Saturday, August 15, 2009

Summer of 1974

My parents, who adopted and raised me and two older brothers and one older sister, loved to travel on family vacations in a motorhome. In the beginning, my dad built his own pop-up camper. He called it the U.R.O., translation; the unidentified rolling object. My dad had a great sense of humor. We'd load up in the station wagon, Chris and Dan, Becky, myself and Daisy, the dog. Off we'd go on vacation.

In the early 70s, my mom and dad purchased the motor home and we took a trip out west, one stop being Pine Ridge reservation, where Dan, a full-blood Oglala Sioux was born. I was nine, perhaps ten years old, depending on the dates we were gone. The other stop was the St. Francis Mission on Rosebud reservation. For some reason, my parents were told I was Rosebud Sioux and I grew up thinking that was part of my identity. Later on, I discovered I was Yankton, a different tribe, different place and different dialect of language. This is not an uncommom blunder. Other Lost Birds I've known were also wrongly informed of their tribal roots. I can only think that social services or whomever was in charge of taking down our non-identifying information was either ignorant of the different tribes or just didn't care. Either way, there is no justification for such carelessness.

It was hot, hot, hot. There were water mirages on the road and dry, dusty terrain. We visited the Rosebud reservation and my dad stopped at the St.Francis church to see when Mass was held. I don't remember if we stayed for Mass but I do recall the priest or deacon said he was kola, but in my nine year old mind, all I could think was cola.

After that, we visited the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, and Dan was now the proud owner of some sea monkeys. I was jealous. We headed further west in the direction of the Badlands and Pine Ridge. I remember prairie dogs and how mom drank too many cans of soda-pop, (she was an un-cola person) her feet swelled. We stopped a trading post and my brother and I went into the store. I can see the crowded interior now and an Indian was sitting behind the counter.

I often wonder what the he thought of my brother and I and if my parents felt uncomfortable being non-native? I will never know for sure. The man behind the counter felt it important to teach us a word in Lakota, kola, which means friend. He repeated it several times until we could say it, know what it meant and remember.

My mom wanted to see where Chief Red Cloud was buried. We went into a small cemetery and were cautioned not to wander off because of rattlesnakes and mom stubbed her toe on Red Cloud's grave. Funny, I would remember that. But there is something else I remember seeing.

Wounded Knee.

I think now of what had happened the year before we visited. The Wounded Knee Occupation was in 1973. When we were there, we passed burned buildings. The white church on the rise stood by the cemetery where the mass grave held the victims of the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. It was eerie and desolate to pass burned out buildings and feel the hot blast of wind on the rise. Thirty four years later I returned to Wounded Knee, the same hot wind blew, the memorial brought forth a deep grief and the white church had burned down, replaced by a log cabin style structure.

Although I didn't know it then I was so close to my birth mom, when we passed through Mitchell. Only 50 miles or so, an hour drive. I shake my head everytime I think of it. How close but how very far away.

People often ask me if I knew anything about my culture growing up off the reservation, the nearest city to us 30 miles west. I do know Dan and I share a kinship closer than any other relationship I've had. We always knew we were Indian. Our adoption days were a celebration. It's like we were put together by circumstance just to know that we were not alone. We were each other's culture, grounding, touchstone. My other brother and sister did not share the same kindred connection with us. If nothing else, we had each other. And we had the summer of 1974.

Sometimes identity can be found in culture, another person, or in one word, kola.

1 comment:

  1. It was good of your parents to make that attempt to teach you of your culture . To take your brother and you on that trip.
    As an adoptive parent it is something I look to do every day . My son is multi racial. It can be extremely difficult to introduce him to all the aspects of his heritage because culture is so hard to define. However, I can see the importance as he struggles to build his own cultural identity.