Gallery Index

Chief Pale Moon

We shift now from the story of someone visiting North America to someone North American born and bred, but still find ourselves on a bright comic book landscape, since writer and English teacher Philippe Ernewein's hazy childhood memories of Chief Pale Moon, member of the League of Iroquois, could easily have fit into the foreground or background of Ed Adler's vividly imagined wild, Wilde west.

Set in Ontario, this is the first of two biographies included in One Story High which tells a distinctly "American story" using a distinctly "Canadian place" -- a common occurrence in disciplinary sociology ever since John Seeley and his research staff used a middle class neighborhood just outside the city of Toronto for their classic "one story high" study of the "postwar American suburb," Crestwood Heights.

Chief Pale Moon is also the first of seven purely narrative pieces gathered in One Story High.  All of the rest include some form of visual or audio representation.


Moeke asked the Indian to put his headdress back on, "Please, sir, for the picture." Moeke learned her English when her family housed Canadian soldiers in Belgium during World War II. This was her second visit to Canada. The first time was as a war bride in 1945. She had fallen in love with Lloyd Ernewein, one of the soldiers her father, my great-grandfather, housed during the Nazi Occupation. We were in Ontario to visit the family of the grandfather I never knew. He passed away when my father was three. 

My father, mother and Moeke flew to Ontario from Brussels. It was July 1973. At fourteen months old, I was the youngest passenger on the plane. The intent of our visit, I’ve been told, was not to visit Doon Village, but it was that place that had the biggest impact on me. It was there that I met my first American Indian.

Doon Village was a cross between a museum and an outdoor memorial built to honor both the pioneers and the people of The League of the Iroquois, specifically the Mohawk, so there was a huge tower, Pioneer Memorial Tower, and it was surrounded by a field of teepees. The Ontario Pioneer Foundation hired Indians from the nearby Iroquois Reserve to play the part of the natives. They walked around the village in traditional clothing, ground maize, sold beads and sat by their showcase teepees.

Moeke remembers she paid a dollar to take a picture of Pale Moon and me. She still has the picture in a scrapbook along with the plane ticket from 1973, the brochure of Doon Village and a book about the history of the early Canadians.

My father took the picture. I stood next to Pale Moon mimicking his posture, hands behind my back and looking straight ahead. His headdress started with small white feathers above his forehead and became longer and more colorful ... red ... yellow ... black ... as they stretched down his back. He had a band of blue pearls around his right arm. He wore beige pants with beige moccasins. His naked chest was partially covered with feathers hanging off his long, gray braided hair. His braids came out from behind his ears and covered his nipples like a pair of suspenders. Like Chief Seattle, Crazy Horse and Mohawk Chief Hiawatha before him, Pale Moon had his picture taken for the money.

I felt like I was part of the League of the Iroquois for a moment. I was one with the Mohawk tribe. Of course at fourteen months old all I really knew was that I wasn’t standing next to my father, mother or Moeke.

But now, as a grownup, as a father myself I wonder, who was that I was standing next to? What was his history? What might I have been thinking? What was I feeling standing next to this old and barely clad man with feathers on his head? What did I see in his eyes? And why did he leave such an indelible impression on me?

I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. But what I do know is that my encounter with him left a deep impression on me. It was the first of a series of events that led me in my early twenties south of Doon Village and west to New Mexico, to Colorado, to California, always on the lookout for another glimpse of Chief Pale Moon or at least a glimpse of Tonto.

Philippe Ernewein is a writer who has been nationally recognized for creating, developing and teaching innovative English and American curriculum for secondary education students.