On the Wings of an Ancient Bird
David met me after the gathering with elders, and we went for coffee at his office. He was pleased at the outcome I described.
“Did Marion suggest she receive the grant and manage the project,” David inquired with sly grin on his face.
“Why, yes. Is there a problem?” I worried I may have been
foolish to agree without time to think that over.
He shook his head and chuckled. “She’s got to be in control of everything on this reservation. Oh, don’t get me wrong, she’ll manage it alright, but don’t expect to have much input.”
I thought about that for a moment. That was okay with me, if it generally could be regarded as environmental education.
“I think the garden at the museum is great for a central demonstration of what grew along the river before it was dammed” I reflected. “And, Marion seems to have a good relationship with the elders who indicated they would incorporate tribal language into the program for the kids. This will expand their language recovery program. It seemed to resonate will all around the circle of elders.”
“Great,” David said, swigging down the rest of his mug of coffee. “How long are you staying?”
“I planned to leave tomorrow. I was not sure if you set up other meetings, and I thought it might be good to be here another day if the elders wanted to do some planning.”
“Would you be interested in attending a pow-wow?”
“Yes! When?” I was surprised to be invited.
“It’s tonight. Our youth are learning traditional dancing and will be joining in with the adults. This pow wow will be open to the public. We occasionally open it to promote tourism. Marion will have the gift shop open. She never misses an opportunity!”
“Will any of your kids be dancing?” I asked.
“Yes, all of them. Sharon is dancing as well. I’ll be your
escort to the pow wow.”
“Thank you, David. Maybe you can interpret the activities
for me. Can I take photos?”
“No, cameras are not permitted.” Observing my surprise David explained further. “The people believe that a part of their soul is stolen with the photograph. And, most of worry where and how it might be used. Our image could end up in a tourist ad, or worse, on
a national coin!”
He was grinning but I got the picture. It was all plausible.
That night was clear and warm. The moon shone softly in the night sky. As I drove onto the reservation I could hear the beat of drums and high-pitched singing. David met me at the entrance. Bleachers had been set up on the edges of the lawn and groups of
people were making fry bread in skillets near the grounds. Sodas, freshly made tortillas with beans, cheese, and ground beef were also for sale. David had advised not to eat before the pow wow and I’m glad I went very hungry. I filled my plate and sat at picnic tables set up for diners. There were probably 60 – 70 tourists including me, and another several hundred tribal-members. Kids in traditional regalia were walking around, flushed with excitement. Sharon joined us briefly. She was radiant in her red taffeta dress with bold black and white diagonal patterns, and a beaded yoke that reached to her shoulders. She wore a beaded tiara and white moccasins.
“Sharon, this outfit is beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she said. “These are regalia,” she said emphasizing that word as a correction to ‘outfit’.
She did not stay but headed off with other women to prepare for the evening’s events.
David and I joined the crowd assembling on the bleachers. He greeted families as we found a seat. He excused himself when an elder motioned for him. They talked for some time and I wondered if there was a problem for which his role as a social worker might be called upon. Sure enough, there was an altercation among youth, he explained, returning to our seats. One was drinking and a knife had been drawn. The reservation police station was just across the lawn so they had apprehended the boy before anything serious happened. David left to help. In the meantime, I was without his
interpretation when the formal ceremonies began.
Young and old assembled around the dancing circle and began to move together on the edge of the circle to the beat of drums and the spirited singing of the men who beat upon them in union. It was a formal promenade to begin the night. I was impressed by the dignity of the older women who moved shoulder to shoulder looking like tassels of corn swaying in a breeze as their bodies stepped gently up and down, then side to side.
The dark of night continued to deepen as the contest began, and waves of dancers came forward, one after the other. There was the men and women’s Fancy Dancing, Jingle Dress Dancing, Shawl Dance, and so on. The men were elaborately dressed with feathered trains, antlered crowns, and war weapons. The kids were my favorite, however. These were the modern children who would take their traditions forward in an increasingly tech-driven world. As I watched them in their little steps and swirls, I felt they would carry something forward for all of us . . . a connection to a world made by
nature and a life attuned to it.
David never returned. I worried something serious happened but then to my surprise I recognized him on the field. He was dressed in a shimmering ribbon shirt, in rainbow colors down the front. He began to swirl a rattle and his voice rang out in a traditional Bird Song. The drums beat with him, and the people looked upon David as he sang into the microphone. Behind him the moon shone brightly and the land seemed hushed over the reservation. Only an occasional car honking in the distance, or a night bird, disturbed the perfect pitch of David’s voice. I felt transported to another time by the ancient songs.