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American History
Choir Practice

      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 talked through.

       “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:

Return to Donna's Chilocco Page


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