“Girls, get your favorite
dresses together. We are having a style show. Let’s find ways to decorate
our clothing with bits of ribbon work, shawls, leather or whatever we can
find to give a touch of American Indian to our styles.” Velma was moving
along with her job. This was a time, before political correctness used the
term, Native American.
“Mother has lost her mind!
She’s rented the main street, Marland Mansion for an Indian style show.
E.W. (the builder and owner who was 10th governor of the state) will turn
over in his grave,” one of the girls was aghast.
The lovely old White
Mansion stood in the very center of town and at the time the citizens were
attempting to bring back and return the old home to its days of splendor
and grandeur. Over the years after Marland’s death the place had fallen
into something of disrepair. For many years it stood behind a forest of
trees and shrubs with no upkeep or care. The scene around it was one of
occasional interest, maybe. Who lived there was known and of no concern to
most. The best way to make the house useful was, simply, to use it. That
was the consensus of the city fathers and they purchased it. Then, an
affordable rent of 15.00 made each room obtainable to any group who wished
to hold a club meeting there. This is a far cry from what they rent for
today which is around 150.00 or more for one day. The staff , over the
years, became bored with having to clean up spills on the carpets and put
up with other damages to the classic furnishings so today, it isn’t as
easy to use the building. These days the house is more dedicated to being
a museum. Early on, though, anyone could rent it and this is just what
“Let him turn over in his
grave, ” one of the other girls answered, “This is going to be fun.” Each
girl, in turn, was in her own world as far as preparing for the style
show. This made for a diversity in presenting clothing which would be
accented with colorful representations of their Native dress. If the
clothing of the ceremonies had to be traditional and correctly
conservative, these did not. Every idea for accenting a costume was used.
Trim on dresses, fringe on purses, hand decorated shawls as a part of an
outfit and so on all made their clothing, “Indian,” or that which was from
the Native American.
The thing to be most
admired was the cool aplomb all the girls showed as they walked along the
long table Velma had devised as a runway. They exhibited their clothing
while twisting and turning to show each piece. Here the shy, childlike
ways were put away while the decorated street clothing was shown to its
best advantage. A small band of ribbon work around a collar of a vibrant
red dress was just enough to call attention to a girl’s one-piece garment.
She flicked her wrist and waved her hand toward the bit of ribbon work
just as if she had been modeling clothing all her life. Long raven locks
swung loose and the rhythm of the moment was accentuated when a girl
lifted her chin and tossed her hair so that it seemed as free as the wind.
There were visions of open air, healthy living and that of the true Native
hearts were expressed in her action.
Richly beaded moccasins
peeped out from under the length of a long full skirt, as the girl stepped
daintily onto the “runway.” Another model sauntered along with a brightly
decorated ribbon work shawl draped over one shoulder. As that girl turned
at the end of her walk, she pulled the shawl from her shoulder and spun
around so the fringes fanned out in a delightful way, and then, she took
the ends of the shawl and tied it around her waist.
The newspaper ran an
article. A posed picture of the girls standing around Velma was shown. It
was sedate without describing the real action of when the girls had acted
out their own style show.
“Indianess, has been
introduced to the community.” Velma smiled as she read the newspaper. What
was she thinking? Was she pleased because of executing one part of her job
or was she proud of the children who but for a moment were allowed to
express the pleasure of allowing the ladies in attendance of another ilk
to enjoy their own efforts of seamstress and model.
Somewhere in the progress
of time a snobbery had been introduced by younger, university educated
Native Americans and that was with phrases like: “the roadside reservation
Indian, or selling crafts and belittling the culture by doing this, maybe
even implying this was a hated way to live.” Actually this was hurtful to
the Native American. It took away from the wishes of a younger generation
to gain the needed skills necessary to further that craft which gave their
culture meaning making them feel less American because they were
practicing these ancient crafts. It actually took Velma a great part of
her life to teach and encourage the keeping of this precious part of their
knowledge and values. The meaning and significance of some of the elements
of dress maybe had been forgotten by some younger ones who lived in
sneakers, tennis shoes and “sweats,” but there were those of the older
generations who knew the meanings of wearing the shawl and Velma was one
of them. The symbolism and respect a woman had for her Creator was shown
as she entered the sacred circle. How she wore her shawl, neatly pulled
around her shoulders and her determined, quiet way was reverence that
could be seen. When there were more difficult times of grief or for
respect the shawl was pulled over the head. It was a thing of dignity and
esteem shown to the woman for her most important role in the tribe.
Occasionally, a shawl would be tired around the waist of a warrior as a
sign of regard given to him for his manly, protection to them.
Every article of dress for
the ceremonials was important and had strong meaning. Even though these
contemporary fashions of the modern world had no significance, still it
was a way to continue in the learning to do the beadwork, ribbon work,
making of moccasins and to learn how to put together the traditional
regalia. The destruction of these ancient crafts were actually a kind of
subtle genocide and somehow, Velma saw and understood what was happening.