Potawatomi Books, Gary E.  Mitchell]


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Over the course of history, a great amount of book space and media time has been devoted to the conflicts between Indians and non-Indians, and while some of it is true, this magnification fails to underscore some important elements of the relationship.

What is often overlooked is the many genuine friendships made between the two races, especially when it comes to living side by side for a lifetime.

As the life experience shows, the color of a person's skin is often forgotten when children grow up playing in the school playgrounds together, going to school with each other for many years, playing sports together and living in close proximity to each other.

In that time, people learn to care for each other to a certain degree and to look out for each other. Both races learn they share many things in common and have the same concerns about life. One value prevalent over the years is the ability to help when help is needed.

One prime example of neighbor helping neighbor on the Potawatomi reservation is when people like Jimmy McCauley, or any one of his sons, will plow up a garden spot for spring planting. It was the same thing an old gentleman named Ray Folger did for years for his Indian neighbors.

McCauley and Folger knew the value the Indian people put on their corn and the gardens. Although it is a simple gesture, it is also a sign of what neighbors do for each other.

It isn't unusual for a white farmer, like the Shenk family, to be seen pulling a broken down car for an Indian neighbor or pulling a car out a ditch. They have lived on the same roads and have experienced the same bad road conditions and understood the predicament. Sometimes money is offered, and other time it isn't. That is the way of neighbors.

This extends to the white farmer who rents out Indian land. They will advance rent money when a financial crisis comes up for the Indian landowner. It is something they don't have to do until a certain day of the year, but the gesture is one of understanding and promotes good will for future business.

When an Indian dies on the reservation, it isn't unusual to see many of the white neighbors, landowners and old school friends show up at the funeral to pay their last respects. They will bring food, kind words and prayers for the family. It is the way of neighbors and will never be reflected in social statistics.

In the same vein, the Indian people have come to trust the Mercer family in Holton to take care of their funeral needs. Wendell Mercer started the local funeral home many years ago and then his family carried on the business since then.

This respected family attends the funerals and, above all, respect the Indian way and the families. Words can never express the gratitude Indians feel when they are treated right during these times.

Recently, one of the young grandsons of Wendell Mercer married and invited two elderly Potawatomi women to his wedding, and they accepted. It was a nice gesture, but also was the way of neighbors.

While these are small steps, it is a start in the right direction.

First published in the Topeka Capital Journal, October 26, 1995

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