home in Lodge Grass, Mont., they keep talking about Hartford Black
around here, even the white people, say, 'You're the luckiest the
person in the world. You adopted the president of the United States!'
" he said.
you," is his usual response.
Black Eagle doesn't see his role in today's inauguration in terms
of good fortune. He sees something sacred. He and Mary, his wife
of 57 years, were set to be whisked to the Capitol by inauguration
organizers early today for the swearing-in, where they will be seated
near the center of American power.
couple adopted Barack Obama in a traditional Native American ceremony
in May, when the candidate made a campaign stop at the vast Crow
adoption marked an unusually intimate intertwining of politics,
history and family -- but one that perhaps seems less jarring in
the case of a president who reached today's swearing-in, at least
in part, on the power of his personal story and its broader appeal.
outreach to Native Americans was part of a political strategy during
critical primary battles in Western states. Native American leaders,
too, want more power to control their lands and lives, seeking policy
influence on such issues as coal mining, the environment, and the
economic stimulus package.
an adoption is no slapdash honorary degree or campaign prop. It's
a revered compact that has linked the first family with five generations
of First Americans. Obama's daughters, Sasha and Malia, beamed as
they met their adoptive grandparents over the summer.
of those generations of Black Eagles came to Washington to witness
their new relative's elevation. Hartford and Mary will have prime
viewing seats for the ceremony. She will wear a traditional elk
tooth coat, made of deep-pink wool. (The teeth and sinews have gone
plastic.) Hartford will don a buckskin vest he's saving for the
occasion, with six elegant rows of blue and red beads.
they took a moment to see the sights.
where your son lives," Mary, 74, told her husband yesterday
as they glimpsed the White House on their first trip to Washington.
are a lot of ghosts in there," Hartford, 75, responded.
first learned that her family was about to grow as she was on a
long drive to Arizona. Her son, Cedric, vice chairman of the tribe,
was on the cellphone.
was already around Wyoming someplace. He called me and said we're
going to have to rush right back," Mary said. "He said,
'You're going to have to adopt Barack Obama.' "
were tentative about taking on the sudden responsibility. "I
couldn't comprehend it for a while," Mary said.
the day Obama arrived at the reservation, she froze.
my alarm came on, I didn't want to go through with it. 'I would
like to go sleep another eight hours,' I said. 'Not me. I don't
want to go,' " she recalled telling Hartford. But, "my
husband got after me."
couldn't eat. Waiting for Obama in the Secret Service's security
area, "we were so nervous my mouth dried up," she said.
No purses were allowed. "I needed ChapStick so bad."
Obama walked in and greeted the dignitaries, before the room was
mostly cleared out.
started walking toward me. Oh man, I was kind of tongue-tied, and
he said, 'Are you my new mother, Mary?' And I said 'Yes.' He just
gave me a hug."
the private adoption, Hartford waved smoke from burning cedar needles
over Obama, twice in the front and twice in the back, with a bald
eagle fan. Afterward, Obama told reporters he was deeply moved by
the ceremony, and he vowed that if he won, he would have his new
parents come to the White House.
is a spiritual healer and had been given the crucial, sacred responsibility
of christening Obama with a Crow name.
act of naming is supposed to reflect the past of the person bestowing
the name and the future of the person receiving it, Hartford said.
request for Obama's name came with an added sensitivity: the possibility
of a pre-presidential veto. Obama's people were on the lookout for
potential embarrassment, said Aubrey Black Eagle, Mary and Hartford's
it happened, "Awe Kooda Bilaxpak Kuxshish" was the name
Hartford chose. It reflected Hartford's own travels as a healer,
and translates as: "One Who Helps People Throughout This Land."