Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wyoming Dispatch: Gratitude and Healing

For Thanksgiving, we Jentel residents were left to ourselves, so we decided to group-chef it up. Above, from left to right, are Jennifer, Zach, April and Dan in our amazing, spacious kitchen. Below is Mark with the turkey.

In some of the paperwork that I was sent before arrival, Jentel warns their kitchen has only the basics, and specialized cooking equipment would need to be brought by the residents. I'm not sure what they define by "basics," as our kitchen has everything from food processors to woks, an outdoor grill, as well as what I'd consider the "basics," such as bowls, knives, forks, saucepans, etc.

Just before dinner, some neighbors stopped by for a visit:

Just before we sat down for our meal, we were treated to one of the reasons - pictured above - why people come to the high desert country of Wyoming.

Since the holiday, I've been steadily carving, carving, carving blocks. While carving, I've been listening to a series of podcasts I downloaded from NPR's On Being series, which I highly recommend. Today I listened to an interview with Ernie Lapointe, who is Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake)'s great-grandson.

I had spent a moment on Thanksgiving morning considering everything I was grateful for, but then found my thoughts drifting to the mythology of Thanksgiving. I am glad that in such a consumer-driven culture that is the United States, that we have a nonreligious day for reflection and and gratitude (I'll leave aside how this all goes out the window on the following Black Friday for now). In the mythology, it is about different peoples - the Pilgrim Colonists and the Wampanoag - coming together to give thanks and share a meal. When children re-enact the event, the Pilgrims wear their goofy hats and shoes with buckles, and the Indians - they are not usually taught which Indians - wear feathered headdresses and "war paint," despite not being the traditions of the Northeastern Native Americans. What is never addressed are the massacres and epidemics following said event that served to wipe out a large portion of the indigenous population.

Sitting in Wyoming, listening to Lapointe discuss his great-grandfather (who admittedly is from later in history and not New England), I found myself reflecting on my current proximity to history, bloodshed and disenfranchisement. The Bozeman trail ran right through this area.  Fort Phil Kearney and the Fetterman massacre happened less than ten miles from here. Both Rock Springs - site of the Rock Springs massacre, and the Heart Mountain Relocation Center are about a day's drive. Sitting Bull himself was born north of here in what is now Montana.

The interview went on to share how the Lakota see Sitting Bull and some of their current activities, now that they are allowed to practice their traditions. It's from 2010, so it did not touch on current issues such as foster care and taking children away from the reservations. But it did go into how the Lakota see Sitting Bull as less a warrior than a healer. Following this, it went on to describe how the Lakota have been doing a ceremony for many years now, which involves some songs of Sitting Bull's, in which they incorporate descendants of George Custer and his troops, and through the ceremony, they become family. (If I am misunderstanding this, anyone is welcome to correct me in the comments. In fact, please do). This ceremony incorporates Sitting Bull's legacy of healing into the future of the Lakota and addressing the history of the region.

Listening to these words just after Thanksgiving in Wyoming, I couldn't help but feel humbled. But as I listened, my thoughts ranged over the high desert landscape, and I found myself reflecting on my walk through the 1000 Acres a few days ago. Is this legacy of healing imbued in the landscape itself? I'm finding this idea coming up in the prints I'm working on now, and wonder if its possible.

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