South Charlotte

DAR partners with Native Americans

In elementary school, Ione Dawson's teacher announced to the class on day that she was going to call on a "real American."

"I knew that wasn't me," said Dawson, who was born in Denver, Colo., in the mid-1920s to American parents of English and Mongolian descent.

She knew the teacher was referring to her many Native American classmates, whose families, along with Dawson's, had come to the Teapot Dome oil field in Wyoming for work.

Decades spent in the American West instilled a lifelong love for Native American people and culture in Dawson.

Decades later, it has fueled her to forge a rare partnership between a Charlotte chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Metrolina Native American Association.

The Revolutionary War connected the two groups hundreds of years ago.

"Patriots" of the American Revolutionary War typically are thought of as white men, but Native Americans and African Americans - referred to on the DAR website as "forgotten patriots - fought by their side.

Dawson, who is now 86, moved to Waxhaw 40 years ago with her late husband George, a physicist. She filled their log cabin with a huge collection of Native American artifacts, everything from blankets to baskets to more than 100 Navaho rugs.

She joined a local DAR chapter in the early 1990s "for the Native Americans,"she says, and soon began showing off her artifacts and giving free talks to "anyone who would listen."

But Dawson is a woman with a "head filled with trivia," a detailed knowledge of American history and a longstanding passion for helping Native Americans, and talking about artifacts wasn't enough.

She said audience members did like the artifacts, often asking where they could buy the baskets or jewelry.

"It's just an entertainment thing," she said. "They are not inspired to do anything."

Dawson recently was installed on the organizing committee of the Metrolina Native American Association, a group that organizes an annual Pow Wow in the Charlotte area to educate people about Native American culture. She's the only non-Native American on the committee.

At the same time, she began working on her peers at the Mecklenburg Chapter of the DAR.

Dawson had long presented an "Indian Minute" at the meetings, usually showing off one of her artifacts. Now, she uses that time to push the Pow Wow.

Her efforts have paid off. The group has raised almost $600 for the Pow Wow, and Dawson said many DAR members plan to attend the Pow Wow with their families.

Dawson believes it's the only partnership of its kind between a DAR chapter and a Native American group.

She's helped the MNAA secure new sponsors for the Pow Wow, and MNAA board of directors chairman Jessie Jacobs said they are expecting as many as 10,000 people this year at the three-day event in Indian Trail.

"She's added quite a lot of energy to the Pow Wow (committee)," James said. "She made a difference. She gives us insight on where to go and who to talk with for support.

"And she's always right. I wish we had her 10 years ago."

She's told the group where to hand out fliers - and keeps a stack in her car to hand out herself - and given them ideas on things to change and who to ask for help.

"She's good," Jacobs said. "I love her to death. We all do."

Carol Clark, an MNAA member who has become a friend of Dawson's, described the relationship with the DAR as "not one we expected or had ever heard of before."

"They have shown us an acceptance that was totally unexpected," Clark said. "They have given us a new appreciation of who they are and their desire to be involved.

"Through this precious little lady with such a huge heart, we have formed this amazing relationship."

Dawson already is moving ahead on another front. She keeps a thick hardbound book in her car, a DAR publication that contains documentation for more than 6,500 Native American and African American "forgotten patriots."

"I will meet up with anybody so they can look at it and determine their lineage with it," she said.

Looking into her own ancestry years ago brought a revelation that Dawson said helped her better understand her deep connection to Native Americans.

She learned some of her father's ancestors were Mongolians who crossed the Bering Straight from Asia to North America - and became the first Native Americans.

"I no longer wonder why I'm so attracted to Native Americans," Dawson said.