By seven thirty in the
morning we had been out of bed for two hours. Our showers done, dressing,
rooms organized, breakfast and house detail all had been completed. Winter
mornings in February found us walking to our assigned places through icy
winds sometimes strong enough to rip the breath from our lungs. If a knife
of unbeatable cold air chipped at our breathing somehow, we managed through
it. The climate of that environment was the only time when the misery of
our situation could be upon us. If our family life had been that of loving
care and gentle surroundings this was even a harder task to endure. No
matter the poverty, isolation of lonely out places, or whatever hardships,
endured at home, there was still the warmth of our family's love to buffer
these things. Not so in these surroundings. We only had our own
determination to get what we could of the white man's culture and we had
each other. An earlier agreement between family members had already been
“Go on up to
Chilocco,” Grandmother had said. “You will not be able to get an education
here. Here, too much and too many things will keep it from you. Go on to
Chilocco. It's not that bad. There will be things there you can enjoy and
mostly, you must study.”
“Dad doesn't want you
to leave,” Mother had said, “but I'm okay with this going to Chilocco. You
want to go. We live so far out here I'm not sure the bus will even come this
far out. It is hard enough to get your studying with working a home but
there are other things, too. At Chilocco no one will make you feel inferior
because you are Indian. How can they? Everyone is Indian. No one ever
mistreated me at Chilocco. I think your Dad will just have to agree for you
to go .”
So it was. The
students all endured whatever discomfort might come to them and considered
them minor occurrences even to this miserable February weather.
“A-He-O!” and the
answering chorus from the dancers following the leader, “A-He-O!” The snake
like line of kids wound their way back and forth over this area close to,
and under the water tower. Some of them were choir members. In fact the
leader was one of the brightest members. He used his strong voice now to
call out, “A-He-O” and the people following him in the traditional way
called back. “A-He-O!”
“What are they doing?”
I asked. I had never seen a stomp dance.
“Ross is leading them
in a stomp dance,” my friend commented. “The only thing they don't have are
the rattles to go on their legs,” and she giggled.
Something about the
dance brought the coldness of the institution away from them if only for
these short moments before they started their day.
As the two girls
clomped up the long steps into the old musty confines of the choir room they
could hear Miss Dyer already running up and down the arpeggios and scales on
the piano in preparation for their class.
“I didn't know Ross
knew so much about his tribal ways?” I was interested because the boy I
knew always seemed more Anglo and Saxon than anything.
“Oh yes! Cherokee.”
My friend smiled in a knowing way.
See Cherokee stomp dance: