Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Striking Flint...

This is the first part of my Introduction in the Nebraska Educator's Guide to American Indian Singing and Dancing: Making Connections to the Classroom, to be published by the LIED Center for Performing Arts.

Striking Flint...

Any body of work produced by an artist or any lesson taught by an educator, most often feels in the beginning, as if one is striking flint to ignite a spark in a field of grass. This task may seem overwhelming and even, at times, impossible.

During the spring of 2010, my children and I witnessed a fire lighting ceremony in northern Wisconsin. It began right before sunrise in an enclosed structure, much like a shed with a large opening at the top. As we gathered that morning, the firekeepers, men who were presiding over this ceremony, cleared a space toward the center of this structure. My children and I stood to one side with many others. Several firekeepers stood in a circle and began to hit sticks together, rhythmically, as if they were beating on a drum. They also started singing a beautiful ceremonial song of renewal.

One of the men had the responsibility of lighting the fire by striking flint together until he was able to ignite a bundle of grass into a smoldering flame. He blew on the grass until it burned higher, then added small pieces of wood so that the flame grew large enough for more wood to be added, until finally, he had a great fire, burning brightly. The song ended once this was achieved, then all the men added their rhythm sticks to the sacred fire...one by one. For four days, the ceremonial fire was kept burning until the spring ceremonies were completed.

In many Native cultures, the gift of fire came from the Thunder Beings, who are the givers of life and death. This gift was to be kept in a sacred manner and was never to be abused or discarded. It was through fire that the people were able to cook their food and to stay warm during the cold seasons.

The key in striking flint to ignite a flame is to do so, patiently, and relentlessly. It is a process that is well understood in the act of creation, as well as in teaching. The goal being to bring an ideal to life through art or to ignite the imaginations of young minds that are placed within our care, much like the firekeepers whose responsibility it is to bring the sacred fire into this universe.

And, as such, it is indeed a beautiful and mysterious process to behold. One that requires our total concentration and commitment as artists and educators, just like the fire keepers.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Laying Down Tobacco for Yvonne...

It's not often that I share this side of me with those who are unfamiliar with the action of laying down tobacco.

When I went home to the rez this week, I didn't get to spend much time outside, which is my preference. The weather was overcast most of the time and it rained off and on. A gentle rain that made me think that the clouds were crying.

I wound up going to the cemetery before returning to Lincoln. Checking on relatives lying up on the hillside of varying greens. There were lots of flowers here and there. Some were actually real.

I went to my relative, Yvonne Ortiz' graveside, to lay down tobacco and ask for a blessing of peace for her mother and father. They miss her. Unbearably so.

I miss her.

Her voice came to me for a moment, from two years ago, when she told me how her tumors had returned. She asked for prayers. And I prayed.

Then my sister Tara's voice came to me when she called me one morning last November, to tell me that she was preparing to come to Macy. With Yvonne. That they were bringing her home.

During the wake and funeral, I don't think the Omaha Indian Reservation had ever had so many Ojibwe's, (Midewiwins at that), and Dakota's in one location in a very long time. If ever.

And they came for Yvonne.

At 29, she made her Spirit Journey. She left a strong legacy behind of living a healthy lifestyle. She was dedicated to serving the Native community in researching the traditional uses of natural tobacco. The 5th Annual Connecting Our Lifeways: Traditional Tobacco Use and Contemporary Use Conference honored her by hosting a 1k memorial walk at the Prairie Island Indian Community, Minnesota.

I think of her in this way, while she was here, she put her entire being into everything she did, thoroughly, and she smiled all the time. A magical, gorgeous smile that dazzled everyone who saw her this way.

So, I thought of her smile, as I lay down the natural tobacco on her grave. It was for her parents, that they can go on living with perhaps a little less pain.

The clouds had cleared and the sun smiled down, gorgeously, on the beautiful place where she lies.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Making Connections: Am I unwilling to emotionally invest?

I had a great visit on the phone with my sister, Tara, last night. She was on her way to Rapid City for a job interview and had just stopped for the night somewhere in South Dakota. Our conversation ran along the lines of where we are in our lives right now, at least, career wise. Both of us are single mothers and are very dedicated to a way of life that is in service to the people.

One of the things that I have always valued about my connection with Tara is that I need to do very little explaining about what's happening in my life. She gets what I am saying.

In talking with her, I said, "I have been here in Lincoln for a little over two years now and although I have a really strong connection with our sundance circle here, I still have held many people at arms length! I haven't really connected with anyone here, like I did in the Twin Cities!"

She replied, "Well, it's because you have been uncertain about what you are going to do, whether you are going to stay there or not. You haven't made any emotional investments! Especially if you plan to move again."

Hmmmm...this gave me much to think about today.

I went to the Talking Circle last night. I got to share and again, feel very connected to this circle, as well. I really do love people in the Lincoln Community! But I know this about myself. I hesitate to get close. Getting close to someone, anyone, can be an absolute joy but can also be terrifying if one has to leave.

Okay. So what do I do?

I have been spending time with different friends, from time to time. I have hosted birthday parties at my house and have had ceremonies, too. So, I am not totally reclusive! And, I am continually surrounded with my children.

This is an interesting time for me. I feel that I am becoming the writer I've always wanted to be and I am doing the things I love to do! But there is still that one element of letting anyone get close to me.

I need to grow...again.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On This Path

Moving forward on this path, I desire to understand...

The ancestors.

The ceremonies.

The medicines.

The land.

The languages.

The future.

A way of life that brings them all together in a good way.

WibthahoN, Pilamaya, Miigwetch, Thank you.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Remember Who You Are...

I had a great conversation with my Kanai relative, Jack Gladstone, the other night. Whenever we talk, it's about the words we use in our work as artists. I admire Jack's work as a poet/lyricist/singer. And he's a great storyteller.

I shared with him about how difficult it has been for me to write lately because I've been in a slump. So, how do I overcome that? Hmmm...

Jack helped with some insight. He talked about acceptance and told me that I need to accept that Yvonne has passed. And, that once I've accepted that, then I can began the process of making connections to her life and writing about her in the lyrical form, through organic metaphor.

To a poet, like me, words are magical. In these suggestions he gave me, something took root in my brain cells and began to flourish. Organic metaphor...

All of this, takes me back to 2007 when I wrote the poem View from the Holy Fire Place for my Uncle Ralph "Rocky" Preston and read it at his wake. After the reading, I was approached by Sheila Rocha, founder of “The Indigenous Collective of Theater and the Arts" (TICOTA), a non-profit organization based in Omaha, Nebraska. Sheila and I sat outside by the fire for some time that evening and talked about the scarcity of Native Women poets in the Midwest. During our conversation she spoke about her upcoming production called "Sacred Sites: Honoring Native Lands" and she invited me to submit my poem View from the Holy Fire Place.

In this poem, I wrote about the Holy Fire Place, which is a sacred site on the Omaha Indian Reservation where the Omaha people went for their vision quests. Throughout the years when I was living on the Omaha Reservation, I continually went there seeking solace and usually came away with a calmer frame of mind.

The Sacred Sites: Honoring Native Lands production was performed in February of 2008 at the Rose Theatre. I traveled from Minneapolis to Omaha to attend one of the performances, which were quite beautiful and involved many Native dancers, singers, and actors.

I think it's every artist's dream to have their work performed in a production such as this. When it was time for the scene, which featured my poem, it was performed by Richard Borea, one of my Omaha relatives. I was so touched and felt my spirit lifted.

Richard and I talked afterwards. He told me how excited he was to be a part of this production and how he really appreciated my poem because he knew about the Holy Fire Place and understood the feeling behind it. Then he shared with me his Omaha name, Yellow Horse. I just looked at him in surprise for a moment, then I burst out "that was my father's name, too! This was meant to be!" We were like kids, jumping up and down, crying.

We are all connected and by writing about these connections, well that involves a unified experience or Organic Metaphor, which we experience in our tribal circles or as "All My Relations!"

So it leads to this present time for me. A time for healing. And, once again, I can revisit the Holy Fire Place in my spirit, and continue my healing through acceptance.

"As you are making all these connections, remember who you are!" said my cousin, Jack.

Words are like magic..

Thanks, Jack!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Never Give Up!

Never give up! A message I received over the weekend in sweat. Just in time to help me stay focused on my path. Lots coming up for me and my kids over the next few months. Ceremonies, ceremonies, and then more ceremonies!

It is so good to see things stabilize for my children in school. I think I can actually take a deep breath here and say thank you to the Above! WibthahoN! My kids are happy!

So much going through my mind, voices, or words more like, that I am trying to capture on the written page! It could be that I just drank too much coffee from Starbucks! Got coffee nerves now! Ha, ha!

Been putting a lot of prayers out there for friends and relatives. Especially for the women who have been so supportive of me all these years. It's hard to see them become ill. They don't deserve this when they have such beautiful hearts and work so hard! My thoughts are with them today, too.

Today is also the birthday of my relative, Yvonne Ortiz. She made her journey to the spirit world in November. Since her passing, something in me changed. An understanding came, as a mother. Yvonne had twin baby girls last spring and she was also battling cancer. She loved her babies more than anything. Her mother, Felicia, made a request of me to write a poem about Yvonne. This, too, has been on my mind. I wish to honor her in a good way through the gift of words...

But it is hard...

Because every time, I think about writing for her, I cry. So I wind up praying instead.

Yvonne's determination to have her babies in spite of what was happening in her body is what has struck me most. She was so strong and believed in her prayers, life, and love.

I am in awe of her determination. And that has changed me. So those words I heard this past weekend, reinforce that change.

I love you, Yvonne!