W.Va. Man Recreates American Indian Life

By Bissett, Jim | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), April 16, 2012 | Go to article overview

W.Va. Man Recreates American Indian Life


Bissett, Jim, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


REEDSVILLE - Like a lot of people of American Indian descent, Joe has gotten pretty adept at introducing himself with two distinctly different names.

Call it a handshake-squaring of society and soul.

"Joe Heltzinger," the name on his driver's license, Social Security card and college diplomas, is the one he has to answer to. Society says so.

"Joseph RedHawk," however, is the identity written across his heart. That's the name he prefers, as it is dictated by the poetry and pride of his indigenous lineage.

Joe Heltzinger (and Joseph RedHawk) is an affable, 49-year-old with an easy laugh and mellow manner. He now lives in Reedsville, and he got here by way of his hometown of Reading, Pa., and Tularosa, N.M., where he lived and worked several years.

You'll know him when you see him: He's the guy who wears that amazing buckskin jacket with the fringes - a piece of outer-wear that looks like it should be hanging in an Old West museum somewhere.

Total strangers, even, have been known to stop him and ask about it.

"Yeah, people do ask me where I bought it," he said recently from the Reedsville townhouse he shares with his wife and daughter. "I get a kick out of telling them that I didn't buy it, I made it. They say, 'No kidding.'"

Nope, no kidding. Just craftsmanship.

From minister to mechanic

Craftsmanship, and care for his culture, is how he literally got his Indian name. Back home in Pennsylvania more than 25 years ago, the shaman of an Eastern Woodlands tribe bestowed him with the RedHawk moniker - "He said my heart was more red than white."

The blood ties of both course through his veins. He's English and Welsh on his mother's side. It's from his father's side of the family that he gets his Oglala Sioux and Chiricahua Apache heritage.

He doesn't know all the details, but his father's father, also named Joseph, was taken off a South Dakota reservation as an infant in the early 1900s and adopted by the Heltzinger family, in Reading.

Generations of that practice of forced assimilation, plus the isolation of Indian reservations in general, is why the "culture" part of America's indigenous culture is dying out, said Jon Reyhner, a professor of bilingual and multicultural education at Northern Arizona University.

When the language goes, the culture and heritage goes with it, Reyhner said.

The man known both by RedHawk and Heltzinger completely understands that, he said.

"Growing up, I knew I was part Indian," he said, "but that was the only thing I knew."

He knew he was good with his hands. He was a gearhead, always popping the hood and making his car purr. …

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