Writing Challenge: Day 3 – A story that takes place pre-1950

This is a story I wrote previously, so I am going to use this and hopefully write something else as well.

A Miracle of Hope

We were afraid of losing faith in ourselves, in our way of life and in our ancestors. The world was changing faster than we could adapt to it. I no longer knew which world I belonged to; the white men were teaching me their ways: how to read and write, think and dress like them. My father had given up; he left the reservation to become a merchant trader. My mother and I were left alone in the battle for our lives, a battle we were losing. My name was changed to fit the white man’s expectations, and I became Eliza. My Sioux name, Sacred Dancer, became only used in our home, where our world was still free. It sounded so sweet on our tongues, but the meaning lessened in this English language.

Reservation life was different from the one I could now barely remember as a tiny child. The nomadic way of life we had held to for as long as my people could remember was no longer possible with the whites flooding over the western lands in search of gold. Slowly we were being pushed further and further back on the lands we had always known to be free and open. Tribes were clashing over smaller spaces and fighting for the few bison that were left. For seven years, since the age of eight, I had been living in a cabin, stationary and dependent. This is my story, the story of a young girl lost in the clash between two different worlds. After this war against Hitler, the memories have come flooding back, and I want to share them.

Legends were floating in the air, whispers carried on the wind to every person in our tribe. We were looking for the faintest hope of survival, looking for a way besides total surrender. A Paiute man came spreading those hopes in the form of a new ceremonial dance. My mother, Healing Dove, went with me to the gathering where we listened to him.

“You need to change with the times,” he said. “The white man will not win, our ancestors will rise from their graves and help us defeat them, and guns will no longer be able to wound us. We will be able to return to our way of life and once again all the land will be ours to roam and share. The white man will be swallowed by the Earth.”

On our way back to our cabin, provided by the reservation, my mother sang the words of the song to herself. “Mom, are you going to go to the valley?”

“What else will we do? Your father is gone, he chose to follow the easier road and integrate himself into their society. I wonder sometimes about the battle I’m raising you in already. Would it be easier to move and let you abandon the old ways? Even I have learned to speak like them and wish I had their clothes and everything else they show us. Do you want to go?”

“I don’t know. My teacher says it won’t do anything. That there is no way a dance can bring back the dead. That we have no hope. I don’t know how I feel.”

We turned and walked into our cabin. There were two beds by the wall, a small kitchen area, and a stove. My mother began to build a fire as I started to gather food for supper.

“Well, I still hold onto hope. Even if the dance doesn’t work, it’s bringing our tribe back together. That alone is a reason for hope.”

“I suppose so.” Mom helped me cook, and we sat down to our supper. “My teacher thinks we should do what the government says. If we want to try to stay together, it would be easiest to sign the document and take the lands.”

“Your teacher doesn’t know our history. She doesn’t know our traditions or our ancestors. I’m scared of what is to come, but I plan to stay with my tribe. I want to honor my ancestors and the Great Spirit. The Sioux have long held these lands and the Black Hills and our tribe has already lost so much. When they gather, I will go.”

I looked at my mother, at the laugh lines around her mouth and her eyes, and the white hairs beginning to take over the darker brown. I watched her watch me, wondering what I would say. My teacher’s voice echoed in my mind, but I couldn’t refuse that look on my Mother’s face. “I will go.”

The tribe called for the gathering the next morning, for a ceremony and performance of the Ghost Dance. As we arrived, the men began to dance and sing to our ancestors for guidance and help in our troubled time. Shirts decorated with images of the Eagle and Buffalo lit up the scene, calling to what we needed. Red, black, and white paints decorated everyone. They sang to our fathers and mothers, to our grandfathers, to all the ancestors, asking them to protect us.

“The father says so—E’yayo!
The father says so—E’yayo!
The father says so,
The father says so.
You shall see your grandfather—E’yayo!
You shall see your grandfather—E’yayo!
The father says so,
The father says so.
You shall see your kindred—E’yayo!
You shall see your kindred—E’yayo!
The father says so,
The father says so.”

My mother and I joined in with the women, circling around and around the fire, praying to the Great Spirit above us, holding on to everything we believed. I sang with reverence, with hope, and despair. My heart wanted to still believe, I needed to hang on to our life, but the reason of the white man pervaded my brain, trying to convince me this was hopeless and futile. “There is no Great Spirit to help us,” my teacher from school cried; “no dance would bring your ancestors to save you.” The idea of the land covering all the white people and allowing us to live free was surely something only uncivilized people believed. The white man would win, and our culture would fade into the background, long lost and unpracticed.

My sister-in-law, Marie-Looking Elk, looked down at her child whose the father was dead and gone from a white man’s disease. Her son, Returning Eagle, held onto her hair with tiny fists, from his cloth sling. She came to us and held our hands, linking us together as one. Faces around me showed fear, lines of worry on them. Many sang, closing their eyes and reaching a point of grace they needed to feel. The beauty etched on their faces as they felt the love and glory of their ancestors filled me with longing. Marie squeezed my hand, and let go as her son began to cry out his own sorrow and hope. As I sang, I closed my eyes and tried to cover the voices in my mind, trying to reach that which I once believed with a certainty. I envisioned my ancestors, my grandmother and grandfather and saw their faces.

Suddenly I heard drum beats upon the land and not understanding, opened my eyes. I saw soldiers, armed, riding the beautiful horses of our lands. The worry I saw on my family’s faces were reflected on their own. They were scared of what they didn’t understand, and we didn’t know why the soldiers were coming. The song died out, the men and women around me slowly stopped and stared at the white men. A soldier called, “halt” and the line stopped a few feet away from us. Horses were pulling cannons on wagons and stamping at the Earth. The men were shifting on their feet; the horses were neighing and trying to move from their spots. Their uniforms were dusty, but the guns gleamed.

“You are ordered to turn in your weapons! All guns must be handed over!” the man who must have been the leader was calling out to us as the soldiers lined up. The men of the tribe began to move towards them, a few who felt defeated dropped their weapons in a pile. They knew it was useless to fight, the odds were against us and the battle was lost. There were others who refused to admit to having any guns. My mother and I stayed back towards the fire, neither of us were armed, and we did not want to bring attention to ourselves. We knew trouble was brewing. Marie walked backwards with us, and we hid against one of the teepees.

The interpreter that had come with them spoke to our chief, Big Foot. “The sergeant says to say he knows you are armed and that if you will cooperate he has no desire to do anything but treat you kindly.”

Big Foot replied, “They have no guns.” During this, the medicine man who had been leading the Ghost Dance began to shout “The spirit shirts will protect you, the Great Eagle and the Buffalo will protect you, and the bullets cannot pass through you. Do not fear, let your hearts be strong.”

I heard the interpreter explaining to the leader what was going on and knew it would not end well. My mother crept closer to the back of the crowd and I followed, hearing the leader reply, “Tell them they will be each searched.” The soldiers started going through the crowd, patting down the men and demanding weapons. Suddenly a fight broke out.

“Release the gun!” the soldier fighting with a man yelled.

One of our tribe yelled, “He’s deaf! He doesn’t understand what you want! Wait a minute!”

It was too late. A shot rang out.

My mother and I ducked, falling to the ground instinctively. As soon as one shot fired, the bullets went flying. Shouts, screams and moans deafened the air around me. Whistles of cannons hitting fodder flooded my senses, as dirt sprayed around me. We continued to crawl, trying to reach Marie who had wandered a little further off. Men were riding the horses through the crowd, firing at anything that moved. I saw one accidentally shoot a fellow soldier in front of me. I began praying to the Great Spirit, for our ancestors, for help, for anything at all.

My heart was racing as men began picking up their weapons, firing back at the soldiers. But the soldiers had cannons, outnumbered us, and were scared for their lives as well. “Marie!” my mother screamed, trying to tell her to drop to the ground. When she turned, I saw the blood on my sister-in-law’s chest, saw her fall down, shot unmercifully. All around us men, women and children were dropping like stones. Blood was soaking into the ground, the blood of the Sioux tribe and of white men, blending together unforgivably. I froze in horror and didn’t realize that my mother was rising up to run to my sister-in-law. When I looked up, blood was blossoming on her stomach as she fell and her eyes turned to me, full of the ghosts we wished to call to us.

I crawled next to my mother, holding her hand and praying over her, praying to the Christian God, to our ancestors, to the Great Spirit, to anyone who would listen. My heart felt shattered, although no bullet had pierced it, and I keened in grief, in denial, Please save my mother, don’t let her leave me, please, pray God, pray Great Spirit, my ancestors hear me. Allow my mother to stay, to watch over me before she returns to the Earth. Whoever is there listening to me, please, please, please save her, save me!

The air felt electric, brimming with the energy of a battle, with the fear of the enemy. As the shots died out, I still hadn’t moved. Noises were faded, the fire of the cannons and guns having deafened me. I held onto my mother as her coppery blood soaked into my shirt, into my soul. Tears washed the wound as I cried for everything we had lost, for everything we had given up. “Not my mother, my mother, my mother, mother, mother…”

I don’t remember the soldiers taking me from my mother’s side, nor the trip back to the reservation. The last thing I remember was my mother’s eyes becoming lifeless, and empty haunted brown pools of death. When I woke up the next morning, I smelled of smoke, acrid and harsh. My mother’s blood had been washed from my body, but it still soaked my shirt. The world was coated in snow, and a blizzard outside raged in anger. Some called it the wrath of The Great Spirit. I called it nature. Maybe they had won me over after all.

What was left? So much destruction, so many lives, all over land we believed no one should own.

Three days later, the snow finally moved on and the soldiers went to recover their 25 dead. We followed, even though we knew the sights we would face. The world was white, glittering, and peaceful. The wind had drifted the snow into mounds, completely covering some and unburying others. Over three hundred bodies lay in that field by Wounded Knee Creek, massacred. Faces stared at us, frozen in their last expressions of fear, defiance, and in some an unremarkable glory. As we continued to clear the area, shouts went up, echoing the cry of “A baby!” Beyond all belief, a Sioux child only a few months old had been sheltered by its mother when she fell. It had lived under her, in a cocoon of snow, a miracle. Hope rose in waves, making us tremble with emotion, as the baby was passed to a nursing mother. I ran to the baby and upon seeing him realized it was Returning Eagle, my nephew.

They had not taken everything.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s