On the last fall day, according to the weather not the calendar, I’d been inside working at my desk: the kitchen table. My spirit kept urging me outside. I kept working. Strange, a black cloud of a thought struck from apparently nowhere. See, my spirit told me, I told you to leave the house and go outside. I pulled on my jacket and went out to the early evening. The sun was brushing the tops of the red and yellow trees. I walked and walked. I let go of thinking and felt the earth. Down the way I visited a couple of young ponies. They asked me to pick some apples for them on a tree across from their stalls. We all had to stretch over the electric fence to share. We visited a bit. When I went back I was renewed; I cleaned the house out.
I began to consider the source of the thought that suddenly appeared, like a fast, hard storm. Some things emerge from within, from an accumulation of doubts or fears. Some of the accumulation comes from family, ancestral actions or memory. My brothers have a tendency toward the blues, like me. I’ve learned it’s easier to acknowledge, sing about it and let it go. I used to fight or be sunk.
One of my recurring dreams I traced to an event that happened a century and a half ago to a Mvskokee relative. The event was quite charged which was why, I figured, it stayed around for awhile. We all carry these memories within us. Some are from just yesterday, some from our relatives. Often we are influenced by someone else’s positive or negative intentions. Sometimes they are deliberate, sometimes we just happen to walk through someone’s path.
One morning I was in a spin cycling class in a gym. I’d had a good workout. (I’m convinced that walking on the earth, working out has the effect of spinning off some of the junk build up of too much thinking.) We were cooling down. I suddenly wanted a doughnut. Now I don’t usually eat doughnuts because if I do then I don’t want just one. There’s something incredible (and addicting) about that particular concoction of fat, flour and sugar. So I questioned the thought. Where did it come from? I had no thought of doughnuts. I then saw the source of the thought. It was the man next to me. He was heading out to buy a doughnut after class. This small revelation had quite an effect. I began to question the source of my thoughts. And I began to pay attention to what I was putting out into the world. It’s an ongoing process.
Our Mvskoke tribe could be considered a thinking and dreaming person of sorts. How are we thinking of ourselves? How do we go forth in the world?
Another question has come up recently. In my class we have been reading the work of a Yaqui deer singer and writer, Felipe Molina. In an interview he talks of “Yaqui-ness”. I began to question what makes “Mvskoke-ness”. Your thoughts? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll report the responses.
I heard from tribal member Tony Fields. He used to work at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. I hadn’t seen him around lately. He’s now in Washington D.C. because his wife got a job at NMAI, the National Museum of the American Indian. He’s going to be giving a talk in a few weeks on the Trail of Tears at the Holocaust Museum.
Last week as I changed planes in the Dallas Forth Worth Airport I ran into Doug Sapulpa who was on his way to a high school reunion in Sapulpa. We were both a little groggy from early flights, his from Sacramento, mine from Albuquerque. We commiserated for awhile, over coffee and tea. His brother Owen was the last member of his family I’d seen in this airport. I had been pounding a stamp machine that had taken my last change when I looked over and there was Owen who I’ve always admired for his self-possession. Doug and I laughed about it. There’s always someone watching, I reminded myself after that embarrassment. Self-possession is worth more than the cost of a stamp, and the hassle of not getting a bill in on time because you don’t have a stamp. Mvto, Doug for the visit that morning. It made my trip flow smoother.
And finally, Mvskoke citizen Bob Hicks is featured on the cover and with an interview on an online Renaissance Indian Magazine, at www.renaissanceindian.com.
Bob Hicks was born in a barn in Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, on Feb. 5, 1934. His mother, Ella Scott, and his father, Robert Hicks, were married, Bob says, “in an Indian way.” He left Oklahoma in 1979 for Hollywoodland and was in the film industry for many years. He was often the only Indian, and almost always the only Creek. He saw the industry shift from painting white people to act Indian roles, to the employment of real Indians. He made a number of contributions to the field, one as a founder of the organization First Americans in the Arts, which produces an annual awards show. Bob has moved back home to Oklahoma.
I’ll close with an excerpt, (printed with permission of Harrison Lowe, editor and founder of the magazine, and another pioneering Indian [Navajo] in Hollywoodland):
“ ‘Everybody was suffering, so I thought this was how the world was,” Bob says. “So for me, it was normal. My older brothers and my dad were lucky to go out and make $3 a day. They worked on farms. He would plow and plant fields. We also picked cotton. When I was seven or eight years old, my momma made me a bag that I could drag along and put the cotton in. But I was not a good cotton picker.”
Bob fell in love with movies in 1939. It was a good year for motion pictures; “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Some Like It Hot” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” were all released that year. But five-year-old Bob’s tastes ran more toward westerns - movies like “Stagecoach,” “Riders of the Sage” and “Destry Rides Again,” which were also released that year.
“On Saturdays, we’d load up the wagon and go into Okemah,” he recalls. “It was a town of only 2,000 people, but it had two movie theaters: The Jewel and The Crystal. The Crystal played love stories, which I didn’t care for. But The Jewel played westerns, and I loved westerns.”
Back then movies were only a dime.
Bob’s dad shared his love for movies, and they often went together to The Jewel: his dad sitting in the back row near the aisle, and Bob planted in the front row with his friends, cheering for the cowboys and the cavalry as they slaughtered the Indians.
“When I was a kid,” Bob says, “I didn’t have any role models in the movies who I could look up to and say, ‘I want to be like that.’ The Indians were always portrayed as the bad guys, so I rooted for the cowboys. I was brainwashed. That kind of thing can leave a kid confused.”
Many years later, Bob decided to do something about it.”
Mvto, Bob, for all your hard work, your vision. You have mentored and helped many native actors, writers and performers, and have been a virtual one-man Indian center for many of us who landed there.
October 27, 2006 Albuquerque Joy Harjo