Donnie Daniels grateful for Native American heritage

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 21, 2009

Thanksgiving Day is a harvest festival and is traditionally a time to give thanks for the harvest and all the many other blessings in one’s life.

The first Thanksgiving occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation in 1621 and is today celebrated the fourth Thursday of November.

Thanksgiving is a day when family and friends come together for a turkey and trimmings dinner and then stay around to enjoy the warm fellowship that comes from being with loved ones.

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Most of us remember learning about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims and Indians in “grammar school.”

The Pilgrims arrived in Plymouth in 1620 and had endured extreme hardships in the new land.

But they had managed to survive, mainly, because of the help of Squanto, an Indian who taught the Pilgrims how to fish, grow corn and farm the land.

At the end of that first difficult year, the Pilgrims held a harvest feast and honored their friends, Squanto and the Wampanoag Indians.

Today, probably little thought is given to the role the Indians played in the first Thanksgiving other than the placing of statues of Pilgrims and Indians as centerpieces for the harvest table.

But there are those in Pike County for whom the Indians take center stage on Thanksgiving and every day.

Donnie Daniels is extremely proud of his Native American heritage. But it wasn’t always that way for his family.

Although his older siblings sometimes spoke about the possibility of their Native American heritage, it was not until years later that it was positively confirmed.

“My wife did a lot of research and traced our ancestry back to 1832,” Daniels said.

“On the Creek Indian census, she found my great-great-great grandmother, Brown Marsh of Bladen County, North Carolina,” Daniels said.

“She came down to Georgia and married a Mims. They had a daughter, Delilah, who married into the Barefoot family. My grandmother was Julia Barefoot so that made the connection for me.”

Daniels said his Native American heritage is very important to him.

“I’ve studied a lot about the Creek Indian culture so that we can start to replace and reestablish some of the culture of our ancestors,” he said.

“Brown Marsh had a daughter named Sabra and that’s the name that we gave to my granddaughter.”

Much of what Daniels has learned about the Creek Indian culture he has tried to apply to his own family life.

“In the Creek Indian culture, grandparents had a huge influence on the raising of the children,” Daniels said.

“If you stop and think about it, when couples have children sometimes they are not much more than children themselves. The grandparents are more established and have more knowledge about how to raise a child, so they are better prepared to do so.”

Daniels laughing said he didn’t know how that would play with today’s grandparents.

“Another way of the Native Americans that is very beneficial today is teaching children the tribal council form of government,” Daniels said. “

At the tribal council, if you had something to say, you had the right to say it but it was done in a specific order. They had a talking stick or feather and whoever was speaking held it. No one else was allowed to speak. They had to listen. Listening is important and we all need to learn that.”

Native Americans have great respect for the outdoors and are very patriotic. Both of those qualities are ones that all people should emulate, Daniels said.

“I served in the military –in the Marine Corps – and not one person thanked me until about 15 years ago,” he said.

“At a tribal pow wow, they welcomed me home. That meant a lot to me. In the Native American culture, warriors were held in high esteem. They were the providers and protectors. Really, when you think about it, the Indians were the first to fight outside invasion of our country.”

Daniels said Native Americans have a strong attachment to the land.

“The belief is that our Creator has placed us at a certain place for a reason,” he said.

“We are only the caretakers of the land. It does not belong to us.”

Because the land is so important to the Native Americans, Daniels said the Star Clan Tribe of the Lower Muskogee Creek Tribe East to which he belongs has purchased 11 acres near Springhill.

“We moved a mobile home in for a tribal office,” he said. “The land is owned by the tribe, not by any individual. We had several fundraisers in order to purchase the land. We sold roasted corn and raffled quilts and other items. It was important for us to have land. And, it may be used as a burial ground for those who wish to be buried there.”

Another area of Pike County that has great significance to the Star Clan is in the Pleasant Ridge Creek area.

“The area has been designated a historic site by the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission,” Daniels said.

“When the Indians who lived there were being rounded up to be marched to Oklahoma, some of them escaped the “Trail of Tears” by passing off as whites. Some just hid and others escaped from the journey on which so many died.”

Daniels said it was as late as 1932 when it was not unlawful to kill an Indian.

“That’s why so many people didn’t want anyone to know they were of Indian heritage,” he said.

“That’s why my grandparents kept that to themselves. Things have changed now and the Native Americans are held in higher regard and, hopefully, in years to come more people will come to appreciate the Native Americans and the contributions they have made to the American culture.”

After all, the Indians were there at the first Thanksgiving and, had it not been for them, many of the Pilgrims might not have been there to celebrate and give thanks.