Personal Stories

“All the stories need to be brought to the surface.”  

– U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, April 2021

Members of the Honoring Indigenous Peoples Group have shared our stories during meetings, and some have provided them in written form here. 

Helen Tinsley-Jones

In 2020, Rev. Michelle and several members of the Social Justice Council formed the Honoring Indigenous Peoples Group (HIP).  Initially looking to find out on whose land UUCB sat, we learned that the church is situated on the unceded (no treaty signed; land was stolen) territory of the Lisjan Ohlone.  Through readings, videos and discussions, HIP members have learned more about the history of the Ohlone community as well as Indigenous communities throughout the U.S., and our goals have expanded to acknowledging and concretely addressing the damage and harms of genocide and land theft done to Indigenous peoples by settler colonialism.  We have a growing connection with the Sogorea Te’ Land Trust of the S.F. Bay Area (https://sogoreate-landtrust.org) and are working to support the Land Trust’s goal of reclaiming ancestral lands for gardens, ceremonies and sacred gathering spaces.  HIP strives to share information with our UUCB congregation about Indigenous history and current issues, and this blog/newsletter is one format in which we can do that.  

As an African American woman who claims no Native American heritage, I proceed with respect and care.  I feel great affinity to this work because of the suffering of Indigenous and Black peoples, caused by past enslavement and torture, and ongoing marginalization and oppression.  I am inspired by the endurance and vibrancy of all Indigenous peoples and am glad that UUCB is part of a local and national effort to center and support Indigenous peoples. 

Carol Carlisle

Man by pond

In Northern Oklahoma the Arkansas River separates Kay County from Osage County, which was, and maybe still is, legally Indian Territory.

It took me years to not be frightened to cross the Arkansas River Bridge. It was a one-way wooden bridge that popped and cracked as our car drove across it. To get anywhere east of Ponca City we had to cross this bridge. Cousins, aunts and uncles, and The Farm were all in The East. The family finally gave up trying to explain that it was ok, and safe, and that nothing bad was going to happen in-between the banks of the Arkansas River. It was finally agreed that I could hide under blankets in the backseat as we drove across. That seemed to work. 

In light of Black Lives Matter, I have joined a group at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, to look into our relationship with indigenous people and the theft of Indian lands. That is something I can speak to. I am a few generations away from being a perpetrator of those land grabs. My great-grandparents got land in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, something my father’s sister, Aunt Sue, was very proud of. She bragged often of being an ‘89er. That land they took was my summer playground for years. It was like camp; my cousins and I swam, fished, rode horses, and shot 22s. Oh, and were often called “wild little Indians” by the grownups circling around us. There’s a photo of my grandfather standing on a ledge above the Farm’s pond, looking into the distance. According to many family members, he looks just like an Indian Chief with bent nose and straight black Welsh hair. What did we know? What did I know? I wrote poems about the sandstone, cedar, and blackjack oaks that made up this land. I slept under the stars on bales of hay, listening to bullfrogs croak in the pond while stories from the grownups floated above my head: “Uncle John was the first baker in Oklahoma Territory . . . the Disney side of the family came here to visit . . . the Dalton Gang hid out at the farm after robbing a bank in Tulsa just over yonder . . . the time when so and so did such and such” . . . these tales were oft repeated and became part of my history. What didn’t they tell me? What didn’t I know?  I’m having a hard time looking back at that time as anything but ideal. Am I betraying my childhood to think otherwise? We are standing on the blood and bones of other families who occupied this land before us. They looked across the land into the distance with as much hope as my grandfather. Who has the rights? What did we know? This is a bridge I’m having a hard time crossing! I can no longer hide under blankets in the backseat. 

I’ve recently learned some things about the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 here, followed the Oklahoma Historical Society on Facebook, and visited the Emeryville Shellmound Monument in my curiosity to know more.

In Northern Oklahoma the Arkansas River separates Kay County from Osage County, which was, and maybe still is, legally Indian Territory.

It took me years to not be frightened to cross the Arkansas River Bridge. It was a one-way wooden bridge that popped and cracked as our car drove across it. To get anywhere east of Ponca City we had to cross this bridge. Cousins, aunts and uncles, and The Farm were all in The East. The family finally gave up trying to explain that it was ok, and safe, and that nothing bad was going to happen in-between the banks of the Arkansas River. It was finally agreed that I could hide under blankets in the backseat as we drove across. That seemed to work. 

In light of Black Lives Matter, I have joined a group at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, to look into our relationship with indigenous people and the theft of Indian lands. That is something I can speak to. I am a few generations away from being a perpetrator of those land grabs. My great-grandparents got land in the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889, something my father’s sister, Aunt Sue, was very proud of. She bragged often of being an ‘89er. That land they took was my summer playground for years. It was like camp; my cousins and I swam, fished, rode horses, and shot 22s. Oh, and were often called “wild little Indians” by the grownups circling around us. There’s a photo of my grandfather standing on a ledge above the Farm’s pond, looking into the distance. According to many family members, he looks just like an Indian Chief with bent nose and straight black Welsh hair. What did we know? What did I know? I wrote poems about the sandstone, cedar, and blackjack oaks that made up this land. I slept under the stars on bales of hay, listening to bullfrogs croak in the pond while stories from the grownups floated above my head: “Uncle John was the first baker in Oklahoma Territory . . . the Disney side of the family came here to visit . . . the Dalton Gang hid out at the farm after robbing a bank in Tulsa just over yonder . . . the time when so and so did such and such” . . . these tales were oft repeated and became part of my history. What didn’t they tell me? What didn’t I know?  I’m having a hard time looking back at that time as anything but ideal. Am I betraying my childhood to think otherwise? We are standing on the blood and bones of other families who occupied this land before us. They looked across the land into the distance with as much hope as my grandfather. Who has the rights? What did we know? This is a bridge I’m having a hard time crossing! I can no longer hide under blankets in the backseat. 

I’ve recently learned some things about the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889 here, followed the Oklahoma Historical Society on Facebook, and visited the Emeryville Shellmound Monument in my curiosity to know more.


Ann Harlow

My parents grew up in Oklahoma, and I was raised to be proud that some of my ancestors were Choctaw Indians. It seems two of my great-great-great-grandmothers were Choctaws who married white men and presumably traveled the Trail of Tears from Mississippi to Indian Territory. My great-grandfather served in the Choctaw Legislature as “Journalist,” writing minutes, as I do now for two boards—but he had to translate the proceedings conducted in the Choctaw language into English. He was described in Leaders in Indian Territory as “in outward appearance an Anglo-Saxon—in heart an Indian” and was not pleased at the treatment of the natives by the U. S. government. My grandmother and my parents liked to visit the Southwest and bought numerous Native American objects—a Navaho rug, a Maria Martinez plate and other pottery, Zuni fetishes, turquoise and silver jewelry.

In recent years I’ve been looking to get more in touch with my Indigenous roots—reading, attending the Indigenous People’ Day celebration in Berkeley and a Big Time at Indian Rock State Park, visiting the California State Indian Museum in Sacramento, watching the Indigenous ceremony that was part of the 2020 UUA General Assembly. So it was natural for me to join the Honoring Indigenous Peoples Group at UUCB and help develop this blog.

Anne Wardell

Growing up on a farm in eastern Nebraska provided a variety of experiences that most people would not expect in such a sparsely populated area.  The nearest rural community had a small school.  In my class of 8,  one girl was known to be of ‘Indian’ heritage.  She was part of the Trudell family and her older brother, John, eventually became a Native American author, poet, actor, and political activist.  He was the spokesperson for the United Indians of All Tribes takeover of Alcatraz in 1969.             

When I was able to visit a maternal aunt in Omaha, I would have the opportunity to play with a favorite friend, Laurie.  I didn’t know then that Laurie was a Native American of Santee Sioux-Winnebago heritage, and that she had been taken from her birth mother and adopted into a non-native family.  Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk is now a noted artist, and her art involves themes revolving around Native American life.  Laurie has given me permission to say that you may learn more about her life and art by visiting askART.com or her Facebook page.         

My father was a history buff and especially enjoyed studying Native American nations and their lives.  He especially admired the brilliant Nez Perce leader, Chief Joseph.  My father told me that “the White Man had nothing to be proud of in how he treated the Indians.”    

Perhaps my lifelong interest in Native American history, creation stories, and art comes from my father and my childhood interactions.  I do know now that  land was not just of primary importance to my family as farmers, but to the original peoples that inhabited our country.  By being a member of the Honoring Indigenous Peoples group at UUCB, I hope to learn more about the native peoples who lived across our country and to help rectify the profound injustices that have been perpetrated on our original inhabitants.