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Paddle Your Own Canoe
Chapter 23


The narrow black top road at the edge of   Ponca lands was replaced with a much wider one.  Once there was a need to be ever vigilant but this now  was replaced with a highway to offer a freer smoother ride.  For as long as what seemed to be forever the roads were never like this.

Events leading up to this road were when the state finally decided to improve.  Everyone in the tribe was with them, except one.  For what ever reason he held out to the end as to giving up his rights. Finally,  it became obvious he wasn't budging or signing anything.   The state declared they were going through his land, with or without his consent, and, of course, they did.

The few women had gone to the  building on the first highway only to be told a shipment of refrigerators had filled the room in which they wished to meet. Dee's mother had spirit which was drifting here and about all around looking for women to take up her battle after she was gone. She called a small group together with this in mind the daughter was sure since she  knew  her mother's ways. The daughter  was an unwilling student. The thought was to form up a group for Gramma to teach sewing lessons. The greater goal, of course, was the gathering together of these women who were within themselves each one able to continue with these sewing lessons should she not be able to do so. The inevitable was something Dee wasn't anxious to meet. Her mother knew how important it was for the knowledgeable older women to continue with teaching of these skills.  A lot of the culture depended on this ability to make costumes for the dances.  At this time they were having difficulty in finding a meeting place on the reservation at one of the tribal buildings.

On to the second building they  found all the rooms full with various activities.  In her mind she had contemplated volunteer work as to teaching the children art but knew she would not be confined to a room with her lessons.  As if to agree with her thinking two of the children walked along a side walk behind the building.  He was out of one of the classes.  She overheard one boy say, “Gee!  It is so nice out here.”

A gently banked curve on a new road also took Dee around the edge of the old camp grounds and directly to the newer Social Center.  Today, she was in their smaller newer car. Another time she drove the old pick-up and with that drew the slow  “okay”  wave from those she met, and that was more fun.

Like cautious children not at all sure of their places the older women settled into their chairs in the very new office meeting room. There was a large conference table in the center of the room. The room was air-conditioned and very comfortable. This was a far cry from the clinic and agency Dee remembered as a child.   A coffee machine was to one side and Dee stepped over to pour herself a cup of coffee. She turned to sit down and as she did so she notices a blackboard across the side of the room. All on the board was writing. It held notes showing many Ponca words and their English translation.  This was almost like a goldmine discovered and she promised herself   there would be answers to her questions regarding this before leaving.

Each one of the women  brought their finished dresses to show including her mother.   Dee's mother was moving right along with the meeting since this was her idea.   She brought out samples of her ribbon work.  The rich designs in bright well co-ordinated colors were outstanding. But, equally as admirable was her willingness to share little tips as to the materials she used in order to achieve the effect she wanted. Modern materials of under bonding to create smooth work, iron on material to back the designs so they would not slip off another base fabric, and tips as how to press the fabric only in one direction, made her words something of importance and teaching for the ladies.

There was another lady who showed her work.  She was a retired registered nurse and the intricate careful designs told of her former discipline.  She also showed a skirt her mother had made for her and it was such a pleasure because it took Dee back to another time when the colors were more muted, designs less striking and fabric more conservative.

Dee felt free to ask the woman questions because they had been school mates since early days of elementary school.   “You know I love history.”   Dee told her.  “Can you tell me when the Ponca's began using these fabrics?  Were they weavers?”

With a simple answer the woman stated.  “It was when the missionaries came here.  Gingham, of course, was their early day choice and this was what they taught the people to use.”

The everyday dress the woman pulled out was equally a thing to bring Dee back to a place of nostalgia.  She could see some of the older women in her mind  who would in reality be her age at this time.   They always wore the “every day” dress.  It was a simple style with a yoke on the front. Across the front of this dress there were pleats sewn onto the yoke. However,  Dee could remember the women she knew wearing them with gathers here,  which   was a quicker way to make the garment. The short sleeves dropped to the elbow and had a loose band around them.  Across the bottom of the blouse also, there was a loose band.  The skirt was simply a full gathered skirt.  Again the fabric of choice was usually gingham.

Before the close of the meeting conversation included comments as to how the women didn't like being forced to use the word “regalia” for what they had always called their dance “costume.”

“We knew we had a costume.  We knew how to make it.  We knew how to behave while we were wearing it, and we knew we better know.  I just burn when I hear someone say “regalia.”

“Yeah!  But, you know, what the college people do to you if you don't use the word, “regalia.”   Dee observed.  “I agree with you though.  I don't know why I have to placate those folks by using the word “regalia.”

“Well, you know the Queen of England has a costume she wears. When she has it on, no one doubts she is  indeed, the Queen.  Same way with our costume, and what is wrong with that?”

“One more question?  Who is teaching language?”  Dee asked.

“Your brother.”  They told her.

“Hmmm.  How interesting?  And, when?”

“Every week.  Ask at the desk, when.”

Dee had her reservations  as to working with the very intricate craft of “costume” making.  Language was more to her liking she felt, but made no mention of her thoughts to the ladies, least of all, to her mother.


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