66. Other kids in my first grade class slapping their open mouths on the playground and making Indian sounds like they learned from the movies; looking at me, laughing, and running away.
65. April, Denny, and I go make prayers and offer some tobacco to the Standing Rock stone in Ft. Yates. Afterwards, we wander over to the swimming dock on the Missouri River. There are a couple kids in their swimsuits playing in the water. April goes and talks with them, comes back. The three of us are all cool natives in our thirties now. She looks at them with this mother’s mixture of love and sadness, turns to us and says, “If they only knew what was waiting for them, you know? If they only knew…”
64. My roommate here in Seattle in the kitchen last night: “Back in Lincoln my spirits told me, ‘Practice feeling strong. Practice feeling strong.’”
63. This past summer I talked with my friend’s young ten year old son about his fasting for a day and a night after the spirits asked this of him.
We sat on fold-out chairs as a lush Sundance proceeded not too far away behind us, the open skies of the Badlands mostly dark overhead.
“I was really scared when they all left me there, when I was all alone; I started crying; I was scared.”
“Did you experience anything up there?”
“I could hear the spirits talking all around me but I couldn’t see them.”
“It was good then?”
“Yeah, it was good.”
62. My dad drinking and telling me a story in the garage, after he hurt his back and couldn’t work anymore, before he went back to prison for dealing meth: “That buffalo skull over there is from my new friend Todd. Man, he’s rich. His folks are real rich. When we met he said, ‘You’re a real Indian, aren’t you?’ He gave me that skull and all sorts of neat things his folks had just lying around.”
61. When my grandpa Clifford Senior passed we had a wake and my brother and I and a few others stayed up with his body all night. The following morning we drove his body back to Norfolk where he wanted to be buried.
Back at the house my aunts and uncles were all drinking and already half drunk with the funeral service just an hour away. It was early, eight in the morning.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table in a chair that was older than I was, our ancient Indian kitchen layered over with decades of life and parties and everything, paid for by all the years my grandpa put in at the packing house down the street.
My aunt came up to me, drunk, and knelt down on the floor in front of me. She looked into my face and said, “You look just like your dad…but white.” My heart brightened for a second and then felt cut. I just smiled and didn’t say anything back.
60. “Do you feel anything when you see other Indians?” my friend asks me.
Instantly, I flashback to when I was a lonely college student back in Lincoln and how this one night I was walking around with nothing to do, just killing time, and I came across this old homeless Indian in his winter coat and stocking cap. He looked at me with full, gleaming eyes and said, “Can you help me out, kola?” I reached into my back pocket and got a dollar, handed it to him, and then shook his hand. When we were shaking hands I suddenly felt this energy go up my spine, like the spiritual equivalent of a woman’s hand touching you after you haven’t been touched by a woman in a real long time. We both went our separate ways and I felt that energy reverberating in my spine for a few more minutes afterwards. I lived in Lincoln for fifteen more years after that, downtown, knowing all the homeless Natives; I never saw that particular homeless Indian guy again.
“Yeah,” I say to my friend, and then I begin to answer his question by telling him this story and then some.
59. Denny, Clark, and I at the Haskell Graduation Powwow, standing silently back behind the arbor, watching all of the fluid young dancers.
“They’re beautiful,” Clark says. “They look like living fireworks.”
“Yeah, they do,” Denny says, “but the sad thing is most of them don’t even know it.”
58. I take my two white friends, Liv and Chelsea, up to the Ponca cemetery after camping out for a night at the powwow grounds. Unexpectedly, that morning I learn that my great uncle Ronnie has passed away and his body is en route from Wisconsin.
After taking Liv and Chelsea around to family graves and making prayers and offering tobacco, we stop over and say hey to the two men getting ready to dig Uncle Ronnie’s grave.
“You know, that last time I hit a body I didn’t know was there when I was digging,” one guy says to the other as we wait for them to finish up. “What if that happens again?”
The other guy, the guy in charge, replies, “If you hit a body then just readjust and move over a few feet.”
This sad state of affairs is why my grandpa insisted on being buried in Norfolk instead of our tribe’s cemetery. “He said he didn’t want to be buried there because they don’t take care of the place,” my grandma said.
Driving away, I say, “Back in the day there would’ve been a man who would’ve been able to tell where people were buried just by standing there and using his gift.”
I think I know so much and then Liv says, “Or a woman.”
I’m silent for a second and then I say, “You’re right. Good point.”
57. Denny a few months back, “Grandpa Sammy came to me when I was running not too long ago and he was talking to me about blood quantum and enrollment and what the old people on the other side were saying about all the exclusion going on among the tribes. He said the grandpas and grandmas over there were pointing to their descendants and saying things like, ‘Why are you treating my granddaughter like that? Why are you treating my grandson like that? Why aren’t you letting them be a part of the life that is ours?”
56. Running Bear was -proudly- the most arrested man in the history of Lincoln. He was covered in prison tattoos, had a permanently bent nose, was a gifted visual artist.
Crossing paths with him one time as he was leaving and I was going into the library, drunk, wearing shades, he told me, “I don’t fear no one. I’m Lakota Sioux. Wherever I walk thousands of Lakota warriors walk with me and behind me.”
55. Indians are kind of always looking for each other- I go to this cool bookstore in my neighborhood about once a week thinking that maybe this time I’ll run into an Indian who’s into books and who’ll give me the real lowdown on things in Seattle. I imagine meeting that Indian who becomes a fast friend with little effort, a kindred spirit, someone who makes everything easier and better just by coming into my life. I’ve imagined stuff like this my whole life. I only need to meet one person, I tell myself, roaming around the bookstore; One good solid person who’s really on the level.
54. On my way out to Seattle I stopped and stayed in Columbus, my hometown, for a couple days. I went and walked around and visited places that were in my memoir that I hadn’t physically been to since the late 90s or the early 2000s. It was indescribable, almost hallucinatory -so much memory spumed and swirled and stormed everywhere. I crashed at my little brother’s and got to meet my nine year old niece really for the first time. We watched movies, played games on her tablet, talked smack about her dad that probably only her and I could get away with. The day before I left I went and checked out Pawnee Park, which had been ravaged by a hellacious thunderstorm that had rolled through on my first night back. Probably twenty or thirty whole trees were uprooted and fully ripped out of the earth. I marveled at their exposed root systems sticking up in the air, many of them taller than me. I hopped up on a few of them, walked their broad trunks, talked and prayed to them, tried to see what I experienced when I let myself feel into them. At one point, walking along, I looked down and saw a feather, picked it up and looked at it. It was an owl feather. My first thought was, This means someone is going to die. My next thought was, But not necessarily; Let’s just see what happens. I took the feather back to my car with me (where I had all my earthly possessions packed up) and put it away with my other feathers that I had with my Sundance stuff. When I got to Seattle, a month later, one of our Sundance leaders died, and then my friend’s ex, the mother of his child, hung herself, and then my grandma, my last grandparent, died as well -all within about a week of each other. “Were you close to your grandma?” my roommate asked me in our kitchen. Thirty five years of memories appeared to me in her face. “Yeah,” I said, “I mean I’ve known her my whole life.”
By Cliff Taylor
Cliff Taylor is an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. He has written a book on Native spirituality, The Memory of Souls, a book of short stories about the stand for water in Standing Rock, Standing Rock Stories, and a memoir about coming-of-age in Nebraska, Special Dogs, all of which are unpublished. His dream is to see those books in print and to use his words to help his people. He currently resides in New Orleans, where he is hard at work on his next book. Contact Cliff @firstname.lastname@example.org