What I didn’t have to know

Humming from the backseat, then a squeal. “Look, Mommy! There’s a – a – a -”

I glance back at Harley and see that he has a big, impish grin on his face. He is pretending. “What do you see, baby?”

“A cliff!”

“Oh no! Call the Paw Patrol!” I exclaim. He giggles.

Even though we are just a mile or two away from our apartment building, this is a new route, and everything is new to us. We moved to Connecticut just over a year ago – I’ve spent 1/29th of my life here. It is still a foreign land to me. But it has been nearly half of my son’s life, and it’s likely all he remembers.

I narrate what I see as we drive down the road, a habit I picked up when he was a speechless infant and that I now can’t seem to shake. “Shelton Land Trust open space.” “Some for sale signs.” We’re driving through a wooded suburb. “Welcome to Trumbull,” reads another hanging sign, curlicued and quaint with painted wrought iron flourishes. I am still not used to the stubborn quaintness and stylized rusticity of New England. It is grating to my sensibilities in a way I don’t fully understand. It feels false. I don’t tell Harley this. I don’t tell anyone this.

I see a log cabin ahead on my right that catches my eye. The old structure marks itself out distinctly against a backdrop of pointedly tasteful Colonials and Cape Cods. There is a sign in front of it, dark brown wood with burned letters painted in yellow.

“Golden Hill Reservation
Paugussett Indians”

A silhouette of a wolf underneath holds a “Private Property” sign.

There is more on the sign, but in my shock, I can’t read it in time, despite slowing down and craning my neck. We are already past.

I am silent for a minute as I continue down the road. The log cabin is clearly surrounded by a suburban American neighborhood, even visible through the trees behind the cabin itself. “There’s a reservation here? Is this all part of it?” I wonder aloud.

Harley tries to echo “reservation,” but it comes out “wezoobasin.”

“Could it…could it just be that one house?” Saying it aloud feels ominous and jarring, especially with a little toddler’s voice echoing behind me. “No. But…” There were clearly other new suburban houses behind it. I know that this is the Nichols section of Trumbull. I’ve been told it’s “very desirable” by numerous real estate listings sent to me by my husband’s family. It’s certainly expensive.

I feel unsettled. Could it really just be the one house? It seems impossible, like a satire of America, the land of an entire tribe of Native Americans reduced to a single half-acre plot of land in a semi-planned suburban community, ignored by its affluent neighbors living within range of a stage whisper.

When I go home, I immediately look it up online. It’s not even a half-acre, I learn. It’s a quarter of an acre. The Golden Hill Paugussett Nation has not been able to gain federal recognition but does hold recognition from the state of Connecticut. They also have a larger parcel of land in Colchester. I also learn that they are not, in fact, ignored by their neighbors – the reservation’s existence has been challenged multiple times over the years, in 1939, 1975, and as recently as 2009.

When you search for this reservation online, you will find a Facebook page. The visitor comments are full of people who are “inspired” by “old traditions,” interested in “shamanic traditions,” and just recently found out that their great-great-great grandfather was Native. The responses are polite but brief.

The wall posts by the page’s administrator are often art and photographs featuring Native faces, tagged with #NativeLivesMatter.

I am made suddenly, uncomfortably, deeply aware of what I don’t know. What I have been ignoring. All the issues I’ve never considered because I didn’t have to know about them at all.

I am also aware of my inclination to go on ignoring this. Ignoring the sense of discomfort that comes up somewhere in my gut whenever I pass the log cabin on Shelton Road.

Right now, I think all I really ought to do is educate myself and hold off from following my fear, which only wants to protect me from discomfort, bless its heart. But this is the good kind of discomfort. The kind we all need to lean into a little more. Expansive discomfort. It happens when my mind was smaller than it should have been and I’m forcing it to stretch bigger. I must keep stretching my heart out, as well. That can hurt, too. If I follow my fear, my heart and mind stay much too small.

Fear will have to follow me.


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