14th June, 2017
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, hula hoops, and clowning that draws us crowds. What we seed is joy.
Hand Across the Border’s 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 hula 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 crew chops meat for half the day for the potluck dinner and a superb musician starts playing at 6 pm. Nickolas Crawford and his group (look them up, Crawford Bros. Band have a Facebook page and are worth hearing) have a huge, wonderfully played repertoire. Unfortunately, it is while they are 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 co-founder 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 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. She is thin and hungry. Short of taking her back to Ireland with me, I feel I can do nothing substantive for her. If I feed her she will get into trouble for coming into the Stick-Game building (which happens and she does). If I/we don’t feed her, she will be hungry. Perhaps I wouldn’t have had a meltdown if she were the only one but a local tells me there are packs of hungry strays throughout the town. I take to rummaging through the bins after meals to retrieve anything dogs might eat. Besides our constant companion other dogs come to the door, close not too close, ears forward, tails down, ready to run. I think it is the combination of hope against hope and the constant fear that breaks my heart.
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. An older woman with an easy smile, is a grandmother, eight grandchildren by blood, three others 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; she is wearing a diaper Finally she asked the girl if she was hungry. 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 back and is now one of the grandchild group. I ask her if the casinos help with the poverty; I’ve always hoped they do. She hesitates. Yes, but gambling — as we know — is addictive, as addictive to some one from the Blackfeet as to others. There are neglected children, she says. She works with them. It is hard.
“Do you ever think about leaving the reservation,” I ask. “Oh before I met my husband I traveled. I lived in many places. This is where I want to live.”
funding site is gofundme.com/handsacrosstheborder