Tom Wilson on learning about his Mohawk identity at the age of 53
All families have secrets — but Tom Wilson's family secret was a whopper. It was closely guarded by his mother, Bunny, who took it with her to her grave. Wilson was Mohawk. And Bunny wasn't his mother, she was his birth mother's aunt. Wilson, a member of the folk rock group Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, didn't discover the truth until a few years ago. He writes about this experience in a memoir called Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home.
More questions than answers
"This was an odd house to be growing up in. I would ask, 'Bunny and George, how come you are older than the other parents?' And Bunny said, 'Tommy, there are things about you that I will take to my grave.' Imagine saying that to a kid! It left me dumbfounded. I kept asking that question until I was 14. I was made to feel too guilty — 'Your father, George, fought in the Second World War for you. How could you ask such a question?!' So I stopped. I had that question buried in me throughout my entire adult life. As a result, my relationships were often disastrous."
"I was 53 years old and I was on a speaking tour with a handler. The handler said, 'My grandmother was friends with your mother, Bunny. In fact, my grandmother was so close with Bunny that she was there the day that you were adopted.' I said, 'What?' All of those questions came in through the ether — over 53 years of me walking around the kitchen at Bunny's house wondering 'What the hell?' I then went on a DNA website to find out about my health because I didn't know who my parents were. Out of nowhere, this woman writes to me and says, 'We share 22 per cent DNA, that makes you my half-brother.' I grew up an only child, so that was wild, shocking and inspiring. That led me to the Beauvais family at the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve outside of Montreal that my cousin Janie was from. My cousin Janie later turned to me and said, 'Tom, I don't know how to tell you this and I hope you forgive me, but I'm your mother.'"
After the secret
"I grew up thinking I was a big, puffy, sweaty Irish guy. I'm actually a big, puffy, sweaty Mohawk man. I'm not some white guy who is taking off his suit and tie and running off to a sweat lodge on the weekends. I was born Mohawk — I was a Mohawk baby and I'm becoming a Mohawk man. I believe that as I open up my heart and show love and the respect that my culture deserves, as I get up and start making changes that I can make for my people, then my culture is going to embrace me."
Tom Wilson's comments have been edited and condensed.