Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A Dakota Woman's Love Story

Holly took this self-portrait. She regularly updates her page "Did You See Me..." with self-empowering narrative and shares photos of her bead work. 
A Dakota Woman's Love Story
Search For "The One" Goes On
By Dakota Wind
Bismarck, N.D. – Late afternoon became evening. Cloudless and without a whisper of wind, the day drew itself to a soft and golden conclusion. The drive across town took longer than I anticipated. Lights and traffic conspired to slow me at every intersection. I pulled my little beast up to an apartment that had the look of the late 60's clinging to it.

I sauntered in and a stained weary rug met my feet. Not knowing exactly which apartment I was searching for, I ascended an equally stained and tired stair to the second floor and nosed around. The odorous scent of burnt hamburger and cheese met me there and took me back to the rez. I stifled a sneeze, blinked back a few tears, and followed the smell down the hall.

I found the door I was looking for and sniffed the air for lingering overcooked fare, and found it had dissipated. The door itself looked brown, heavy, and greasy like a paper bag after a frybread making session. Flickering light in the peephole and voices from the inside, one high and piping, the other in light-hearted admonishment, told me someone was home. I rapped my right knuckle lightly and quickly on the frybread door.

Emákiya, Dakȟóta Wiŋ Pe: Here I Am, A Dakota Woman
A little girl opened the door wide, her full smile infectious and as broad as her cheeks. Her mother Holly, a diminutive little thing, welcomed me and bid me to sit at her table. I entered and discovered not the smell of burnt food, but pizza fresh out of the oven.

She profusely apologized for some other non-existing smell as I took a chair. Vials of glass beads lay sprawled about her table top like a mad scientist’s lab complimented by a virtual forest of fresh flowers which stood artfully arranged on the center of the table. Holly was working on a pair of earrings; her daughter sat beside her learning the tradition.

Holly's daughter learns the craft at her mother's table. "It's cool to be Indian!" she excitedly shared. I agree.

We talked about the traditional crafts and shared familial history, before she told me about herself.

Holly was born and raised on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. She lived there for most of her childhood and like many kids on the rez, entertained dreams of leaving. And, like those many kids back home, had a colorful childhood she wouldn’t trade for anything, “It’s all a part of who I am,” says Holly.

She holds an earring hoop in one hand, delicately picks bright cut beads with her needle, and deftly applies a line of beads in-between telling me her story. Her daughter goes back and forth between bites of pizza and following her mother’s lead. I watch Holly’s hands as she’s beading.

Holly works on an earring. She jovially refers to them as "Holly Hoops."

At first I watch her bead and notice only her skill and her choice of colors then I look closer and notice the scars on her hands. When Holly was younger, a drunk driver hit her in the parking lot of a bar, dragged under the car, and left her for dead. She suffered severe scrapes and friction burns, and nearly died.

She’s self-deprecating about herself and life story. “I used to be a party-girl,” she says. Holly is willing to share her whole story, but I don’t press her. She faces a rough past willingly and openly from her childhood on the rez to her own personal choices after college. That very self-deprecation is a virtue her people call Wo’uŋšila, the virtue and practice of humility.

Holly doesn’t regret the path to motherhood. These days she’s a self-styled hermit, though she does go out with friends and family every now and then, but she’s comfortable with life at home. She’s comfortable with life as a single mother. Holly entertains thoughts about having another child someday, but not just to have another baby. She’s particular about the qualities and virtues a man should practice.

Inyan He Paha, Rocky Buttes, Holly's great (x2) grandmother.

Our talk turns to her child, whom is named for an ancestor, a great-great-grandmother who fought at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Holly is deeply proud of her matronly lineage and shares their stories. A striking black and white pictograph on her refrigerator tells the story of her ancestor. This strong line of women comes down to her and now her daughter.

I grew curious about how Holly came to leave the reservation. “I remember taking an aptitude test when I was fourteen. I scored high and a teacher of mine encouraged me to apply to schools off the reservation.” She lived boarding school style and stayed out east through college where she graduated with a four-year degree in Spanish and Latin American studies. She was set to travel the world.

Then two things conspired to bring her back to North Dakota. Holly broke up with a long-time boyfriend; a desire to return to her family, her people, and her homeland. She had the means and education to leave everything behind, but the long-held dream to leave suddenly fizzled. The call to the vast open plains, the call of the long hard winters, the call of sizzling summers, the call to rediscover friends and family became too much to overcome.

IštíwaŋyaŋkA: To Lay One’s Eyes On Someone
This spring Holly made a trip to Albuquerque, NM to attend the 2013 Gathering Of Nations. She’d never been there before and knew only to expect that it was big. It was getting on evening and the pow-wow was winding down, winners were announced, and singers were singing their last songs of the celebration.

Gathering’ is held in The Pit, a basketball arena which serves as the home of the University of New Mexico Lobo b-ball teams and seats about 17,000 people. The annual pow-wow features artists and vendors from across Indian Country. It is one of the largest pow-wows in North America, and deserves to be taken in at least once.

Some people go to pow-wow to see the dancers, to hear songs, to see old friends and to make new ones. Some go for the food and vendors where they purchase beads by the kilo, or buy other materials – raw or finished traditional crafts. Some go to “snag,” as they say. “Snag” or “snagging” is a popular vernacular term found in native households referencing the expression of indulging in the attraction of the opposite sex. For the young it is almost a sport in itself.

Holly went to the pow-wow to experience the music, watch the contests, and take in the vendors. At about six in the evening, Holly and a relative of hers descended into The Pit. She recited the story by rote, “We were looking for a place to sit, and found a spot about five rows from the bottom as we were stepping down.” Holly didn’t anticipate that she would exchange a such a moving moment with a stranger.

This is Holly's perspective of The Pit at Gathering Of Nations.

It’s been months since her soulful visual exchange with the unknown man, yet she remembers that he had a golden tawny complexion. Dark brown eyes hooded under thick dark brows. “Bushy ‘caterpillar’ eye brows are a handsome feature,” she says. The focus in her eyes no longer on her beadwork but distant, as though she was standing there again at Gathering’.

The mystery man wore his dark wavy hair loose. I suggest that the wind settled his hair upon his shoulders just so. She smiles and says, “You don’t see native men wearing their hair like that,” her voice a matter-of-fact. Holly speculates that maybe Mr. Mystery is a dancer, perhaps traditional or fancy. He was fit, and wore a light blue button-down-the-front long-sleeved shirt above dark trousers. His cheeks were high, like most native men, in a somewhat oval-shaped face, but his cheeks weren’t sunken nor was his face angular or planes. His profile was striking. A bold strong nose, but not overpowering. A strong forehead, but so big or broad that you'd high five it.

His complexion and dress gave the impression that he cared about the way he looked. He was neat and clean. He didn’t swim in cologne as young single men are wont to do, and if he did, it was worn off by day’s end, or had blended in entirely by the large crowds at the pow-wow.

Maybe he was in his twenties or thirties. Holly didn’t see him smile, but she speculates that if he did, he’d have all his teeth and they’d be white. I’m embellishing her expectations here a little, but she imagines that if he did smile, he may have dimples.

He was medium in height, but Holly has a small stature, so she pretty much stands in the shadows of others. There isn’t much more that I can wring out of Holly regarding her description of the mystery man, but it was his penetrating soulful look, eye-to-eye, that she remembers most.

He looked at her as she walked down the stairs at Gathering’. He looked deeply. I speculate here to fill in the other side, but his look probably held no lust, nor judgment, two things women can tell in a man’s eyes, a man’s look.

I asked Holly how she would feel if things happened the other way around. What if he created a FaceBook page with the intention of looking for her? It’s a romantic notion, “I’d feel flattered,” she says, “I think that as our culture has changed, romantic expression has changed.” She’s careful however. Holly has exchanged phone numbers with online would-be suitors, but connections turned desirous, “send me a picture some say;” some men say and want more.

Perhaps a soulful look between one woman and one man is all that was meant to be. I would say that it was beautiful, but beautiful in the sense of the old-world renaissance connotation: beauty required a sense of time, place, and illumination.

The Lakota call this IštíwaŋyaŋkA, which means “To Lay One’s Eyes On Someone.” For a moment I imagine Holly in the days of the ancestors. I remember a story of a woman who met a young man, her camp moved at the end of the inter-tribal rendezvous, on impulse the woman returned to the site only to find the other camp had departed. That young woman composed a song to remember her mysterious encounter - she never saw him again. Holly’s that same woman. Only this time around instead of composing a song, she started a page to remember her encounter.

IštíwaŋyaŋkA pelo. It happened that two kindred spirits met on the field and beheld in one another in one moment all they could want, then the moment passed, and it was over.

Follow Holly online on her FaceBook page Did You See Me Saturday Afternoon At Gathering Of Nations 2013.

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