14th June, 2017P6140424
In the way of things, especially Chautauqua things, it is the fun and games that get the crowds. People do listen to Blackfeet community workers on historical and domestic trauma, traditional medicine practitioners meet and exchange, we are ready to present on the topic treaties and the border. But it is juggling, hoopla hoops, and clowning that draws us crowds. What we seed is joy.
Hand Across Borders day of forums and workshops are the destination of a local school trip. Other children come. The children seem, in the best possible way, to be without paralyzing shyness or false modesty, dignified, if that is not too heavy a word for a child to carry. A boy whose name I never get (it is one of the many moments where my quasi deafness breaks my heart) shows me how he can hoopla hoop arm to arm after his first workshop. Matt (with me all names are provisional) invites me with pride to look at the lodges (tipis) that have gone up. A girl doubles with laughter in the closing workshop.
A crew chops meat for half the day for the potluck dinner and a superb musician and his group start playing at 6pm. Nickolas Crawford and his group (look them up, Crawford Bros. Band have a Facebook page and are worth hearing — I speak as someone raised by a mother who was a friend of Leadbelly’s) have a huge, wonderfully played repertoire. It was while they were playing I have my Chautauqua moment. Early for a tour, I admit.
Chautauqua moments — for some floods of tears, for just about everybody a sense that they can’t continue the tour — come to almost everyone on almost every Chautauqua. Mine is floods of tears on my sleeping mat, back-patting from a dear friend and some confessional about everything that is the matter with my life.
Joannie, a cofounder of New Old Time Chautauqua and a prime force for this tour, says that Chautauqua moments pretty much come with the package. We are, she points out, stripped of the “cupboard cup loyalties” that get us through, our books, our place to sleep, our room with a door that closes if we are lucky.
My Chautauqua moment ‘s catalyst is a stray dog. A young, lovely creature whose tail wags and who rolls on her back in friendliness and who is thin and hungry. Short of carrying her back to Ireland I can do nothing substantive for her. If I feed her she will get into trouble for coming into the Stick-Game Arbor where we are staying, if I don’t feed her, if we don’t feed her — I am not the only Chautauquan she charms — she will be hungry. Later someone tells me there are packs of hungry strays in the town. We can’t come close to feeding those. In the spirit of do what you can, I — and others — feed the stray who has come to us. Perhaps she is a cypher for what we are doing here.
When I finally stop crying and eat at the potluck and dance, I sit between two women. One of them, Loretta, is wearing a shirt with a patch commemorating a pow wow. “How do you feel when you go on a pow wow I ask. “You know what feels like when you go to church?” she answers. Loretta is a grandmother, six or seven grandchildren by blood, three other who have adopted her. She tells me a story about one of those. She was cooking one day. A little girl she had never seen before was watching her. A very little girl. Finally she asked the girl if she was hungry. Yes she was. They fed her and she was little enough they thought it a good idea to follow her when she left. She got home all right, but came and is now one of the grandchild group. I ask Loretta if the casinos help with the poverty; I have always hoped they do. She hesitates. Yes, but gambling (as we know) is addictive, as addictive, or more so, to some one from the Blackfeet as others. There are neglected children, she works for an organization that tried to hep them. It is hard.
“Do you ever think about leaving the reservation,” I ask. “Oh before I met my husband I travelled,” Loretta answers. “I lived in many all over. The reservation is where I want to live.”
PS Our funding site is: gofundme.com/handsacrosstheborder