You Will Work With the
Grassroots People And work, and work, and work.
The doorbell did not have
an ostentatious sound. The original had long ago been disconnected by
Lizzie, Velma’s mother. The older woman was full Ponca of that tribe, but
was essentially raised in the boarding schools for Natives in her youth.
She enjoyed the rich sounding, heavy, gong of the long tubes hanging in
the center of the house, at first. Later on in her life when her grand
children continually rang the bell just to hear the grandiose sound it
gave out, she had the cylinders disabled. Now the remaining ring was more
to the liking of Velma’s working class family. It was audible but not
“That gentleman I told you
about is here,” Velma spoke to her husband, Lee. This couple enjoyed a
marital unity to see them working together on any project in front of
Lee rose from his chair to
answer the door. He was friendly and ever interested in any class of folks
who didn’t cross his path so often, no matter who they might be.
“Come on in this house,”
Lee invited the man standing on the platform like porch to come in the
house. With briefcase in front of him as though he had waited a bit before
ringing the bell gave him the appearance of not wishing to hastily push in
on them. This was a positive way to approach Lee who believed in manners
After a few exchanges of
conversational, pleasantries, this easy-going, person spoke directly
regarding the reason he was calling on Velma.
“You have been recommended
very highly by a member of your Ponca council, Johnny Williams. He
believes you have the qualifications we need at O.I.O.
Velma was pensive. She
wasn’t afraid of the challenge or the work but she was a realist, knowing
there were gaps in her education and what they wanted her to do. “I don’t
know. Do you think a high school education will allow me to work with your
group? I’ve heard of what you’re doing and it seems this job could use
quite a lot of training.”
We’ll take care of that.
Your schooling will be paid by our organization. We’re located at Norman,
Oklahoma, the same town as the University of Oklahoma. We pay for classes
to help for working with people. It is our wish to choose those who have
not been to the University. Often students who have graduated from college
have generally forgotten their roots and we need someone who is still a
part of their community and a member of their tribe, too.
Whoever devised this keen
insight had obviously thought through the strategies for success,
thoroughly. Using people who were part of those living immediately in the
area would give them an edge to work with all factions within the town and
outside its perimeters in the rural areas.
“Will I be studying social
work?” Velma wanted to know.
“Your education will be on
many different levels for working with the grassroots folks, but we don’t
want to be called social workers. Our goals will go toward acting as a
liaison between the tribe’s government and the community in which you
“You will have good pay,
reimbursement for mileage, stipend for lodging and meals when you attend
seminars, school or out of town meetings.” The man was quick to let her
know about the benefits of the job.
After he left he had
Velma’s promise she would talk with her husband and make a decision and
then call him to either accept or refuse the position.
This maturing woman who was
past youthfulness may not have had more than high school at the time but
she wasn't naive. She considered the challenges there would be in trying
to tie two governments together, the one of her tribe and that of the
community around her. There were all kinds of hurdles. For generations an
uneasy, peace existed between the two races. People of the old ones were
determined to hold to their own boundaries and community of White Eagle
located a few miles to the south of Ponca City, Oklahoma. As younger
descendants, who were educated in the boarding school, came along they
were not so ready to be placated with small amounts of money for the
leasing of their land.
They were trained to work
and could hold jobs. The heavy culture of the Marland’s who were oil
barons created another sub-culture and that was of the oil company
workers, who came to work in the oil company. The salaries were sufficient
for these to live comfortably with nice houses and good wages. This sudden
wealth was upon the populace but the previous hard life and poverty was
not too far behind them and there was an anxiety that transmitted itself
in the way they were willing, rather, not willing to associate with the
Native Americans. It was a difficult thing for someone to understand how
this could be, but, it did exist and was an abrasive element to be endured
because chafing under it would not change things. With the children was
where changes would have to begin. These were the matters O.I.O was going
to address. Velma well knew the attitude of those who were her neighbors
but whatever she could see for the future must have governed her decision
because this is what she considered as she visited with her husband.
Lee and Velma's husband and
wife communications over the years were legendary and this facet of their
lives came in to play as they quietly talked. How would they manage the
café? Should it be sold? What about the realities of making a radical
change in their lives? Would the job prove to be all it was explained to
be by this stranger? These were all points for decisions they would make