Through Different Eyes
Today, I see things through different eyes. I write this from a motel not far from the Wind River Reservation. Today, I attended a pow wow at the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming. On the way to the pow wow, I drove through Wind River Canyon. This is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth, from the snow capped mountains to the winding rivers, it is a site to be seen. It is as though you have stepped back in time, the land looks as though it was truly touched by the hand of the great spirit. The white water rapids, roll along the river, and eagles fly high above.
Along the river are three tipis, and you can almost imagine the ancestors stepping out from them. But, today something changed for me, something that is difficult to describe. I must start my story in the past, 16 years ago to be exact. It was 1992, and I had a dream. Most of the time, I pay little attention to such things. But this was different, and I knew it. The problem was not that I had a dream, the problem was it would not go away. It lasted night after night for almost a month. Silently taunting me, and leaving me more confused with each passing day.
I guess I should explain it, as best I can. It is still today as clear in my mind as it was 16 years ago. It began with me standing on a great prairie, with brown grass almost to my knees. The grass was blowing and leaning in the wind. I looked and the grass seemed to go on and on, as if it had no end. I looked down at my dress, it was homespun made from the butternut color. The dresses was long and covered my feet, I pulled the dress up, and saw I had no shoes. I also noticed my hands, they were darkened from the sun, and appeared to be much older than I was at that time. I wore no jewelry, that I could see, which was odd, as I always wore jewelry.
To my left was a tall wooden wall, I looked down the wall, and also could find no end. Then a large door open from within the wall itself. Then, out stepped a man, dressed in all white buckskin. He was tall and worn one lone eagle feather in the left side of his long black hair. The man reached his hand out to me, and I took it. He then lead me through the door, and into a strange scene. To my left, were many women and children, the women were all dressed like me. Long cotton dresses, that appeared to be from sometime in the 1800’s. They were all Native Americans, that was clear, and they were cooking over open fires, with large black cooking pots handing from three legged tri-pods. All the while children ran around chasing each other and playing. But the strange thing was the silence, no one made a sound, it was as if they could not see me, nor the man dressed in white.
So, as I am walking I kept asking the man, “who are these people?” He did not answer, so I asked “why can’t they hear me?” Again, he did not answer, it was then I knew they were dead. I became frightened, and confused as to why this man was showing me all these dead people. Finally we got to the end of the people, and the man turned to me, and said, “feel the pain.”
The dream was always the same and returned night after night. Each time I awoke in tears, but had no idea why. So, I talked to me pastor, in hopes he could help to bring me peace. I explained the dream, and he told me it was nothing. Not to worry it would stop. I asked if there was a meaning to this dream, and he told me “no.” So I sought out other pastors, and was also told, it meant nothing. But, the dreams continued, night after night.
At this point almost a month had passed, and I needed a answer. To find some way to make these stop, needless to say my family thought I had lost my mind. Finally I located a elder from my tribe, and picked up the phone and called him. I had been told, he could help me and give me peace. I told him about the dream, and he did have an answer. He explained the man in white was a holy man, more than likely one of my ancestors. He said that, I needed to feel the pain of my people. And until I did that, I would not have peace.
I have to admit, I really was not sure what he meant. There was so much pain in the past of our culture, I did not know where to start. But, I did start by visiting the graves of my people, and my ancestors. I learned as much as I could, looked at the Dawes rolls, and any and all death or census records I could find. Then suddenly the dreams stopped as suddenly as the started.
I went on this trip, to relax and enjoy myself. To try to forget the horrors of Pine Ridge and the poverty of the children. I hoped to put behind me the death of Ta’Shon, and enjoy myself. But that did not happen. I pulled off the road at Wind River Canyon, and saw what a shame it was that this was not “our country”. I saw the stolen land, the murders and the sickness of all of our people. I saw what was done to us, in all the beauty, I saw sadness.
I got back in my car, and tears streamed down my checks all the way through Wind River. When I arrived at Cody, I parked my car, my husband and I went into the pow wow. I could hear the drums, and the bells. They always make me feel proud, and I love the sound. It is almost like they have taken me to another time and another place. But this time it was different.
As we walked, we passed a tipi, and there were lots of tourist, and lots of dancers. I noticed a man and women, and a dancer. They walked up to him, and asked it they would get a picture with him in front of the tipi. It would seem inocent to most, but today was different. I watched as they stood next the the dancer, and posed for the picture.
At that moment, I looked into the eyes of the dancer and felt his pain. I was angry and sad, he was a sideshow freak to the tourist. Over the course of the next few hours I saw it again and again. Each time, inside I was screaming, they are not freaks, they are people! I wanted to grab them and tell them to stop! This is our heritage, and our country, and we are not freaks, or a character from a western novel.
This is the lesson I learned, and how I saw the pow wow and Wind River through different eyes.