Standing Rock 2018

The eagle staff entered the powwow pavilion from the east.  From the river side.  Next comes flags and then dancers.  They processed clockwise around the pavilion with the staff and colors circling toward the pavilions center as dancers continued to enter. A shade structure frames the perimeter of the pavilion.  Twelve feet in width.  Circling the pavilion every ten feet are support posts holding the structure above the ground. Three rising seat benches make up the boundary of the pavilion. The last and highest bench backrest is five feet off the ground.

Standing outside the pavilion I used the top rail of the backrest to support a sketch pad as I sketch the pavilion’s doings.  Powwow’s have their own life.  Something or another is going on all the time, but there is an ebb and flow—dancing, conversations, drumming, eating.  Sketching has a way of filling out a powwow day.

I’m finishing a sketch when a young girl of eight or nine bounces down the bench, sits down, and asks what I am doing. I tell her.  I tell her how I try to show the support posts and the pavilion roof to give perspective to the dancers in the sketch.  She listens as I talk—but I know that little talk on perspective went nowhere and I need to get a grip on whom I am talking with.  She then asks if she can draw a dancer too.  I hand her pad and pencil.  She looks at the dancers.  Then draws.  Dancers again.  Draw. After the third look and pencil to paper, she looks again, thinks a little, smiles, and hands the pad back to me. I look.  In the midst of the dancers she has drawn is a perfect stick figure.  She smiles, gets up, does an eight-year-old dance-tromp down the bench, jumps down to the ground, and heads around a drum.

The Cannon Ball powwow on the Standing Rock reservation is different, but similar to home.  What is the same stands out.  Children’s lack of fear.  The parental teaching of “don’t talk to strangers,” for many non-Native parents is different than what I taught my children.  The consequence is many children at the powwow lack the built-in fear of non-family adults common for most non-Native children.

Protection of children is critical. Caring for them is an obligation. For both parents and society. Yet, can we question how different a people we might become if we did not embed the basic fear of others in our children?  Happier? Sadder?  Carefree?  Bold? Is it possible to assure children’s safety without having them fearful of every adult stranger they meet?

She rounds the drum, looks back, smiles, and is lost in the crowd under the pavilion.

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