Gizhek Wapskineh snuggles close to her grandmother, the woman
she knows and loves as a mother. Skye, 5, is a jingle dancer,
and she turns to her grandmother, Shirley, to make sure she is
explaining her dress correctly.
gold rose signifies the design of her tribe, the Prairie Band Potawatomi,
and the dress is called regalia or Indian clothes. It is not a costume.
Wapskineh listens and smiles as her granddaughter talks about dancing.
is polite, confident and comfortable around adults. She proudly
says she has danced at powwows since she was a baby.
will compete at the Red Earth Festival on June 4-6.
says the gold rose dress is pretty, but she said she has a pink
dress, too. Pink is her favorite color. She shares photos of both
dresses and one of her as an infant. Skye attended her first powwow
when she was 12 days old, and she knows the ways of her tribe.
I cry when I'm scared, but I'm not scared or shy about dancing,"
Skye said. "I always dance on my tip toes, and I'm a good dancer
because I dance almost every weekend in the arena.
wear leggings and moccasins, and my mom makes a hair braid for me,
and she wraps it. Each jingle on my dress makes a sound, and I like
is a prekindergarten student in the Ruth Droppins Head Start program
in Oklahoma City. She is the youngest of Shirley Wapskineh's 12
grandchildren and has been with her since she was 9 days old.
effects from having a drug-addicted mother gave Skye a difficult
start in life, and for a while she was a shaky, underweight baby.
But nothing of her past struggles is evident now.
Wapskineh remembers the day she took responsibility for her granddaughter.
It was sudden and unexpected, and she had nothing for the child
but love. She quickly gathered diapers, clothes, bottles, a bed
and a car seat.
she gathered her thoughts, too. She didn't have the energy she once
had, and she worked full time as American Indian adviser in the
Oklahoma City school system. She cried, and she worried about the
unhealthy baby who didn't even weigh 5 pounds.
has changed my life from thinking about myself so much, and I accept
that things don't have to be perfect," Shirley Wapskineh said.
"I always worked for perfection before I took Skye. I retired
last year, and someone told me that I could be living a life of
leisure and that I could sleep late and go anywhere I wanted. I
just don't think about this. I love her."
said she wants Skye to have self-esteem and be proud of her American
Indian heritage. She teaches her to live and learn a balance of
seems like we are losing our culture and traditions because the
tribes aren't teaching their young," Shirley Wapskineh said.
"I think today we see children losing their respect for their
elders. I don't think children have enough quiet time. They think
they have to be doing something all the time."
is a happy little girl learning to appreciate her culture while
enjoying the same things most young girls enjoy. She likes to watch
cartoons, and she said she likes kittens and puppies. She helps
her grandmother with household chores and does good deeds for her
neighbors. She said she brings them macaroni and cheese, fry bread
or Indian tacos.
like to swing high up to the trees," Skye said. "I like
to use my manners, and when I grow up I wish to be a cowgirl, and
I'll wear pink lipstick and a pink shirt. I want a pet horse and
a horse farm with lots of horses."
there is one more thing.
I grow up, I want to be a basketball player," Skye said.
grandmother listens quietly. She is proud of the little girl who
recently received her Indian name, Zi Bi Qua, meaning River Woman,
a strong person who withstands the smooth or strong currents of
life just as the river flows.