Itʻs summer and Indian stories are in the making everywhere. The days are long and languid and the nights are warm and full of singing, full of story potential. Everybody’s singing stomp dance, powwow, church, and humming popular songs with ear buds in their ears. And it’s not just two-legged humans but all the other humans: birds, frogs, insects and too many mosquitoes.
One of these days Iʻd like to start collecting some of those contemporary “old” Indian stories. Many of them have their beginnings in the summer, but are usually told on long winter nights. One category of these stories that youʻll never find in the publishing world is painting stories. Like many of you, (some of you behaved, like my sister Margaret) I lived through those wild Indian parties and 49ʻs as a high school student at the Institute of American Indian Arts and a student at the University of New Mexico. I see them now as part of a test, a kind of coming of age. Some of us made it through, barely, some of our friends…didnʻt…and others are still stuck there trying to catch the thrill of the first high. Some good stories came out of the journey because we needed them to make it. Laughter is the grease that slides us through difficulty, even tragedy.
Painting was a tradition at those parties. The first person to pass out was the canvas. We young women would dig through our purses and backpacks and pull out fingernail polish, tape, glue, cotton balls and any other items that might be decorative. (I hear superglue later made an appearance.) Oh, and scissors if the painting posse was being especially devious. And then the victim was…decorated on the face, arms, and sometimes…other…places. Imagine waking up and looking in the mirror. One of the best painting stories was told to me by an Umatilla man who has many, many contemporary “old” stories. He told of waking up to the sun on his face, naked on a roof without a ladder, his body painted…everywhere.
And then thereʻs the classic kind, like the story my cousin George Coser, Jr. told us the other day as we drove downtown Tulsa on the way to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. “There used to be a church over there. They used to serve food for the homeless,” he said as he pointed to a parking lot. Then he told of a friend of his driving over to pick him and a buddy up to take them out to lunch. They were excited and as they headed to Tulsa imagining all their favorite eating places there. His friend pulled up to the church and next thing he knew they were standing in line for their free lunch! Now thatʻs a real Indian story!
Then there are the other kinds of stories that feed the soul of our tribal culture in a different way. Those are the stories we heard at the Thlopthloccco Tribal Town meeting out near Okemah, attended by ceremonial grounds and other cultural leaders a few weeks ago. These were the deep philosophical stories of the roots of meaning for our people, with the overhanging question of how are we going to continue as a Mvskoke people, when many of the children do not know their clans or arenʻt brought into the function of the clans? There is never one answer but many answers, many stories. Another important story we heard was by the Mvskoke Food Sovereignty Initiative, about the restoration of and reculturing of plants that have traveled with us and nurtured us through our human stories.
Mvto, mvto to all the culture bearers, those who choose to remember in a time of forgetting. Mvto to the spirits of all the stories that carry us to laughter, to deeper understanding of our predicament, our place here on this Earth.