I was reminded today of a most wonderful and valuable gift I received as a child. I’ll call it mustriepen. It was, and remains, the most awful stuff known to the human digestive system. My Uncle Tom is the only person I am aware of on the planet that can make any that is reasonably enjoyable. For those not familiar with the food, mustriepen is a form of sausage ring made of pork remnants, cabbage, onion, breadcrumbs, blood, and spices. It came with my people from Luxembourg.
So why call it a wonderful and valuable gift? I work at university where we have a large population of Native students. Today in talking with one of those students I got to listen to a story that isn’t uncommon. The student told me about not getting to spend much time with relatives on the reservation growing up because the reservation was someplace not to be because poverty and addictions. Staying away kept them safe from such things. There’s value and truth to that. But, it also did something else. That student referred to themselves as white. It’s only now as a young adult that they are starting to look at who they are in their Indigenous heritage. We have many students who are blond haired, blued eyed Native Americans. When they grow up in their cultures and you ask who they are they will proudly say “I’m from Red Lake” or Leech Lake or wherever. Many will know how to introduce themselves in their ancestral language, maybe they even speak more. They know something of who they are. Now a reservation is simply a place, but it is one place where culture and history stands. It’s not the only one. There are many ways to grow up knowing who you are.
The thing is those blond haired, blued eyed Native kids who feel some connection to who they are speak with a sense of strength and grounding that the other kids don’t have. There are other Native kids like this one who want to know the way home and it’s a hard way to find.
I’m not Native but I grew up with mustriepen and a sense of identity that is unusual for white people today. My people had lived in Wisconsin since the mid to late 1800’s, but still identified as Luxembourgers. My dad and some of his generation could still speak the language. My grandma grew up speaking it. In the process of becoming white identity is lost.
I am thankful for that gift of mustriepen and I, once again, find myself asking– how do I support and guide these young people who want to know who they are?