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Velma's Work
Valiantly Velma - Page 5

“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 Velma did.

“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.

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