Seminole Patchwork

Diane Helentjaris
6 min readJul 12, 2023

An artwork showing us the sum is greater than the parts

Seminole Patchwork Jacket. Compliments of Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, Seminole Tribe of Florida.

In the photograph, my maternal grandmother sits with three friends on brick steps. The other girls’ hair is styled in a 1920’s bob or pulled up off their faces. Grandma’s hair is in long braids, drape her chest, and dangle into her lap. She often spoke of her Native American background, mostly to bemoan not knowing the tribe of her female ancestor. Her father was a taciturn man and never shared that information. Later, I did find another Native American forebear on my dad’s side, a Powhatan woman from Virginia, but Grandma’s tribe remains a mystery. As a little girl, fired up by my grandmother’s quandary, I dug into this heritage and read every book in the Dayton Public Library’s children section about Native Americans.

I liked reading the life of Sequoyah. He flabbergasted me with his ability to create the Cherokee alphabet. The Seminole chief Osceola’s biography, on the other hand, horrified me. Captured, imprisoned by Whites, he died of complications of a tonsillar abscess called quinsy. Like other kids growing up in the fifties, tonsils were a close-to-home topic. Many of my friends had theirs yanked out. To die from a common infection — and in prison — was heartbreaking.

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Diane Helentjaris

Writer with a love of the overlooked. Author of the historical fiction novel The Indenture of Ivy O’Neill,.www.DianeHelentjaris.com