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Paddle Your Own Canoe
Chapter 25


“Esch  Cheen' nahkah is the trickster, but rabbit is the hero.”  At least in the Ponca language.”  The woman studying the Ponca language said. The outline she handed Dee was a translation of a story told to her by an ageing member of the tribe at the time.  The man, Joseph Hairy Back, was now since deceased.  The story was one about the rabbit.

Remembering a rabbit story was what Dee was trying to do at the moment. It was something about the rabbit trying to wake the sun and on getting too close the hair on his back was singhed. This was the reason for that color there. The outline she held in her hand was a different story. Dee listened respectfully. The woman was working on her doctorate and there was no question she was well educated in the white man's universities.

Dee's mother was Ponca and spoke the language fluently.  She was quite against the alphabet and the English  words they had devised in order to write the words down.  But, at the moment Dee saw these outlines were necessary in order to follow the story being told by the elderly man which the University of Oklahoma had helped her tape.

Dee never had any question the language was an ancient one but now as she listened to the elderly man methodically going through the story there was something she could not quite grasp as to the meaning.  It was a child's story, a fable, but the man told it with  real  seriousness.

The gist of the story was that the rabbit had killed the evil big hill by splitting it open. He took its heart out and offered it to his grandmother to eat. Then he worked to bring back to life the people who were dead and dying inside that hill.

Because he did this, the people wanted to make him a chief.  He said to them.  “No.”  “ I don't think this is appropriate because of the way I have this split in my mouth.”

Of course, Dee was trying to understand and in partially understanding in her own mind was intrigued with the wisdom of the rabbit.  In her mind she was asking.  “Was the big hill the enemy of God who caused death?  Even though the rabbit defeated this enemy and resurrected people did he refuse to become a chief because of his imperfection?  Or because he was a rabbit and not human?”

Really, Dee had not intended to get into the language. It was difficult. Only a handful of old ones spoke and they were busy in their modern lives with little time just as she was.

The language people studies were certainly to be commended. However, like every other time, when the cultures tried to mesh it just couldn't happen. The written word and their alphabet could not be understood by the common person or the person unlearned in the methods of writing the words which had inserts of small letters above letters in order to indicate one particular sound or another. There might be a gentle quiet popping sound on a letter and this was how they were shown.  There was that throaty bubbling sound in the back of the throat and it was indicated with an x. These were the educated and the lofty ways of the white man in his attempt to save the language which ended up that he may have saved the language, but only for himself.

When Dee took the manuscript to her mother in order to get her help in pronouncing the words line after line was ripped apart.

“Look.  Here she has, Nia'shiga as man.  That isn't so.  Nu' is man. Nia'shiga is people but it means more than that.  She has shiga at the end of nia'.  That   shiga should be shing' gah, meaning a small amount. If you pronounce that word as it is written here it would sound like Nigh' a shy gay.  I don't know what that means! It doesn't mean anything.”

“You embarrass me by going down there to learn Ponca from a white woman.”  Dee's mother wasn't ever known to mince words.

“Well, you know.  My cousin is teaching too?”  Dee asked.

“You want to talk like a man?  They have a different language. Oh my! You have an aunt who speaks fluently. Go see her.”

Dee didn't scorn her mother's advice.  In her mind she was thinking about it though. She had art work on schedule from a year ago. The children's ages were slipping right on along and art instruction for them was fast getting away from her.

The goal of creating a garden on the hillside was really only partially completed and her back was quibbling with her on that.

Sewing was to the point of neglect as far as quick gowns and quick sports wear to be sewn for two or three dollars a piece when their cost was in multiples above that.

These projects were not even touching into daily maintenance and cleaning plus the need to keep food cooked in order to avoid the fast food places which were unhealthy as well as expensive.

Quietly Dee spoke, “If only Aunt Josephine was still alive. She knew how to teach.  Ne was water, Ne Nee' was smoke (or cigarettes), Ne skee the was salt water.  Easy!  I should have spent more time with her, and that is hind site.”


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