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Every Anglo-Saxon boy in the American south believes in Native American super powers. I don't mean X-ray vision, shooting webs from the wrists, or living as an angst-ridden millionaire with a teenaged houseboy without anyone questioning one's sexuality. But talk to any ten-year-old and you'll uncover the widely held belief that all individuals of Native American ancestry possess powers beyond the reach of those of merely European or African descent.

Where I grew up, deep in the swamps of southeastern Virginia, there were no Native Americans around anymore. (My town was built on the site of a Quiyoughcohannock village, the inhabitants of which "mysteriously" disappeared in the late 1600's.) However, at least one kid out of ten claimed some random fraction of Native American ancestry. Even the most tenuous genetic link implied that the fortunate descendant was imbued with super powers, and was instantly a figure to be respected and held in awe.

Somehow, I don't think that we were alone in our beliefs. Remember the Superfriends? (If not from the 70's themselves, then perhaps from Cartoon Network?) We had Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Wonder Twins, and... Apache Chief. No superlative prefix required: he qualified for superhero status simply by being a pureblooded Native American. (Okay, being able to grow to 25 feet in height didn't hurt, either.)

In the mythology of my childhood, Native American super powers included, but were not limited to:

Tracking. Simply by crouching down and putting two fingers on the ground, a Native American can instantly tell that a three-legged dog with one blue eye and one brown barked twice, circled, and ran north at 10 miles per hour.

Communing with Animals. Gingerly approaching a wild animal, palms facing outward, a Native American can hold telepathic conversations simply by maintaining eye contact.

Silent Movement. A Native American running down a marble hallway in tap shoes, carrying a knapsack full of tambourines and oversized ben-wa balls, could easily sneak up behind even the wariest of sentries.

Complete Immunity to Poison Ivy. You don't think that this qualifies as a superpower? Tell that to a kid whose hand is immobilized by seeping yellow blisters that itch so badly that he fantasizes about taking sandpaper to his own skin.

Infallible Internal Compass.Native Americans always know where they are, where they're going, and which way is north. All this without satellites and GPS units!

Perfect Balance and Acrobatic Grace. Everyone knew that even on heavy doses of cold medicine and after a fourteen-hour marathon session on a Sit'n Spin, a Native American could balance on top of a mast in a storm without falling, or even being afraid of falling. Blame PBS for this one: documentaries taught us that Native Americans were employed to build bridges and skyscrapers by virtue of their uncanny lack of acrophobia.

One summer at camp, at a horseback-riding workshop, one of the other kids loudly proclaimed that he needed neither lessons nor a saddle, because he was "one-third Indian." The instructor, who must have been Not From Around Here, didn't comprehend what to us kids needed no further explanation.

What the camp's riding instructor didn't understand, and we worldly-wise preteens did, was that by virtue of his ancestry, the one-third-Indian-kid was gifted with (at least) the innate ability to ride a horse. Hell, he could probably single-handedly defeat a black bear in a staring contest from five miles away while perched at the very top of a pine tree, drop fifty feet to the ground without making so much as a twig snap, and find the shortest route home across twenty-five miles of swamps and forests. Blindfolded. Without breaking a sweat.

Of course, this was the same kid who got injured the next week when his horse inexplicably went into a trot, ran off the trail into the trees, and dumped him in a ravine.

Maybe it was something the kid said to the animal. Telepathically, of course.

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