This day was one of those roller coaster days. Happy and sad; exciting and dull; full of energy and exhausted.
The day started out when we arrived to pick up my “godchild” and her sister to go to the He Sapa Wacipi or Black Hills Pow Wow. Since they weren’t quite ready when we arrived, we went in and sat in the kitchen while they finished up. While we sat there, we looked around carefully. It looked depressingly poor. Ceiling light fixtures with bare bulbs. One girl sleeps on a cot, the other in a sleeping bag on the floor or sofa.
Soon my friend (their mom) and her husband came into the kitchen. She was crying and dreading going back to the hospital to wait vigil as her uncle was dying. She was at a breaking point. She needed a break and talked about not going. We offered to take everyone, including the older daughter’s boyfriend, to breakfast. It was like offering water to a person in the desert. The relief in her face was visible.
Sunday morning at Denny’s is crazy busy, but we got a table for 7 after just a short wait. It was a leisurely breakfast with stories shared about all our lives. After breakfast, we dropped the boyfriend off at his home and it was decided to go to the pow wow for “a while.” We drove over to the civic center where it was being held.
Before we entered the arena, we looked at some exhibits. We got samples of the new Tanka Bars, energy bars based on a traditional Lakota food made of buffalo and cranberries. They were very good – chewy, not tough – a little sturdier than a chewy granola bar. The taste is meaty more than sweet, with spices and cranberries to offset the bison. Since bison is a leaner meat than beef and cranberries are full of anti-oxidants, these bars are a great alternative to beef jerky or sweet granola or energy bars. I see more in my future.
The fine arts exhibit was exquisite! There were paintings and photos, crafts and beadwork. I was blown away by a beaded saddle done in turquoise beads with red, white and black designs. The salesman told my friend that it had taken the beader 3 months to complete. It would have taken me 3 years or more. I have never seen a more stunning beaded item.
Everywhere you looked there were people getting ready to dance. The costumes ranged from relatively simple to extremely ornate. There were girls and women with jingle dresses; others had “fancy dancing” dresses. The men had a wide range of outfits also, including huge, feathered pieces worn on the back. We sat and talked as we waited for the pow wow to begin. The announcers amused us with jokes. The Lakota are humble and very adept at poking fun at themselves.
Prior to the “grand entry,” there was a prayer and a “speech” by a chief who reminded all the participants what it means to be Lakota. Then the “royalty” was introduced – royalty meaning those chosen for their proficiency in dancing. They ranged from young children to elders. Drum groups were seated circling the arena. The drum groups varied in size and age. They also compete for honors.
Finally the “grand entry,” where everyone who will dance lines up and enters the arena, began. It was a spectacle on a scale that I have never before had the pleasure to enjoy. I use that word especially in regard to the visual effects, which rivaled or surpassed any Vegas show or Broadway show. While each costume or dress was beautiful by itself, when massed they became a kalidoscope of color and movement.
The group was led by the Veterans groups carrying the US flag and numerous other flags of military units. The Lakota are well represented in military service. They serve with distinction and honor. These groups dance-stepped/marched in, circling the arena and spiraling in until they were in the center of the floor, facing the announcers. Following them were all of the dancers. The more sedate, elderly women; the younger women and girls fancy dancing with flowing robes and more vigorous steps; the women and girls in jingle dresses, adding to the music of the drums with the steps they took. The men wearing bells at the ankles also added to the sounds of music. There were men in fancy dancing outfits that had a multitude of feathered attachments so that, when they danced, they brought to mind beautiful birds strutting across the floor. There were so many dancers at this event (they outnumbered the audience) that grand entry took nearly 45 minutes.
This was followed by another prayer, the Lakota National Anthem and the Lakota Victory song. I would have liked to stay longer – to see the dance competitions and hear the singing – but my friend felt she wanted to get back to the hospital. She felt refreshed and ready to face what needed to be faced. Since we were here to visit our friends and had actually found out about the pow wow long after our plans were made, we didn’t hesitate to go.
When we got back to the hospital, her uncle had been removed from all machines and placed in a private room where he was basically getting hospice care. At that point, you were still required to wear a gown and gloves to visit in his room. Since neither my husband nor my friend’s husband is comfortable in hospitals, they both went to the waiting room while I gowned and gloved to go in with my friend. There were some of her aunties and other relatives there, however all but one of them left for a break when my friend came in. There was one man who stayed, almost as if standing guard along the wall at the foot of the dying man’s bed. I stood along that same wall, trying to leave a few respectful feet between us. My friend went to her uncle’s side. She had told me that this man was the closest thing she had had to a “dad” and it was obvious this is very hard for her.
I will allow you to see through my eyes so you can appreciate the incredible love and strength of this woman I am priveleged to call my friend. When she entered the room, after greeting the relatives there, she went directly to her uncle. She spoke to him quietly but clearly, as though he could understand every word she spoke. She took his hand which was thin and fragile and held it in her gloved hands. She held his hand to her cheek, mindful to keep a gloved hand between his hand and her cheek. She spoke to him of her love and respect for him. At one point, when her back began to strain, she knelt down next to his bed to speak to him – she was now at eye level. I prayed silently throughout. When she stood up, she found a card that someone in the family had left him. It was one of those Hallmark-type cards that has a long, prose message that really says something. She read it all to him, sometimes through tears. It spoke of never being apart, of never wanting to be apart and of how we are all a part of each other. Even I, unrelated though I am, was moved to tears.
Eventually we dis-gowned and went to see everyone in the waiting room. It was a full house, mostly adult females of varying ages, with men coming and going, a few very young children and a number of teens. Not one of my friends relatives ever made us feel that we were intruding into a family matter. We were friends of a family member. We were welcome to share the burden. We were taken into some conversations and listened with interest to many others. It gave us a window into their lives on and off Pine Ridge Reservation. Sometimes it is difficult for me to understand what I hear – not the content but with the accented English and quiet speech, it makes me think maybe a hearing aid is in my future.
About 5 PM the waiting room was filled to overflowing and our friends and ourselves moved down stairs. They took us up on our offer to pick up pizza for the crowd. We picked up 6 assorted pizzas at Little Caesar. Everyone was please to have the pizza.
We sat and talked and listened and ate. Finally, fibro fatigue started to get the best of me. My friends all decided to go home for a break. We drove them home and returned to our hotel. Exhausted!!! Good night