Old Soul

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
Have you ever been told that it’s for certain that you are going to die? Of course, we all know death is looming in the distance for everyone; it’s a part of life. It was a rather unusual calm day on the waters of the Puget Sound, as a family sat in a cramped room full of doctors and nurses. A young cancer patient was sitting, taking in the news with such grace, it was as if someone had just told him that he had to eat all his vegetables and not about the news of death. The process of finding a donor for him had just begun.

The family was told the slim set of options and what to expect. It was narrowed down to finding his match and waiting to see if the transplant would take. Later that year in November, after the testing was done, Joe had two matches: both his sisters. After much deliberation, one of the sisters stepped forward to save her brother. The weight of the situation was great, but she knew it had to be done to save Joe. In early spring of 2007, the process was truly in full swing. After numerous procedures at the shiny hospital in Seattle with the wide calming view of the sound, the process was complete.

On April 11, 2007, Joe received the transplant. This was his new birthday, and his new life was just beginning. The family celebrated with a steak and lobster dinner from a fancy restaurant on the pier. Joe was an avid fisherman, hunter, wrestler, but most of all he loved baseball. Joe learned to play baseball before he could walk and dreamed of someday becoming a Seattle Mariner. Now that he had his transplant, he had many more possibilities than before.

The family sat and admired Joe for his courage to keep up the fight for his life. The quiet humming and whirling of the machines was the sound of hope for all of them now. Those sounds meant that he was getting a second chance at life to do all the things he set out to do. This was his chance to have his life back.

Joe was originally diagnosed when he was 12, but the transplant took place when he was in high school. The doctors told him to drop out of school, because the medications would make it hard for him to learn, and all the trips to Seattle would mean missing class, and it would be hard to catch up. This was not Joe’s way. He did his homework in the hospital, and the family found tutors for him. He practiced with the wrestling team. Even though he was unable to wrestle, he showed up everyday to be with his team.

Later that year, Joe walked across the stage at his high school in his royal blue graduation gown, amongst a standing ovation from all his friends, faculty, and family. Joe wasn’t strong enough to walk himself, so his father helped him. As he was exiting the stage, he asked “was that all for me?” With a huge proud grin, they walked to the back of the gym. Not only did he graduate, but he lettered in two sports: baseball and wrestling. There is also a wrestling award in his name that is given annually to a member of the team.

Joe’s mandatory 100 days in the hospital after the transplant quickly passed, and he was able to leave on the hundredth day. When he got home, Joe was determined to start college. He was gaining his strength back and was even driving. But just when you think things are getting better, they don’t.

A fire destroyed his dad and step mom’s house where he was living. In the transition of a new house, Joe went to live with his “twin sister.” He would say this because she was the donor. He would joke that he was going to be just like her because there was more of her in him than even his own self. While he was staying at his sister’s house, he continued the maintenance doctor visits, and Joe’s health progressed greatly. He still struggled with pain, but there was no medicine in the world to fix that. After a new house was built, Joe went back to live with his dad. Everything seemed to be going great.

On March 10th, Joe collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital. There was nothing to be done. Joe took his last breath in the early hours of March 11, 2008, exactly 11 months to the day of his transplant. Joe brought something to the world that will never be replaced or duplicated. He had an “old soul” and a light that will never diminish. This innocent baby boy was now out of his pain and misery.

Joe, go now and do all the things you set out to do; run further than you ever have, play baseball until you can’t stand up, and wrestle until your heart’s content. I will never be able to get another haircut without thinking about you and “our” talent.

When Joe passed away, a part of me died, too; but I know that it would be selfish to keep him here in the condition he was in.

After inspiring all of those who he met in his short but accomplished life, Joseph Mark Bowen is now at peace and his work completed. Joe was 20 years old, the world’s best uncle, a wonderful son, dear friend to so many, cousin, and my baby brother.

Joseph Mark Bowen
“Little Joe”
October 14, 1987 graciously to March 11, 2008
Part II- Old Soul
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JOSEPH MARK BOWEN
“LITTLE JOE”

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Maranee Bowen attends Northwest Indian College through the Swinomish extension site. Her brother Joe is her inspiration for finishing school: “He showed me that if you work hard, you can accomplish anything.” She is part of the Upper Skagit Tribe in Washington state and a descendant of the Creek Nation Tribe and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Bowen is learning the Creek language from her grandma and working with her two children to learn and preserve her Native language.

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What Goes Around Comes Around

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
I decided to put on my best powwow outfit and hide on top of a small tree-covered hill that routed the road. I could see the dust fly up from behind a vehicle coming this way. I transformed myself into “warrior mode” and painted my face with mulberries. I crept along the bank, alert and at one with the environment. As a truck approached, I let out a war cry and jumped out onto the road in front of the people driving. My turtle shield and deer-leg tomahawk flailed in the air as the drivers swerved and honked, wide-eyed and scared.

Just as I was about to send them off with my victory hoot, I was stopped short. Something was wrong; I could not see nor breathe. The cloud of dust from the truck engulfed me from head to toe. I choked and coughed, trying to spit and wipe the dirt from my face which instantly turned to mud.

I went back to the house and was caught in the kitchen by my dad who started laughing, “What happened to you? I did not know 6-year olds got mud facials!” I ran to the bathroom to wash up before anyone else could see me. I was still bored so I started looking for something to do inside the house. I found myself wandering around in my sister’s room. She was not home at the time and too bad for her because I found her box of candy bars that she was selling for school. I had hit the jackpot. I grabbed as many as I could in one hand then went back into “warrior mode,” trying to sneak them outside.

I made my way outside with five big chocolate bars. I let out my overdue victory cry that was muffled by a mouthful of chocolate. I sat there and ate all five bars one after another, but this time I painted my face with melted chocolate instead of mulberries. When I had almost finished the last candy bar, I spotted my sister coming up the driveway. I went into “stealth mode,” crouching behind tall grass. I sat outside until my dad yelled for me and forced me into “innocent mode.” He immediately asked me about my sister’s candy bars and of course I said, “No?” He looked at me with disbelief and told me to go wash up for a snack and story time.

I went down the hall to the bathroom and looked in the mirror at my chocolate painted face. I felt like an ass. My sister and I sat down in the living room in front of my dad. Smiling, my dad passed out a candy bar to each of us. I felt at ease, convinced that he did not know about my thievery. We started eating our candy bars as he told us a story that I would never forget. It is a story that I continue to tell my daughters to this day.

Once upon a time there were these three little Indian girls that lived out in the forest. Their mother told them to go and pick some berries for the evening meal. They found the berries and began to pick them quickly until all the berries were gone. They became tired and decided to rest in the shade and snack on the berries. They laughed and teased each other about their berry-stained teeth.

The teasing led to horseplay, and the basket of berries got knocked over. They were so caught up in their fun that they were oblivious to the fact that they stomped on the berries. The youngest girl noticed and showed them what they had done. The youngest one asked, “What are we going to do? There are no more berries!” “This is your fault,” said the second oldest, pointing at the oldest sister. “I have an idea,” the oldest replied. “We will say that a bear came, scared us away, and took all of our berries!” So they all agreed on this and began walking home.

When they returned with an empty basket, the mom asked them, “Where are all the berries?” and they all replied, “A bear came and took all of our berries!” The mom looked at the girls with their berry-stained teeth and said, “That’s okay, get washed up for our meal.” The mom brought out a stash of berries she had from the week before. She gave each of the girls a plentiful amount and warned them not to waste any because of the shortage of berries. The girls listened and finished all the berries and then went to bed. The End.

“What happens next?” I ask. “Nothing,” he says. “That is the end of the story, now go to bed.” So I went to bed thinking, man that was the worst story I ever heard in my life! I remember lying there thinking about how I could tell that story better until I fell asleep. I was awakened the next day by the sound of water running from the bathtub. I got up and watched cartoons, still thinking about that dumb story my dad told me.

I fixed myself a bowl of cereal and half way through eating; my stomach clinches up, then my butt cheeks. I gallop stiffly down the hall and pound on the door yelling, “Dad! Dad! Open the door, I need to go.” “Go outside!” he replies. “I need to go number two! Bad!” I grunt. The water shuts off from inside the bathroom. I hear the rattling of the lock on the door and I’m gritting my teeth, “Hurry, hurry.” But it was too late, my poor little buns cramped up, and I had an accident. My dad opened the door, looked at me, and said, “Well, at least you know the ending to that story from last night!”

Brandon LaMere is a first year, first generation student from Sioux City, IA. He represents the Winnebago and Dakota Sioux tribes respectively and attends Little Priest Tribal College in Winnebago, NE. LaMere says he wants to become the first in his family to obtain a degree at the college level and to be a good role model for his children. His goal is to get a Ph. D. in Biological Systems Engineering with an emphasis on Health.

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Iron Horse

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
I began the journey down the steep elevation, hearing the rumble of the exhaust bouncing off the hills surrounding the valley. The sharp drop in altitude cooled the hot and humid wind as it blew on my face. I couldn’t help but notice the drastic change from rolling farm fields to the lush green forest of the beautiful Whitewater Valley. I finally began to feel the shackles of everyday life release my soul. My five hour lonesome ride form Bowler, WI, to Elba, MT, was almost over, and my weekend vacation was about to begin.

As I entered the city limits of this sparsely populated little town, I noticed a red neon flashing arrow enticing me to a long overdue ice cold beer at Johnny’s Saloon. I found a spot where I could pull in and rest my weary iron steed alongside the others that had already arrived before me. I walked through the door, and I could hear the sharp crack of pool balls bouncing off each other, Waylon Jennings singing an old classic on the juke box, and Farmer telling Twitch an outrageous story.

The air was so thick with cigarette smoke that it filled the bar with a choking blue haze. This didn’t even matter to me as I was relieved to be back in the company of my brothers of the wind. I had barely finished my thirst quenching beer, when Big Milt shouted, “Let’s ride.” Nothing can compare to the feeling I had when the 24 motorcycles came roaring to life. It was as if every hair on my being was standing straight up. They must have sounded like thunder to anyone listening in the far off distance.

The speedometer continued to climb well above what most people consider a safe and legal speed. Childhood memories of this very same road covered my mind like a thick heavy fog. It had been years since I have seen this asphalt path. I could feel the anticipation of my fellow riders as we geared down for our final destination, the Lazy D Campground. My nostrils filled with the oaky smell of the campfires burning.

We had arrived to siege upon this small piece of earth for the weekend. I could almost read the mixture of emotions written on the faces of the inhabitants already camped there, expecting a quiet getaway. Lamenting freedom and youth lost for the men. Excitement for what was to come for the young women. Fear of this Viking horde on the faces of the old women and young children. I’m sure that the over exaggerated images of the Hollister Biker Riots of 1947 were also racing through everyone’s minds as well. I half expected to see the National Guard out to assist law enforcement agents in impeding our plans for the weekend.

After all of the ground-shaking noise from the engines had been silenced, I could hear the cool trickling trout stream that passed almost unnoticed through the heart of the scenic campground. I could also hear the evening breeze as it made its way through the lush tree tops far above our heads. These magical sounds would not be able to compete with the riotous noise that was about to fill the air for the entire weekend.

I began to feel a sense of accomplishment, successfully setting up an unfamiliar tent. I hurriedly unpacked my gear and bed roll. Now it was time. Time to let the fires burn, let the wine flow, and let the women dance! Farmer, Rabbit, Bear, and some of the others began to tell me fantastic stories of what had occurred in their lives since we had last seen each other so long ago. As the sun began to set and darkness enveloped our camp, I could feel the effects of the alcohol as it began to work its enchantment. The hot orange and red glow of the bonfire was the only light I could see.

It did not take long for us to begin competing with each other. The competition began with seeing who had the loudest exhaust. This digressed into seeing who could lay the longest burnout. The air soon filled with the rancid smell of burnt rubber. The younger, inexperienced riders watched in awe as the more skilled ones performed inconceivable stunts. An angry outburst of disappointment came with the arrival of the local law enforcement. This exhibition of riding prowess was over for the evening.

I don’t believe I had ever laughed so hard or danced so much. The campers that were brave enough to join the raucous party were having just as much of a spectacular time as I was. They would end up going home with some of the most unbelievable stories their friends had ever heard. Many of them were skeptical people who had completely changed their opinions of “dirty bikers.” Even the owner of the campground made it a point to invite all of us back for next year’s party or any other weekend we sought fit to enjoy some time in the Whitewater Valley.

As with most things, time was fleeting. Friday had melted into Saturday, and before we knew it Sunday afternoon had sprung upon us like a wild monster lurking in the bushes. For most, the voyage home was a short one. For me, however, it was going to be a grueling all day event. My head was still pounding from all of the booze and non-stop rock and roll during the entire weekend. I could still feel the loving embrace of the woman I had met and will probably never see again. I also noticed the dark and ominous storm clouds that would pursue me all of the way home. I would have to ride faster than the wind if I had any hope of staying dry.

Many people speak easily enough about being free. Few know the feeling of what it is to be truly free. For even I had to return to the everyday grind that has enslaved me. They will never know the rush I had gotten with 200 horses pushing two wheels through the wind. They will never know how I felt when I passed the married men and young boys and could see that they were wishing they could be me for that instant.

I opened the throttle on my steel mount and allowed it to release all of its power and fury onto the black asphalt flowing before me like an endless river. The weekend is over now, but the memories will live with me until the end of my days.

Schyler A. Martin (enrolled Stockbridge-Munsee) is a freshman at the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, WI, and is enrolled in the public administration program. In fall 2009, Martin achieved high honors on the dean’s academic list. He hopes to be employed in the emergency management field after earning his degree. “I never knew that I had any kind of writing skills until I started Mr. Shingler’s English class. Now I have many stories in my head just waiting to be released and allowed to breathe new life.”

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Pejuta Wakan: Sacred Medicine

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
I must have been about eight years old when I started having trouble breathing. My dad noticed it at a basketball game when I was running around. He took me to a hospital. They could not diagnose me with anything, and they sent me home with no treatment. My dad then arranged for a healing ceremony with a medicine man he knew up in Rosebud, SD. I have been going to sweat lodge ceremonies since I was a baby, but this was my first healing ceremony. I was nervous and asked him a lot of questions, but he reassured me everything would be okay.

It was a seven hour drive up to Rosebud from my hometown of Sioux City, and my dad borrowed a van from the school board where he worked for the long drive. Before we got out of town, we gassed up and picked up a friend of my dad’s and two cute little puppies. I asked him what the puppies were for, and he just told me that we have to take them to someone.

So we were driving, and I was bouncing around in the back of the van with the little puppies. I was sad that I was not able to keep one. My dad told me they belonged to someone, but I was going to ask whoever that was if I could have one. The puppies were very soft and playful, and they still had that sweet smell on their breath. I played with the puppies for hours in the van until I fell asleep.

When I awoke, we were parked in a dirt driveway in the middle of nowhere. There was not a tree or house in sight except for a trailer that looked like it was about to tumble down the hill. It was hot inside the van, and my dad must have gone inside the trailer. I opened the van door to cool off and stretch when two big dogs came running over to me happily. They looked famished and pitiful, and I felt sorry for them.

I gave them some of my beef jerky and water, and then an awful thought struck me. This is where the puppies are going! I was determined not to let that happen so I hid them in my backpack. My dad came outside with a plate of potato salad, some soup and frybread. Neither of us mentioned the puppies, and we got in the van and started driving.

The drive seemed to take forever, but I was happy that the puppies were safe. It had started to get dark, and my dad was getting just as anxious as I was. I kept asking him, “are we there yet?” We finally turned off a main road and onto a dirt path through the tall prairie grass. I thought, “about time we got here,” and instantly I was nervous about the ceremony. I could see a fire up ahead and a lot of people sitting on a bench near a sweat lodge. We parked and got out of the van to shake hands with our relatives. I recognized some of them from sweats we had back home. This made me feel at ease because sitting around the fire waiting to go sweat was something I appreciated as a child. There was always a lot of laughter and stories without any negativity.

The fire burned down until the stones, or grandfathers, were ready to be brought in. I remember that lodge being the biggest lodge I had ever seen. It seemed that it could fit a hundred people. When all the rocks were in and they closed up the sweat, I got scared. I told my dad that I wanted out, and he held me and told me that I would be okay. He told me to sing and focus on my singing. I did just that. I sang loud and hard and embraced the heat, and the smell of roots and cedar that were placed on the rocks. I closed my eyes tight and leaned against my father, still trying to sing. Then out of nowhere, my energy was drained, and I drifted into a deep sleep.

When I awoke, the ceremony was over, and my dad was carrying me out of the sweat. I asked him what happened. Did the spirits come and doctor me? He told me that they did, and I would be fine. I just had to smoke the pipe. We smoked the pipe and sent our prayers up in the smoke. The smoke clouds took the shape of an animal, but I did not know what exactly. We sat down, and people were passing out food. There was soup, frybread, salads, cake, and punch. My dad came over, and he told me to eat this soup. I started eating it, but I did not recognize the meat. I grew up eating rabbit, pheasant, deer, elk and other wild meat, but I could not tell what this was.

When I asked him, he asked me if I remembered the two puppies that came up here with us. I looked at the soup, but I understood it was what needed to be done. So I prayed for them and gave thanks just as I was taught.

The prayers and sacrifices that were made did a lot of good for me. Since the ceremony, I did not have any more health problems. My breathing returned to normal, and my appreciation for that way of life has flourished. I give all the credit to the sacred medicine that was used.

Brandon LaMere is a first year, first generation student from Sioux City, IA. He represents the Winnebago and Dakota Sioux tribes respectively and attends the Little Priest Tribal College in Winnebago, NE. LaMere shares his aspirations: “to become the first in my family to obtain a degree at the college level and to be a good role model for my children. My goal is to get a Ph. D in Biological Systems Engineering with an emphasis on Health.”

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The Loyal Desert Flower

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
Growing up on the reservation, my great-grandfather was the apple of my eye. He is without a doubt the most respectable man I have ever known. He has seen both World Wars, watched a man walk across the surface of the moon, and witnessed the first African American man to become Leader of the Free World. If it is common to acknowledge experience as the best teacher, then nowhere else is there a better example than in the life of my great-grandfather. Without realizing the impact he has had in my life, he still lives freely among his herd grazing in the red valley.

My mother called him “Cheii.” He was tall with a slender age-stricken body. He wore scuffed brown leather boots, dark blue Levi jeans, and a belt. Either he wore the same button-up shirt everyday, or he just had a dresser full of them, but my memory stands firm that each day I saw him wearing a red-and-black plaid shirt. His face was long, wrinkled, and masked with dark, sun-soaked skin. He had small beady eyes that pierced through his sunglasses. He also wore a blue baseball cap stained with sweat and dirt. His wrists were adorned with silver and turquoise bracelets. As a man he was seasoned; even at a young age, I could tell by the look of him that he was full of mystery and adventure.

The words that were exchanged between the two of us were translated by other family members. “He said you always look like a deer caught in the headlights!” my grandma finally managed to say after a great deal of laughter. Cheii would often joke of my shyness. He once called me a strange name I was not familiar with. I went to my aunt to find the meaning of this word. She smiled and said that this meant desert flower. Confused and somewhat dumbstruck, I nodded with a fake smile in a gesture to convey acceptance.

After a short time living with Cheii and the others, my mother found employment, which required us to live in Arizona. I attended school there and made friends. It was a new addition to my social skills; so was my introduction to the world of sports.

We moved a lot. In retrospect we nearly covered each state in the Western region of the United States. For me, venturing anywhere outside the reservation was comparable to visiting a foreign country. At the peak of my adolescent years, we finally settled down in a large city in northern Oregon.

I always felt a compelling need to return to the reservation. In Oregon, I lived predominately in a white society. Living in the suburbs of a city with half a million residents, I felt the bitterness of being a minority. Isolated from my people, I was afraid to step outside my comfort zone. I took to heart the old Native saying, “You can take the man out of the rez, but you can’t take the rez out of the man.” I missed the unforgiving heat of the sun; mostly I missed the serenity of a vast and vacant desert. Instead my reality was the constant rainfall of the Pacific Northwest, along with its green giants swaying in the wind and white mist lingering between them.

I had forgotten my roots, as well my capacity to be a proud Native. I tore through my life with the destructive power of anger and hate. Irrational acts of rebellion stripped away the relationship between me and my family. I frequently placed blame elsewhere. I came to the conclusion that they were the reason I was incapable of being content in Oregon.

I fought my younger brother in a fist fight one afternoon, cracking his tooth. With a mouthful of watered-down blood, he forced words past his swollen lips, “Don’t talk to me again. I am not your brother.” Staring at me with blood-shot eyes and red streaks streaming down from his nose, I knew he was serious.

Standing there shaking, confused, and on the edge of submission, I replied, “I’m not sorry, and I never looked at you as a brother.” Our words were coated with tiny shards of glass. The fight marked the end of my junior year. With the final year of high school within sight and the need to recover from my behavior, I decided to return to the reservation.

After a long journey I arrived back on the rez. I took a deep breath, shut my eyes, and stood dormant for an exceptional period of time. I listened to the wind sweeping across the dunes and weaving through the canyons of small rocks and shrubs. I removed my shoes and dug my toes into the cool sand. I inhaled the smell of desert pines. When I reopened my eyes, a rush of overwhelming relief washed over me. A smile had found its way onto my face.

Cheii had aged significantly. Regardless of his ailments, he was happy to see me. I smiled in an attempt to hide my concern for him. The passion I once saw in his eyes had faded, blurred by thick lenses to aid his vision. Grandma and the others were forced to shout into his ears to communicate the simplest things. He hunched over a four-legged walker to travel a few feet. His voice was faint and hard to follow. “It has been a long time,” he said to me.

I nodded in agreement, “Too long.”

“Where is your family?” he asked. I told him every detail starting from the first memories I had of moving away to Arizona. I told him about the life I was leading and how lost I felt. The most painful segment of my story was telling him about the failing relationship with my family. To my disbelief, he subtly shook his head, smiled, and proceeded to tell me about his life and the hardships he’d faced.

“My mother died when I was ten years old. I lost my two brothers and sister soon after she passed. I lived on my own for a time. I worked the railroads for little money. I built my own houses. I watched my wife suffer from illness until she passed peacefully during a warm summer night. I have felt what you are feeling now, Grandson.” Listening intently to him speaking in Navajo, I could understand his words.

He continued, “I have my daughters, I have my grand-daughters and their children. Never do I regret what I have done or what has happened to me in this lifetime. Every day I am blessed with love from all my children. That is what I am most grateful for.”

Looking directly at me with his small beady eyes I saw his passion return to him. Sitting on a rusty, old, fold-away chair, he inched toward me. With a gentle voice, he spoke in English, “All my children have been loyal to me, just as a desert flower is loyal to the sun.”

After a time I began to understand his wisdom and I was humbled to discover his admiration for family. I thought of my own. I wanted to return and thank my family for their selflessness and their love. I promised myself I would apologize, return to school, and represent myself as being a proud Native. I promised myself I would graduate and move on to college.

I thanked Cheii many times before I left. I assured him I would be returning more frequently. I shook his hand, thanked him one last time for being the man he is and for inspiring me to love and appreciate just as he has done his entire life. I packed my things and left his small house. From the rearview mirror of an old pick-up truck, I watched it reduce into the horizon as I drove down the dirt road leading back to the main highway.

Joey Dunn (Navajo) is currently attending Haskell Indian Nations University and hopes to continue his academics at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, NM. Dunn considers himself an artist adding, “I have always had an interest in writing. The thing I love the most about it is the fact that I can completely immerse myself into it. My family has always been my inspiration to keep writing, but my greatest mentor would be my Cheii.”

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The Perfect Recipe

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
Identity. It’s a hard thing to explain. There are a lot of factors that lead an individual to identify with one group. Whether it is where your family is from, where you go to school, what your hobbies are, or even what color hair you have. Figuring out this intricate recipe for yourself is difficult. The issue of blood quantum only makes it harder.

I play volleyball. I love to travel. I’m basically fluent in Spanish. Piano jazz is my favorite music genre, along with Christmas music. If I could, I would be a volleyball playing, jazz piano prodigy, who travels the world spreading cheer de la Navidad (Christmas cheer). Why isn’t that enough?

Before college, I was never fully aware of how important the amount of “Nativeness” or how much of this tribe or that tribe is to a person. My opinion was just, “If they have a card, why not?” Growing up, I always heard the stories about the great, great, great (continue to however many needed to make the point) Cherokee princess grandma or whatever, but I never actually took it to heart how awkwardly important that actually was in the Native community.

One night, I was sitting at a small get together with some friends. A few of them were enjoying a certain type of canned beverage that tends to make some slightly rowdy and made the few of us that don’t enjoy sipping on the tainted liquid fairly annoyed. As I was about to get up and head for the door as a disagreement arose within the group about how much Native everyone in attendance was. And of course, the only way to completely settle this situation was to go around the circle and have every individual state “how much Nativeness” they had. As the random fraction and tribal jumbles were being called out, compared, and teased about, it hit me. This is exactly what was meant to happen. Back then – they didn’t think Natives would survive long enough to even care about keeping fractions to the 256th degree. They just needed something for us to become almost obsessed with to make their jobs easier.

I’m half Navajo, a fourth Blackfeet, and a fourth Shoshone-Bannock. This has always been my tribal affiliation. When my sister decided she wanted to enroll in Sho-Ban instead of Navajo, she had to do some digging from our mom about our real father’s blood quantum. As she did this, she found out that all this time, we weren’t only Blackfeet and Shoshone-Bannock, but Cree, French, and Irish, too!

My sister, being herself, immediately embraced this newly found quirk in her identity and ran with it. I, on the other hand, didn’t. It was mind boggling how one day someone could be one thing, then the next change it based on some piece of paper. Although I had never put much effort into my “tribalness,” this seriously bothered me. For days, I tried to figure and refigure the numbers, hoping that somehow I could still rightfully claim my original and odd combination of tribes. Then it dawned on me. It really doesn’t matter.

Why do I have to state my “Nativeness” on a piece of paper? Why don’t my white friends have to explain their lineage going back hundreds of generations? Why did my cousin have to appeal to the tribal council to be enrolled because she didn’t have enough of one tribe to enroll normally? Why can’t I just be that joyful, bilingual volleyball player, with nimble fingers, and a bunch of frequent international flyer miles?

Is this something that we as a people should really continue to buy into after all of these years? Especially when it was just put in place to keep us occupied, so the government could continue to take advantage of unfulfilled treaties and make sure they didn’t have to pay more than the desired amount of money to the desired amount of people? (I personally don’t think so).

After all of this thinking, I began to understand myself a little bit better. I may have grown up away from “back home,” I may have skin that’s continually tanner than my white friends but lighter than some of my Native friends, and I may be one of the only student-athletes at my university that is slightly obsessed with jazz chord progressions, but that’s all me, and I’m comfortable being me. That, I think, is the beauty in my identity recipe.

Chamisa Edmo is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and is also Blackfeet and Shoshone Bannock. Currently, she is attending Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS, and playing volleyball. Edmo has numerous creative artists in her lineage, including her mother and grandmother. She was fortunate enough to have several poems selected to be published in a collection of local young authors.

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Where Are We Going?

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
Ignorance would have allowed me to ask why my grandmother was questioning me about what she already knew, but I knew her to be wise and philosophically minded. I also knew better, to never be asked anything twice by my grandma, but because I was reminiscing about what a great, talented-minded human being she is, she asked again, “Shiyazhi haagosha’ diniiyah?” (My child, where are you going?) Without being naïve, I turned to her and said that I was going to school.

I turned back to the small mirror hanging on the wall next to the door and continued combing my hair. With little visibility, the small oil lamp on the table was shimmering in the reflection of the mirror. I saw my grandma pause for a moment, then she looked up and straight ahead into the darkness of the west wall of our home and said, “Oh,” and then she put another log into the stove.

After putting three more cedar logs in the stove, she stood up and used the end of her skirt as a potholder to take the chipped blue-granite coffee pot off the stove, then carried it over to the table. There she poured herself a cup of coffee. I counted three spoons of sugar and two spoons of creamer. As she stirred, she walked over to her rug loom, took a sip of her coffee, and made that coffee drinker sound—“Slurrrrrrrrrrp, Ahhhhhhh!”

She seemed to be inspecting her half-finished rug. She found a loose end and pulled on it. She sighed with relief and mumbled, “Good, it’s only a lent,” and then finally sat herself down on the sheep skin. It came from the sheep we butchered last week for my cousin brother’s son’s first laugh celebration. I remember watching closely as she methodically skinned and tanned it. My grandma never ceased to amaze me. I caught myself reminiscing again when I heard her ask, “I said you know where we’re going, right?”

“No, Grandma, tell me where are we going.”

And she continued, “Your great-great grandfather once told me that someday we will be really off the ground and far from it. I didn’t know what he was talking about, until I realized it three Christmas dinners ago; we were all at the table eating, sitting on chairs. And that was just the beginning. Just yesterday I heard on the radio, an Indian man was going into space.”

For a moment there was only the crackling of the cedar wood and the howling and relieved expression of the fire in the small, half-cut oil drum my uncle made into a stove for us. As I stared at the poor man’s stove, there was a thud, thud from grandma pounding on the stacked yarn. She just criss- crossed her way through a hail of warp (weaver’s lingo), reminding me that I was in conversation with her.

“So we’re going into space, Grandma?” I asked.

I think it was the best laugh my grandma ever had, because she leaned her head on the rug warp and patted her thighs over and over again as she laughed uncontrollably. “Shiyazhi (Child), I don’t think my grandfather meant that. This ground, this is our Mother. This area of the ground; our people live. And in this area, we live and talk a certain way. Once upon a time we sat closely to Mother Earth; at that time we were very knowledgeable about what was in and on top of the earth. Today you only know what is taught while you sit in chairs. My grandfather also shared with me that the day we begin to stray away from Mother Earth, it will be a dangerous time. We won’t be under the protection of Mother Earth no more. Ha, ha, space, I’m too old to travel to space. And it’s not space I’m going to after I’m done here; I’m going to the spirit world. I miss my grandfather. And I’m going to also miss you today. Hurry Shiyazhi, your bus is almost here!”

I spun around and looked out the door and saw the lights of my bus creeping over from behind the hill. I grabbed my bag and raced out the door. As I was half way to the bus stop, I remembered I didn’t give my grandma the right answer before, so I ran back and after taking a deep breath I said to my grandma, “Grandma, I know where we’re going; we’re going to stray away from Mother Earth.” Without saying a word, she continued to weave, and she nodded her head. Ignoring the beep, beep of the impatient bus driver, I ran inside and hugged my grandma and told her I was going to miss her today, too.

****

As my grandmother missed her grandfather that day eight years ago, I miss my grandma today. Three years ago, she and the Creator walked hand in hand back to where he knew her. Today, I also understand more, an eight year journey wondering where we are going. The answers become more and more dangerous as each day passes by. We have strayed too far from Mother Earth, and the effects of global warming are evident before our very eyes.

We once traveled Mother Earth with our feet clothed in garments of sacred animals, which rubbed the pollen off of once vast valleys of green plants, but now we sit higher from the ground in vehicles. We once respected the mysteries of the earth and sky and used it to cure and heal, but we now use it to create weapons of mass destruction. And we once spoke and lived the way of life the Creator gave to us, but now we speak the language and mimic the way of living of a people who want to sit further and further up in power above Mother Earth. Where are we going?

Brian Sloan is a member of the 24th generation of the Salt People Clan, with forefathers from the Black Streak People Clan, maternal elders of Near the Water Clan, and paternal elders of the Zia Pueblo and the White Corn People Clan. He is a single parent of two daughters of the Bitter Water People Clan. He is majoring in Accounting and attends Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint, NM. Sloan plans to have his own counseling practice on the reservation some day. “With my traditional upbringing and my military background, I will be utilizing traditional and military methods in rehabilitating troubled youth.”

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Foresight of Hope

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
The cries of a nation in pain,
scorned by the blinding hatred of a history long forgotten,

Silent thought whispering beneath the surface of a silhouetted pond,
stilled by a hidden hierarchy.

With the leadership of a brazen warrior, a false unity was surmised,
a moment’s reprieve from the ordinary yes,
but ever destructive in its descent to reality.
Like strings in a quartet, we were plucked to play our lamented hymn.

A friendly smile soon turned to the laughter of betrayal,
howling in your ears like a jackal.
Shaken and vulnerable, the herd disperses into the shadows,
attracting hyenas like a scattered carcass
only to tear more wounds.

The sounds of drums resound beyond the canyons of a shielding blockade,
the beat of ancestral drums drowned by the thrumming of thousands of marching feet,
leagues across the sea.

One voice reigns above all others with a persuading argument for change,
penetrating the torrent,
overcast with a beam of hope for the people.

Light pierces the darkened chasms within
unity driving the lost to their flocks.

A gathered people joining together under the wings of a soaring soul,
as a whole the journey of a new direction ensues.

Kari Eneas is enrolled in the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and attends Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, MT. She says, “Writing has always been a major part of my life, as well as band and choir. I am currently employed with the Salish and Kootenai Tribes as a Wildlife Biologist Trainee, and I will continue on with my education to achieve a Master’s in Wildlife Biology.”

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Apple Delicious

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
Silently, from the screen
door, tiptoeing to the steps,
hands hiding an
Adam branded Apple.
Delicious.
Every bite sweeter
than the last; moments
that deserve clusters
of childish smiles.
Mom pushes the
door wide open
with mouthfuls of laughter,
she says, “Don’t eat
too much, you will
get a stomachache.”
I tell her, “It’s too
late; my stomach
aches for more.”
Mom says, “Tell me,
apple eater, tell me,
purple or blue?”
Confused, I question
her meaning.
“Purple is as sweet
as blue is deep.”
Confusion wiped clean,
fortunate as I am,
I understand it’s
not a proverb
or a joke,
but a koan.

Marvin Wes Stops, Jr. will graduate with an Associate of Arts Degree in Haskell’s Creative Writing program in the fall of 2010. He is enrolled in the Crow Tribe and would like to pursue a bachelor’s degree one day.

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WICASA

Sep 15th, 2010 | By | Category: Student 2010
Show me a man
With thick braids of balance
With ears pierced of burden.
Show me a man
Wearing a shirt of leadership
Wearing a scalp lock of responsibility.
Show me a man
Who uses his presence humbly
Who uses his mind patiently.
Show me a man
With arrows of protection
With medicine of acceptance.
Show me a man
With a singing voice of love
With a vision of compassion.
Show me a man
With prayers for the people
With sacrifices for creation.
Show me a man
With war paint of wisdom
With rawhide shield of pity.
Show me a man
Who rides a war pony of forgiveness
Who beats a hand drum of hope.
Show me a man
Mature enough to dance alone
Understanding enough to dance together.
Show me a man
Conscious enough to recreate
Tangible enough to guide.
Show me a man
Who encompasses respect.
Show me a man
Who can believe in my spirit.

Lynn Marie Cuny is from the Crow Creek Dakota and Oglala Lakota tribes and graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts with a two-dimensional design associate degree in May 1999. She also graduated from Oglala Lakota College (OLC) in 2004 with an associate degree in Lakota Studies and in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in Lakota Studies. Cuny emphasizes the importance of her education: “I hope to achieve a Master’s Degree in Lakota Leadership & Management from OLC to help my people and [to honor] my grandmother, Doreen.”

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