Orientation at the office
of the O.I.O in Norman was, indeed, a sobering experience for Velma, the
little Native American woman had lived her life close to the skirts of
this small community around Ponca City, Oklahoma. If she was in any way
intimidated by the lofty sounding titles of her co-workers it wasn’t to
be known. After all, her life time of public encounters in cafes had given
Velma an easy way with people who were in all careers. The once a week
drive to Norman was 400 miles round trip and she usually made this trek in
one day. Lee was aging at the time and it was a pleasure for him to
escape the local scenery of home to accompany his wife on her trips. He
had patience to the greatest place and, in a good-natured way, waited
for her, either in the car, or unobtrusively enjoying the landscape’s new
“Are you okay with waiting,
Daddy?” Velma always called her husband Daddy as if they still had young
“I’m fine, you go on and
don’t worry about me. I can entertain myself. I might walk around the
campus a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen all these new buildings up
close before.” This is the way Lee took an opportunity to enjoy every
small detail around and about him.
Orientation was the time
she learned office procedure and even though that place was to be in her
home her work still had to follow standard protocol, so that
activities could be evaluated by the main office. A close daily
inspection of reports would be necessary for the safety and forward
movement of the program. Logging telephone calls for time and date needed
a careful writing-up of details and was required for reports. Her duties
“in the field” had to be documented, too. Later on some of the staff at
Norman smiled as they read Velma’s reports because they said it was like
reading a book, so well did she keep her records of activities.
Every part of her
community was being examined. Was there a way to take “Indianess” to the
non-Indian children in the schools. What about health education programs
on the tribal grounds with doctors in service? Is there day care on the
reservation? What about programs for the elderly? How could she take the
needs of the Native student to the administrator of the schools? Of
course, one has to realize that in 1966 none of these things were being
practiced. People in higher places felt there was stagnance as far as
Natives living up to the modern world was concerned. Looking back, we
can only wonder, could there have been a less aggressive attack on poverty
where more of the ancient proven culture might have been preserved? Was
bureaucracy to replace this the best way to go?
The dry hard packed ground
around White Eagle was the first thing most visitors noticed.
Housing? At the time this
was a group of unpainted shacks built at the early arrival of the Poncas
in the 1900's or even worse, 1890. If there ever was paint on them it
had long ago weathered to a grey, bare surface. A central spigot was the
main source of water for drinking and bathing. No indoor plumbing in the
houses provided an amenity of any kind and was not available. It would
not be easy to convince the populace around Ponca City of these needs.
The people of the area had absorbed many of the Ponca’s teachings from
over close to 100 years of association and that was of the Native’s most
conservative ways. These people did not practice change easily. Even their
dress for ceremony was jealously kept. Youth were taught early on to
adhere strictly to the traditions and make no changes when they were
observing these portion of their culture.
“This is the way you do
things, and it is the way we always do. You must not be different from
your own clan. Keep the ways. If these are not observed the elders can
make you correct them right on the spot and that will be so embarrassing
to you.” So the youth was told when they were arranging their dress.
People in the area did understand about disease and communicable diseases,
though. This was probably the most successful argument as far as
addressing the problems of the near-by tribe. Everyone understands the
need for not giving a plague some place to start.
A health clinic in service
with medicine so lacking nurses and the doctor had to resort to old
methods for treating the Native population. One of such, was using
Kerosene for the treatment of lice. It worked but, oh my, what a smell
and that isn’t even considering the possibility of catching fire. Perish
the thought! The saving grace was the fact that the nurses were so willing
to do all that they could to care for the suffering of the children.
Native Mothers knew and trusted them almost as friends. Instructions for
treating miserable, small aggravations were invaluable and it was all the
Mothers had, after all.
All these considerations
would have to be addressed, one by one. The visits to Norman were all
about bringing the greatest of devised methods, not only to teach Velma,
but all those who were working for the same organization. They would be
like the wine at a cheese and wine sampling event. The heaviness of the
cheese could only be broken by a sip of an expensive, wine, and so it was
with this heady leverage of education Velma was able to go forth to
conquer each sticky situation.