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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 13, 2003 - Issue 102


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Elders Among Us Give Voice to Wise Ones of Yore

by Dorreen Yellow Bird - Grand Forks Herald

credits: Julia-Wades-In-The-Water - Blackfeet Indian Woman, wife of Chief Wades-In-The-Water
by Winold Reiss

Julia-Wades-In-The-Water - Blackfeet Indian Woman, wife of Chief Wades-In-The-Water by Winold ReissIt's always good to be among family on the holidays. This year - this Thanksgiving - it was important for me to be among those I love. I needed to see that the family was together - at least to see that the elders were still here.

This holiday was especially warm for me because I realize and am thankful for what my mother and aunt have given me.

My mother, who has been ill for the past few years, was the center of our celebration this year. She is doing well now, but she has her good and bad days. That is what the doctors predicted. This was one of those good times for her.

Her hair is nearly all white now. She walks only with help and gets tired easily. Sometimes, she is confused. She lives with one of my sisters, who takes good care of her. She can't live alone.

As I watched my mother hugging the young ones - some of whom she didn't recognize - I remembered Thanksgivings and other holidays where she put together a good meal with little money and not much help. She had 13 children; we are a large family. My father died some 35 years ago, so she was alone a good part of the time.

At this celebration of thanks and with perhaps half the group missing, there were about 50 people. There were drop-ins; some of the family had to attend more than one Thanksgiving. So they ate lightly - only the really tasty desserts, one said - then moved on to the next gathering.

I stay with my aunt when I'm home. She is my mother's younger sister. She turned 80 this year. My mother will turn 87 in a couple of weeks. My aunt has been fighting diabetes for 30 years, and it has taken its toll on her body. She, too, cannot live alone. But although she may be forgetful at times, she still is a good teacher. She understands the culture, ceremonies and language. She has been my mentor and teacher for many years.

As we drove to Parshall, N.D., for the celebration of the wounded soldier Delmar Crows Breast, I chatted with my sister. I didn't think my aunt was paying attention to my ramblings, but she stopped me in mid-sentence and corrected me. The subject was Native culture and what I needed to do. She gave me strong and specific directions.

She reminded me of her mother - my grandmother, Little Sioux. I remember her well. She was a strong and wise woman. When she was the head of the family, we all looked to her. She never wavered from her role as a medicine woman and spiritual leader. She was born at a time when women's strength was in their knowledge and ability to lead quietly.

Diabetes debilitated my grandmother's body, too. When I can't find an answer to a ceremonial or cultural question, I think about her and wish that she had lived to an age where she could guide me. Then, I realize that she did. She gave us five strong women to guide us, only three of whom survive - my mother and two aunts, including the one I usually stay with.

My aunt scolds herself because she doesn't always remember a word in Sahnish or what to do next in a ceremony, but then there are times when she remembers so clearly that it's as if my grandmother were speaking.

Each year, I see us moving closer to the day when my mother and aunt won't be with us. I try to imagine what it will be like but quickly discard the thought.

The time will come, I know. Yet I learned this year - this holiday - that they will always been with us, just like my grandmother, Little Sioux. I hear her voice in the words of my mother and aunt. The younger ones will hear my mother and aunt in our words one day.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.  

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