Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Chipmunk's Tail - Standing Rock Edition

"He had laughed at that and said he wished he, too, had a tail. His mother had said, "When you are a man you will have a tail, though you will never see it. You will have something always behind you."

Now he understood. Now he knew that time lays scars on a man like the chipmunk's stripes, paths that lead from where he is now back to where he came from, from the eyes of his knowing to the tail of his remembering. They are the ties that bind a man to his own being, his small part of the roundness. (When the Legends Die)

Not all memory is personal. N. Scott Momaday wrote an essay, "Man Made of Words." In it he discusses racial memory.

And in the racial memory, Ko-sahn had seen the falling stars. For her there was no distinction between the individual and the racial experience, even as there was none between the mythical and the historical. Both were realized for her in the one memory, and that was of the land. This landscape, in which she had lived for a hundred years, was the common denominator of everything that she knew and would ever know -- 
and her knowledge was profound. Her roots ran deep into the earth, and from those depths she drew strength enough to hold still against all the forces of chance and disorder.

Three of my seven children have never lived on the Fort Peck reservation. Three of my seven have never roamed their ancestral lands. And yet, even far away from culture and influence, their tails lead back to where they came from.

My youngest walks backward through life, like a heyoka. He studies old family photos of his siblings at powwows. "Whatever happened to that beadwork, that fan, that shawl, that necklace?" He creates items to replace those that were lost. He repairs regalia that is way past its prime.

His siblings bristle at his questions and tell him he doesn't know. He wasn't there. He missed out on so much. But he is not alone in his looking back.

We have all missed out on so much.

The tail of our remembering leads us back through our relations. Turnip Digger, Lodge Pole, Duck Head Necklace, Walking Cyclone, Gray Face Woman and her brother Crazy Bear.

All of these lived, loved, created -- prayed, always in the hope of a better life for their young ones.

We are not solely tail, we have eyes as well. Balanced, grounded by our remembering, we focus the eyes of our knowing.

Mato Witko, Crazy Bear, my kids grandfather, became head chief after the Gauche -- He Who Holds the Knife. Crazy Bear was not of the Gens du Gauche. He was a member of the smallest band, the Gens des Jeunes Filles.  The Nakoda Nation (Assiniboine) was asked to send representatives to the signing of the 1851 Fort Laramie treaty.

The treaty signing was to be held in Sioux territory. The Sioux and the Assiniboine were warring tribes. In between Fort Union and the Sioux lands were marauding bands of Blackfeet. Any Assiniboine traveling alone would be killed. No one would go.

Crazy Bear determined that he would go alone. Soon he was accompanied by warriors who vowed to follow their chief even to certain death.

They rode to Fort Laramie. Crazy Bear signed the treaty which promised land and goods and services for his people. He and his party returned home in safety.

Things had not gone well in their absence. The Blackfeet killed Crazy Bear's son. Crazy Bear's wife, in her grief, hung herself. Crazy Bear mourned, but he stayed tethered to this earth and raised his granddaughter, Sweet Grass.

The government did not keep its promises. No goods came. Crazy Bear's people were hungry and angry.

Crazy Bear looked forward in hope. He held his people to the promises they had made. When the government goods finally arrived, six months late, the tribe rejoiced and again praised Crazy Bear.

In two weeks, our family will travel the lands Crazy Bear traveled. My youngest will be with us. As we entrench ourselves in racial memory, we will also create personal memory. We go to ground ourselves in the past and pray for the future.

Like the chipmunk's stripes, we have paths that lead from where we are now back to where we came from, from the eyes of our knowing to the tail of our remembering.

In this way, we are a small part of the roundness.

#MendTheHoop #DokshaStandingRock

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