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Velma's Work
Valiantly Velma - Page 3

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 vistas.

“Are you okay with waiting, Daddy?”  Velma always called her husband Daddy as if they still had young children.

“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.

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