My first real one.
Liv's father, Tinton, is staying with us until Monday. He is a full blood Lakota Indian. Whenever he is in town, he hooks up with his friends and this weekend was special, there was to be a pow wow.
Unfortunately, the weather is making it difficult. Tornado warnings. Terrible thunder storms. But, I knew it was important to attend. Liv visits Tinton's family in South Dakota sometimes and her grandmother (her "kunsi") sends her the most beautiful jewelry and homemade moccasins. She has sent me a shawl, a tablecloth and some moccasins as well that fit my feet like butter. Liv has not visited her Lakota kin in a few years (shame on me) but calls them frequently and Tinton bought his mother and sisters phones so that they could text and they do this often.
Liv's kunsi calls about twice a month to catch up with Liv, to talk, find out what she is learning in school. I have only met her once and it was brief, but was struck by her incredibly piercing eyes.
So, when Tinton told me to expect a box from his family while he and Liv were in NYC for Easter, I was happy to sign for it. I didn't open it, waited for them. When they arrived home, they both pounced on it.
Inside was an unbelievably beautiful ceremony dress for Liv, buckskin with bits of color: turquoise, navy blue and hot pink. Leggins were included with a new pair of full leg mocs and a gorgeous turtle necklace. For Tinton, there was also a ceremony shirt, also buckskin with a painted deer hide breast plate and a small head dress.
Tinton explained. There was to be a pow wow on April 14th here on the prairie and he had not danced in one in a very long time, needed to "re-attach" to his Lakota brothers. So, he had his mother (his "ina") send along his head dress. It was modest, he told me, because he had not earned full feathers yet. That was achieved through acts of great valor/kindness and "rebellious fortitude." A man his age should have more, he knew, but he had been busy making his living in the outside world.
I was bedazzled by Liv's outfit, mostly because it fit her perfectly, as if her grandmother knew her like the back of her hand. When Liv tried it on, both Bing and I choked up. Tinton told us that Liv had decided to march in the grand entry. Anyone who is of Native American blood can do this. Liv had never chosen to walk in this before.
Liv wanted to be a part of this, to do this with her father. I approved. I've told Liv so much of my Irish ancestry stories and told Tinton that I wanted her to understand who she came from. He agreed. But, it is tough for him sometimes. He does not live on the reservation, works in the outside world and his love of travel and geology take him far and wide. He does know many Lakota songs and traditions, however and has passed them on to Liv. He sometimes makes choke cherry pudding with Liv when he is here, a treat that his mother taught him to make. And once, a few years ago, when Liv had a cough that just hung on, her kunsi sent us spruce leaves to make a tea for her and I swear it worked better than Ny-Quil.
So, she knows many traditions.
But, this pow wow would be her first real stepping out with her father. And while she had seen him dance many times, I never had. Not once.
Bing is a quarter Cherokee, so technically she could join in the entry march if she so desired, but she decided to sit with me and privately, I think she worried that she would have to wear a ceremony dress....
We arrived early and Liv and her father went off to change their clothes. I was not to see them until they came out in the grand entry. And because males and females do not walk together, Liv would walk in alone. I know this worried her a little. When we arrived, she glanced around at all the other girls with their glossy jet black braids. Her dirty blonde hair was back in a simple braid down her back and she wore a small blue feather piece in her hair, attached with a small clip given to her by one of her cepansi (girl cousins).
Bing and I found seats and sat down.
She looked over at me. "Do you have your kleenex, darlin'?" she asked warmly.
She knows me. I would fight hard not to cry, but there was a good chance I would lose.
I rolled my eyes.
"Don't be silly," I retorted. "I am FINE."
There was a prayer, a rather long one, I thought. While I half listened, I glanced around at the incredible ceremony outfits. Most were in vivid colors of bright blues, pinks, oranges and yellows. I only saw a few buckskin outfits.
I felt astonishingly white skinned, although there were lots of white people there.
And then the entry began.
And there they came.
First the dancers, the men. The came howling and swirling into the circle, their bright headdresses and colorful outfits shimmering and blistering with sheer vibrance. I blinked, trying to find Tinton. His good friend was one of the drummers and when he caught my eye, he nodded to his left and then I found him. I just hadn't recognized him. He looked so....foreign to me.
I had never seen him in Indian dress. His face paint was not as vivid as the others, it was more subtle, but it was there. And suddenly, I could picture his ancestors in my mind perfectly. Men dancing in front of a fire, telling their stories, sometimes entertaining, sometimes instructing, always passing the traditions on.
He was quite good.
The women came last and I watched their shuffling steps, much calmer than the men, no dancing, just sort of a rhythmic shuffling.
I leaned over to whisper to Bing. "Why aren't the women dancing too?"
She looked quizzically at me as if she was surprised at my density.
"Maria, honey. Only the men dance. The women's feet are shackled to the earth in Lakota culture, in most American Indian culture, in fact. Sometimes the youngest girls dance, but it is rare." she said.
I nodded. Well. That hardly seemed fair. It was like the men were like the cardinals and blue jays in my back yard, all beauty and puff while their female partners were drab in comparison.
And then, I spotted that blonde head in the middle of a group of teenage girls and younger children.
She took my breath away. She held the hand of a small black haired girl next to her, barely past the toddler age. And she moved her feet in perfect shuffling time, her head high, her voice chanting with the women.
My daughter is a Lakota woman. She might have the golden hair of my family (and it is rare even in mine...only her Aunt Celia has it) but her skin was tawny colored as her ancestors and her dark brown eyes were Lakota. Several bells on her dress as well as the other girl's dresses jingled in perfect harmony as they stepped lively, but careful, their feet, of course, symbolically shackled to the earth.
It took everything I had not to burst into tears.
For the first time, my daughter felt separate from me. Not a part of me. She was herself. She was not full Lakota, not Irish, not American. She walked on blurred lines. And she was spectacularly lovely.
After the grand entry, she came and sat crosslegged next to me, allowing an older woman to have the seat we had saved for her. The little girl who had walked with her tried to sit in the circle of her lap but was plucked gently away by her mother who thanked Liv for watching her in the entry.
We wandered the booths from time to time as Tinton watched his friend drumming. I spotted a beautiful tiger eye ring and gently turned it over to see it's price tag. Ouch. I put it back.
Liv came up to me right before Tinton's dance. "It's almost time," she said, happily. "C'mon. Oh, mama...he is SO good. Just wait and see."
We sat together, waiting. I looked up to see Bing coming too. She casually sat down and dropped a package in my lap. I opened it.
The tiger's eye ring.
She smiled. "It will look pretty on your pretty finger," she said, winking.
And then, Liv plopped another package in my lap.
"For you," she said. "For my ina on this special day."
It was a gorgeous silver band with a snake carved into it.
I raised my eyebrow and smiled at Liv. A snake?
"Snakes represent intuition," she said. "I have always thought you were the most intuitive person I have ever known."
I was surprised at the compliment. Liv rarely throws them my way, she isn't much for rhapsodizing. I hugged her. And Bing.
And then the announcer told us that it was time for the chicken dance.
I looked at Liv. She nodded up at me. Yes, that was the right dance.
I couldn't imagine Tinton doing a chicken dance. But then...they all came out and there he was in a soft mint green shirt, leggings and mocs, his painted dear hide breast plate and headdress in place. He held a long series of feathers in his hands. Liv told me that he collected hawk and eagle feathers on his travels.
The dance began. I was flabbergasted. He was really, really good. And so...impish. So rebellious, so flawless, so...so...perfectly poised and well....chickeny!
It was this dance:
Once, he danced very close to us and he playfully made a face at us and we laughed uproariously.
I have seen Tinton speak eloquently about the power and sheer beauty of rocks, of landscape, of the sheer cliffs that he sees. I have had incredibly complex discussions with him about politics and organized religion. We have talked seriously about Liv and how she is like a watercolor to us, a beautiful shimmering watercolor of perfection and beauty.
But I have never seen him dance. Not like that.
He was beautiful.
He was a Lakota man. He was Liv's father.
And he was ours to keep.
All in all, the day was a keeper. The weather is still awful, storms still loom.
But, my daughter and her father shared something big today. Their shared heritage.
And I saw poetry in motion. And learned a thing or two that I didn't know yesterday.
I have Bing's hand to hold, her fingers dancing over my new tiger's eye ring.
I sat there at that pow wow and saw how...maybe...how it was long ago. Families of Lakota sitting by fires, laughing, talking, sharing, dancing.
Their heritage is just as vivid as my Irish one.
And Liv carries them both, that Irish Lakota blood flying through her American veins.