and all are different. Nudity is different. Friendship can be more open or more restricted, depending on the nation's views on what it is to be a man or a woman. Sexuality is different. Some nations would equate being "gay" with being the receiving or submissive or passive partner. Others would think a distinction like that isn't needed. Still others would say that it doesn't matter if someone loves a man or a woman, so "gay" and "straight" might not have much meaning for them. It depends on the group. But "two-spirit" is a recognized thing throughout most/all Native American cultures. Yes, that was often a sacred mystery, but accepted that some people were different in how they perceived the world, or in their sexuality.

Within Cherokee culture, and again, I'm no expert, my understanding is that acceptance of gay people varies. First off, nearly all Cherokee are just as much part of the everyday American world as any other American, and the Cherokee adapted many things from white culture early on and ever since. It's one of the reasons the Removal and later problems are such tragedies, such betrayals. And yet the Cherokee adapted still. They were wise enough to value white and black friends, some of whom were welcomed into Cherokee life, or who were allies. Many Cherokee are Christians. Others are not. They're also mindful of the traditions and culture of what it means to be Cherokee, and to be involuntarily set apart from most of American culture.

What does that have to do with being gay? A lot.

It means that there are Cherokee who believe it's perfectly fine to be "gay" or to be "two-spirit," and they'd probably say being "gay" (in the white people's meaning) is not really how they think of it. It also means there are other Cherokee who would believe being gay is sinful or wrong. How or if that clashes with the Cherokee part of their upbringing, I'm not sure. The thing is, being "gay" or "two-spirit" (they are not the same thing, quite) would have been looked at differently before European contact, and that had to do with how sexuality and gender roles and identities are thought of in Cherokee terms. Again, for some nations, being gay is fine, while for others, they have very strict ideas of what it means to be a man or woman.

However, if it's any help, there are folks at AwesomeDude who do have Cherokee ties (friends, family, etc.) and yes, that includes gay or two-spirit folks.

In the story, Nathaniel is right that some Cherokee he knows would not be fine with him and Ted being in a relationship, while others wouldn't bat an eye.

In other words, surprise, there are differences of opinion within the Cherokee nation, just like in the rest of America. But unlike in the rest of American, in the Cherokee nation, there is much more of a cultural acceptance that people can be other than "straight," that they can be, in spiritual or sexual or loving terms, two-spirit or other things like bisexual or homosexual. It's just that I don't think Cherokee would think of it the way most non-Native (white, black) folks would. (And no, I'm not omitting Latinos, Asians, or anybody, but geez, isn't it wordy enough?) :)

Um -- All this isn't to take Chris to task. He's done his homework. It is very likely that other folks, Cherokee or Indian or friends/family, would have other things to say, and might tell me I'm full of it. Heheh, if so, I'd really welcome what they have to say. Although I know some about both Virginia and Oklahoma, and a little about Cherokee and Indians generally, I am a big-city Texas white boy, with roots back there in Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia, including, yes, a few Indian ancestors, one known, one probable, and others conjectured from family lore and regional history. -- I have really got to find the one photo, for instance, and whatever notes were with it.

LOL, I loved the comments about "How!" -- There's an old joke from a movie about that. -- "How!" says the white guy. -- "Chance!" says the Indian. ;)

Anyway, I like the story and I can relate to Nathaniel's feelings and to Ted's.

(Reminds self to read a book, The Bear Grass, which includes, among a lot of other things, something relevant to a possible/likely ancestor, one of those tragedies on all sides that happened early on.)

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Something probably lost in my post above, for readers who've never seen it:

When you see Cherokee words in the story, the V has a different sound. It's an "uh" sound, like the U in but or the A in sofa, and so on, or like final E in German or E-muet in French. The letter V was used because at the time Sequoyah invented the Cherokee syllabary in the 1700's, U/V and I/J were not yet truly separate letters in the Latin alphabet the English colonists used. So they have six vowels: a (ah) , e (ay/eh) , i (ee/ih) , o (oh/aw) , u (ooh/oo) , v (uh) -- and V is always "uh" in Cherokee words written in English. There are a few other quirks about it, but that's the one that would puzzle modern English speakers. The other is, H is a strong H sound, a lot like CH in loch or Bach, not a K sound, either. H can appear in a few places where English speakers don't expect it. Then there are TS and TL. The "tl" is like Atlanta, no "uh" in between the T and L sounds. Likewise for DL, like Adler. (But Atlanta and Adler are European words.) The TS is different. You say both the T and the S, its, fits, grits, even at the start of a word, Tsalai, Tsali. But sometimes that TS sound is pronounced like a "ch" or "j" sound like church or judge. In the recordings I've heard (present day speakers) it seems like K/G, T/D, and others sometimes go back and forth. Why, I don't know, but it's how the language works. Oh, and QU is always KW: qua, que, qui, quo, quu, quv, "kwah, kway, kwee, kwoh, kwoo, kwuh," and those have nothing to do with Latin.

When you meet the bear, yonv, in the dream in Chapter 5, he is "yonv," "YOH-nuh," not "yawnv," no vee sound, but an "uh," for the letter V.

Chris has done some research here, and he may have ties to the community, as neighbor, friend, and relative. Anyway, the respect and care are good. The story's good, and it's reminded me of a few things to hunt up, regarding my own family, plus it's given me a little added push about other things. It's also reminded me of friends here at AwesomeDude and Codey's World, and other friends out in the big, wide world.

I value both the benefits of the high tech world, and the low tech things that have more to do with our ancient nature and farming and living with the land, not in opposition to it. Our European ancestors liked to think they were civized, modern, superior. But go back to 500 A.D. and before, and certainly go back to before 500 B.C., before the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germanic tribes, and others, and guess what? Every single European was living as a tribal native, right down to leather and woven cloth, face paint, some bronze and copper and tin, and stone and bone and wood, warpaint, bows and arrows, the whole thing -- very little different, really, than the Americans across the Atlantic.

Another piece of the puzzle: Many European and African people also love and respect the land and nature. When you're a farmer or rancher and your entire livelihood depends on the land around you being clean and fertile, then that respect and lore has to enter your ways of living, of being. So there were things which white and black folks carried on that they had in common with Indian folks. Some people tend to forget that. But it's one of the things that allowed some people to have mutual respect, friendship, even love, and reject the ignorance and hate around them, to keep friendly and family ties and trade going, even in the worst of it all.

No matter what part of the planet we come from, we are the same human kind. The important thing is to learn from the past, keep what's good, and go from there.

Chris' story speaks directly to that when he has Marshall comment on how Cherokee people adapted and recovered, and went on to flourish, despite all their people went through, and that they chose to value friends among whites and blacks and others, rather than turn away. They chose to grow and to be friendly, instead of to hate.

Hah, I'd thought I'd appear more neutral, but I suppose it's obvious I like Cherokee and Indian folks. I'd better, they are friends and some are cousins, and so, I'd have some ancestors, white and Indian, very upset with me if I didn't appreciate these people and their ways. In some form, they're in my ways, in ways I probably don't even notice.

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I got back home and found Chapter 10 is up. Yay.

The introduction of Usti Waya, I was expecting to be something else, but what Chris has written is surprising, and I had to wrap my head around that in a realistic modern-day story. Way different. (If there had been elements like that earlier on, or if the story were set earlier in time, it probably wouldn't have surprised me, though.) But I'm reading. -- This reminds me a little of something by Tony Hillerman. I'd seen a film of one of his books which was very good, and mixed modern day life among Indians and whites with old lore. -- And it caused me to sit up last night, thinking about a few less than explainable things I've had in life. In other words, while I like science and logic, I also think some things we still don't know how to explain, whether they're within the scope of scientific method or not. -- But as a story, interesting development, there.


The academic and computer and cultural / linguistics side of me sat there thinking that here they are, with all these old photos, yes, scan them all and create a copy of the discs for the museum's archive for an image database for shared study. :D But scanning hundreds or thousands of photos would take days that a film crew wouldn't likely have. (So do that later.)

I have relatives in Oklahoma and Virginia, so I know what the land is like, both places, and the people, though most of the people there I know are whites. But yes, the story point about how Oklahoma would appear to relocated Cherokee back then...very likely true. But they (and many other Indian groups) adapted. Whites had to adapt to Oklahoma too. My grandmother had stories of covered wagons from when my great-grandparents crossed when the Territory was opened for white settlement (another item where the government went back on its word to Indians, by the way) and of the Dustbowl years.

I'm not sure how Indian friends and family would feel about this story, but as a story, it's got a lot of truth along with the mysteries. Back to finish the chapter....

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