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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
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Poem: "Until the Sunlight Pours Through"
This poem is spillover from the September 3, 2019 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired and sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It also fills the "Tahnee Ahtoneharjo-Growingthunder" square in my 9-1-19 card for the Arts and Crafts Festival Bingo. This poem belongs to the Iron Horses thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.


"Until the Sunlight Pours Through"

[Wednesday, August 20, 2014]

After his first exposure to
traditional crafts making
parfleches, Kenzie became
more intrigued with others.

When he went outside to find
Ida cooking something that
definitely was not food, he said,
"What are you making?"

"Hide glue, and when I
add the pigment, then it will
become paint," she explained.

"Can I help?" Kenzie said.

"Sure," Ida said. "Watch this
and make sure it doesn't boil
while I go use the bathroom."

Kenzie watched the glue
until Ida came back.
It didn't try to boil.

"When this turns
smooth and liquid,
we'll dish it out and
add colors," Ida said.
"You can start laying out
some saucers for that."

She pointed to a stack
of old, chipped saucers.

Kenzie made a row of them,
and when the glue was ready,
Ida put some in the saucers.

"Now we mix in the pigments,"
she said. "This is red ochre.
This is yellow ochre. This is
charcoal. This is chalk."

The colors turned out
brighter than Kenzie
had expected them to.

Ida unwrapped a package
of animal skulls, jaws, tusks,
and other assorted bones.

"I think I'll paint this nice bobcat,"
she said, picking up a rounded skull
with grayish discolorations on it.
"Would you like to try one?"

"I uh, wouldn't know where
to start," Kenzie admitted.

"Check the inspiration folder,
if you like," Ida said as she
began painting the skull.
"I keep pictures of designs
in there for the kids to try."

So Kenzie looked at the folder,
which had both flat patterns
and pictures of painted skulls.

"This is basically just ... doodling,"
he said. "Only it's on bone."

Ida laughed. "Some of it is,
and that's fine," she said.
"Some other designs have
magical or spiritual qualities."

Kenzie reached toward
the skulls, then hesitated.

"What's wrong?" Ida said.

"I don't think I should take one
of the good ones," he said.
"I'm afraid of ruining it."

Ida clucked her tongue at him.
"That's no way to look at art."

"What do you mean by that?"
Kenzie said with a frown.

"When you are in doubt, be still,
and wait; when doubt no longer
exists for you, then go forward with
courage," Ida told him. "So long as
mists envelop you, be still; be still
until the sunlight pours through and
dispels the mists – as it surely
will. Then act with courage."

Kenzie took a deep breath
and blew it out slowly.

What he wanted to do
was make something for
one of the Iron Horses, but he
didn't know what or who yet.

So he sorted through the skulls
carefully, and when he found
the coyote, he chose that one.

"I want to decorate this for Mick,"
he said. "Can I have some black paint?"

"Of course," Ida said as she passed
one of the waiting saucers to him.

Kenzie thought about what he
wanted to do with the design.
It should have a tribal feel, but
not copy anything exactly.

He painted the nose black,
then darkened the edges
around the eye sockets and
the ridges of the brain case.

He painted a medicine wheel
on the top of the skull and
concentric circles on the sides,
then filled the rest of the space
with patterns of lines and dots.

When he finished, he smiled.
"Yeah, that looks a lot like what
I saw in my head," Kenzie said.

"Well done," Ida said. "I'm sure
Mick will appreciate the gift."


[Monday, September 1, 2014]

When Kenzie saw Ida and Bobtail
covering the table with boxes,
he started to get curious.

"What are you doing?" he said.

"We're going to do some beadwork,"
Ida said. "Would you like to watch?"

"Sure," Kenzie said as he took
a seat next to Bobtail.

She had a necklace
of beads made from
smooth black wood,
and she was carving
a feather of the same.

Ida took out a feather
already wrapped in leather
with two trailing thongs, and
began sewing tiny beads on it.

"That looks incredibly complicated,"
Kenzie said, staring at the thing.

"It's for a graduation tassel,"
Ida said. "I need to finish
a bunch of these before
the fall semester ends
at Stone Child College."

"If you think that a feather
is complicated, then you should
see the kind of displays curated by
Tahnee Ahtoneharjo-Growingthunder,"
Bobtail said. "She's done gallery shows,
museum exhibits, all kinds of things to
promote tribal arts. She does beadwork
of her own, too, regalia and other stuff."

"That sounds interesting," Kenzie said.

"I think so," Bobtail said. "I've visited
some of them when I went on long rides.
Do you want to try making something?"

"Oh, I couldn't," Kenzie said. "I don't
think I could do anything that fiddly."

"Not all beadwork is fiddly," Ida said.
"Why don't you look in that box?"
She pointed with her elbow.

Kenzie looked in the box and
found all kinds of beads, made
of many different materials.

Well, why not -- he had always
loved rustic and folk arts.

So he chose handfuls
of beads made from stone,
wood, ceramic, glass, and bone.

They had all different shapes
and sizes. Most of them were
some shade of brown or tan, but
he found a few reds and yellows,
and even a subtle lavender.

Somehow they looked good
when he strung them together.

Kenzie found a short length
of chain to make the clasp
adjustable, with a tiny bell
dangling from the end of it.

What he wound up with
wasn't as tribal as Ida's feather
or Bobcat's hand-carved necklace,
but that was okay with Kenzie.

It reflected who he was, and
he didn't want it mistaken
for a tribal craft anyhow.

Then he set the finished piece
aside and used his smartphone
to look up Tahnee's exhibits.

Maybe he could see one someday.


[Thursday, September 18, 2014]

The weather was turning cooler,
but still nice enough to work outside
during the warmer, calmer days.

Today it was cloudy but dry, so Ida
was setting up her project space with
piles of leather, furs, and something
that looked like colored toothpicks.

"What is that?" Kenzie asked.

"These are porcupine quills,
dyed for embroidery," Ida said.
She picked up a circle of leather
and began sewing them onto it
in sort of a zig-zag pattern.

It didn't take long to fill in
a tiny blue blotch in the center,
and when Ida began the next row
in green, Kenzie could see that
it would turn into a star.

"If I tried to do that,
I would stab myself
to death," Kenzie said.

"It takes practice," said Ida,
who hadn't stuck herself once.

"If you don't want to try quillwork,
why don't you paint something
instead?" Blair said as she came
up to the table. "I've seen you
practicing on leather scraps."

That was true. Kenzie had
scrounged what supplies
he could, wanting to save
the good pieces for later.

He didn't mind that
everyone else doing it
that way was half his age.

He had experimented with
oil paints and natural paints,
with varying successes.

Kenzie thought about it,
then said, "Do you have
any wolf hides? I heard
Kyle saying that the elders
are asking for elk meat. I
could draw a hunting scene."

"That's a wonderful idea,"
Ida said. "I think I still have
the hide of that yellow wolf that
wouldn't stop getting in the garbage."

So Kenzie sorted through the stack
until he found the wolf hide, then
went to fetch the natural paints.

He also took some bluing,
which had been used as
a dye in the old days.

Kenzie used the black
to outline wolf prints and
elk tracks on the leather.

While waiting for those to dry,
he outlined a running elk with
brown, then used swipes
of a bone tool to draw
three shaggy wolves
in hot pursuit of it.

"That looks good
already," Ida said
as she worked on
the yellow layer.

"Thanks," Kenzie said.
"I doubt I'll finish it today,
though. I have to wait for
each bit to dry before I
can do more, and I want
to get the details right."

"Well, it's better than
the first parfleche that
you made," Blair said.
"Even if Henry loves it."

"I think that I may have
some elk dewclaws in
another craft box, if you
want to try adding dangles,"
Ida said. "That would give
a lot more power to it."

"This is strong medicine
already," Blair said.

"You really think so?"
Kenzie said. "I do my best,
but I'm so new at things. I don't
know if I'll ever get good enough
with it to earn points toward
membership in the tribe."

"I really think so, or I
wouldn't have said it,"
Blair replied firmly.

"What did I tell you about
confidence and courage?"
Ida asked Kenzie.

"So long as mists
envelop you, be still;
be still until the sunlight
pours through and dispels
the mists – as it surely will,"
Kenzie recited from memory.
"Then act with courage."

"That's right," said Ida.
"Then you know what to do."

"Yes, ma'am," Kenzie said
as the clouds parted to send
a dazzle of sunlight to the ground.

He picked up the white paint and
began filling in the first elk track.

* * *

Notes:

"Go forward with courage. When you are in doubt, be still, and wait; when doubt no longer exists for you, then go forward with courage. So long as mists envelop you, be still; be still until the sunlight pours through and dispels the mists – as it surely will. Then act with courage."
-- Chief White Eagle, Ponca Chief

Kenzie's attack was on July 15, 2014. This poem begins a little over a month later, on August 20.

Tahnee Ahtoneharjo-Growingthunder is a native artist of Kiowa, Muscogee, and Seminole heritage. She makes beadwork and regalia. She also runs a museum.

Read about native technology and art.

Beadwork is popular in tribal jewelry.

Feathers appear in many crafts such as wraps and fans. Learn how to preserve them.

Leatherwork may be done with the fur on or off. Read about tribal moccasins and see a map of where different styles prevailed.

Quillwork uses a variety of tools and techniques. Learn how to embroider with porcupine quills.

Traditional paints can be made in various ways. This post about Viking paint uses grinding and resembles many Native American techniques. The method I used for making cave paint was thus: Take a rough stone with a palm-sized hollow. Pour a small amount of linseed oil into the hollow; I think it was 1-2 tablespoons. Rub a nugget of red ocher (or other earth pigment) in the oil. Rub and rub and rub. When finished, the paint should be very thick and opaque. It takes 20-30 minutes to make a small amount of paint that doesn't go very far, but the quality is excellent.

Animal skulls can be decorated in many ways. Read about painting cow skulls. The method for other skulls is similar. Natural paint based on animal glue binds very well to bone.

Here are some of Ida's animal skulls. See Kenzie's coyote skull for Mick.

This is Bobtail's black wooden necklace.

See Ida's beaded graduation feather. Tribal students often wear a feather instead of or in addition to a tassel.

Kenzie's beaded necklace includes beads of wood, stone, glass, ceramic, and bone. The clasp includes a short metal chain for adjustment, which ends in a tiny bell.

Here is Ida's quilled star.

This is Kenzie's wolf hide for Kyle.

Elk dewclaws can be used for decoration. Hunting charms often incorporate part of the prey animal and/or its image, along with predators such as wolves.

In Montana, the hunting season for elk typically begins in early September for archers. While state hunting seasons do not apply on a reservation, which sets its own parameters, the same biological cycles do. In T-America, tribal hunters are discouraged from killing elk during the time when cows are pregnant or raising calves, unless the population gets too high. The elders observe the elk to see when maturing calves feed themselves and/or bucks begin to show signs of rut. Typically the elders indicate the permissible hunting time by asking someone to bring them an elk.

2019 Deer & Elk Season Dates
Start Date End Date Date Setting Process
Archery September 7 October 20
Two-Day Youth Hunt (Deer Only) October 17 October 18
General October 26 December 1
Backcountry (HD's 150, 151, 280, 316)
Archery September 7 September 14
General September 15 December 1
Elk Shoulder Seasons
Varying dates before and/or after archery/general season

In L-America, tribal membership is a racist mess. The blood quantum is one of the last bastions of hardcore institutionalized racism. In T-America, the government is still on the hook for providing treaty and other benefits to people of Native American heritage even if their tribal membership changes, because the government's obligation is based on its documents rather than tribal ones. It is slightly less awful but still an embarrassment. Historically, adoption was a routine part of tribal life across most cultures, although the details varied. Some tribes still practice this today, most often with outsiders who have invested a lot into a tribe.

Tribal membership on reservations can be very fraught. In L-America, white people threw together two tribes to make the "Chippewa-Cree." In Terramagne, the Rocky Boy's Reservation has three recognized groups: the Cree tribe, the Chippewa/Ojibwe tribe, and the unaffiliated members who are counted by the U.S. government as Indians belonging to that reservation but not part of either tribe. Rocky Boy's was designated as the place for Indians who didn't have a close tie with a tribe, and this is a perennial problem. The logical solution would be to adopt them into a tribe, but they'd have to qualify in, and most of them don't want to do the extra work because they feel that they should have a tribe by right of birth like others do. That gives them a reputation as "those lazy so-and-so's" which does not help the diplomatic atmosphere of the reservation.

Locally, some people have suggested using something other than historic rolls or presumed genetics to determine tribal membership. Some T-American tribes have switched to a point system that usually incorporates both genetic and cultural aspects -- although they tend to count someone as a member if they are born to two members, married in, or formally adopted. The point system offers a better option for people with only one tribal parent, intertribal parents, and outsiders. Here's a look at Rocky Boy's point system:

200 points required to earn membership
* up to 100 (full blood) for genetics, allows DNA testing of outsiders
* other 100 from cultural aspects
* learning the tribal currency is worth 5 points; a term of service to the tribe is worth 10 points per year
* living on the reservation may earn up to 10 points per year, to a maximum of 50 points, with a 10 point bonus for those born there or moved within first year
* speaking the tribal language earns up to 10 points per year of study/level of fluency, up to a total of 50, with a 10 point bonus if learned as a native tongue; the most common award is 10 points, and the average is 15
* for parents seeking entry, teaching their children the heritage language counts 25 points
* most crafts (flint knapping, leatherworking, beading, etc.) are worth up to 10 points, but rare or treasured ones may count more; the average award is 5
* most skills (dancing, singing, hunting, etc.) are worth 10 points, but rare or treasured ones may count more; the average award is 5
* virtues are worth up to 20 points, although the usual award averages around 10; a tribe often has a list of 7-10 virtues valued in their culture
* learning the geography is worth up to 15 points
* learning the ecosystem is worth up to 25 points, or 10 for animals or 10 for plants
* religious rituals and other special training often range 25-50 points
* crying for a vision is worth 25 if successful and 10 if not, usually requires at least one month of training, often several
* sun dance is worth 50 points, usually requires one year of training
* observation of signs indicating that the spirits favor a candidate may be attested by a medicine person or tribal elder, usually up to 25 points, rarely up to 50 in cases of conspicuous public manifestations
* superpowers congruent with tribal values and beliefs (totem spirit, weather powers, etc.) typically count 25-50 points, but some powers are detested in general, while others (such as shapeshifting) are revered in some tribes but despised in others
* donation of land is typically worth 1 point per acre, sometimes less if not contiguous with tribal lands, or considerably more if a prized sacred spot

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