Week Seventeen and Eighteen – A Native American Powow and Stories from the Past
Week Seventeen: A Native American Powow
As some of my readers may know, I am extremely proud to be part Muskogee (Creek) – a people who were the original residents of of the American southeast, particularly Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina. Most of my knowledge of Native culture, however, stems from what I sought out myself as an adolescent and young adult. During my undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, I studied Native history and lobbied the University’s Curriculum Committee to adopt an academic program in Native American and Indigenous Studies. In law school, I organized panels and speaking events addressing legal issues that uniquely affect Indian Country. Finally, as a practitioner, I’ve spent some of my pro bono efforts counselling an Indian tribe on federal funding issues.
Upon moving to Washington, DC, I befriended a group of impressive young Native men and women who work in Native American policy (law, housing, youth outreach, etc.). Their commitment to and impact on Indian Country is both notable and humbling. Somehow, telling a Tribal leader at an event in the Native American History Museum that you practice white collar litigation doesn’t pack quite the same punch as it does at an ABA happy hour.
For my New Thing during Week Seventeen, I attended the First Annual Native American Pow Wow at Georgetown University. My friends and I browsed tables filled with vendors selling dreamcatchers adorned with feathers and beads, essential oils with healing properties, and jewelry made from silver and turquoise (I restrained myself – I have a bit of an obsession with turquoise). I enjoyed a delicious – if somewhat unhealthy – lunch of fry bread* with strawberries and whipped cream. As we munched, one of my friends shared the bittersweet history behind the tradition of making fry bread. 150 years ago, to prevent the Navajo people from starving during the grueling 300-mile “Long Walk” from Arizona to New Mexico, the US government gave them little more white flour, sugar, and lard. And thus, fry bread was born. Today, the dish is viewed as a cultural unifier. Native American writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie is quoted as saying “Frybread is the story of our survival.”
* True story – A few years ago, I almost burned down my apartment building while making fry bread. Remember, throwing water on a grease fire is a bad idea. Oops.
With our stomachs satisfied, we sat in the grass to watch the dances. Native men dressed in ceremonial regalia stomped their feet in rhythm with the beat of the drums. Native women in jingle dresses created their own music as they traipsed across the grounds with light, graceful movements. I smiled as young children joined in – many wearing minute versions of the same traditional clothing. Sadly, the sky opened up and it began to rain, prematurely ending our visit.
Week Eighteen: Stories from the Past
During Week Eighteen, I flew down to Florida to spend time with my family. The weekend was filled with many New Things for Caroline and baby Andrew. Both enjoyed their first ice cream cone, and Caroline willingly ventured into the ocean (brave girl!) and flew a kite. Caroline and I made bears, bunnies and birthday cakes in the damp sand. Although not talking yet, Andrew has begun to make himself known through baby babble and by gesturing with his tiny chubby hands*.
* In the second photo above, Andrew is saying “Hey! I wasn’t done with that!”
On Sunday morning, we celebrated Cinco de Mayo with a homemade Mexican feast made by Carole Dahl Weidemiller at my Grandfather’s nearby condo. Seizing the opportunity to make the most of my time with him – and to check New Thing #13 off the List – I asked my Grandfather to tell me about his childhood. In response, he shared a sweet story that was entirely new to me.
My Grandfather grew up in upstate New York in the 1930s and 40s. “My father was doing well before the Depression – he built himself a nice big house,” he recalled. However, when the stock market crashed, his father was forced to move the family into his parents’ two-story home. “I loved it,” my Grandfather said. “I would come home from school and my Grandmother would have something delicious for me to eat. In the summer, my Grandfather would take me to the YMCA to swim and every two years I got to go to the dealership and pick out the color of his new car.” I pictured my Grandfather as a young boy, happy to be surrounded by three generations of love despite the hard times. As we talked, baby Andrew stood on wobbly legs while clutching my Grandfather’s chair. I understood.
Shifting focus, my Grandfather noted that his grandparents met as young children – “My Grandmother’s father died during the potato famine in Ireland and her mother died shortly after coming to America. She was an orphan and a member of our neighborhood, so my Grandfather’s parents took her in. My Grandfather grew up with her – “he loved her and she could speak fluent German and cook like his own mother, so of course they married.”
At this point, I interjected, asking – “didn’t you meet Grandma really young as well?” My Grandfather exclaimed, “we sat next to each other in the first grade!” Shaking his head and smiling, he said “that is just what you did back then – you fell in love with the girl next door and you married her!” Joining the conversation, my sister and her husband joked affectionately about the “could have been” nuptials with their childhood playmates. As I scooped Andrew up into my arms, I silently gave thanks that they found each other two decades later after being raised hundreds of miles apart. We parted with hugs all around and promises to meet again soon. Although we can’t all live in the same house, I’m glad that it is easy today to cross long distances to keep our family together.
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