Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Indian Boy Amongst the Black Hills

Interest in Indians started with my mom reading: Amongst the Shoshones By ‘Uncle Nick’.
Uncle Nick was no relation but his full name, Elijah Nick Wilson is the namesake for Wilson, Wyoming. He earned some notoriety when, at a young age, he opted out of taking care of his parents sheep to head off with the Shoshone Indian. they bribed him with his own horse.
A great option compared to shepherding sheep all alone; his little “Indian brother” had passed away. But not before teaching him some of his language; a quality that impressed the Indians and encouraged the kidnapping.

His poor pioneering mother.

Reading from this book as we traveled on family vacations in our red Monte Carlo, my mother spurned my first desire to learn more about the savages. Leaning in as close as I could to hear her, or standing up in the back seat of the car holding onto mom's maroon head rest to get a better position as we glided down the highway.

So when we got ourselves a genuine Indian brother to foster my 2nd grade year, I was delighted. In the begining he seemed savage enough for my imaginations.

A picture came of a long haired Indian from South Dakota, shirtless and barefoot but wearing cut off jeans. His name: Chepa Blackfeather written in black magic marker beneath the picture on the white section of the polaroid picture. all us kids took turns staring at the picture.

One morning he showed up like Santa in the night, and was sitting at the table for a Big John breakfast mom had cooked. It was 6 am. We looked at him wide-eyed like you would the new Chrismas gifts placed magically under the tree.

It was disappointing; He looked like us. Hair cut and in clothes like ours.
This was not what I had planned on. I had expected him to come in some sort of war hero garb, a single ‘black feather’ placed in his long jet black hair and shirtless.

We still excitedly talked to him around the table in the kitchen and mapped out what we’d do first. The first thing was to bike ride to the church on the corner of Grandview. It had a nice steep parking lot that we kids could cruise down on our banana seated brakes squelling at the bottom to keep from heading over a curb and the 10 feet of grass that led to the water filled ditch.

My bike was purple with a sharp pointed seat that could inflict a lot of pain if you fell just right. Brandon, my older brother was on his red sparkly one. Even the youngest kids trailed on their big wheels. Hands hanging from the tall arched handle bars we raced over to the Nazarene church like a gang on Harley Davidson's.

I can’t recall which bike or big wheel Chepa rode, we could have made him run. But we were excited to show him some of the perks to our neighborhood.

There were no class distinctions amongst family member when we were disciplined. If one of us lied, we all were lined up and spanked, Indian brother included.

But I did use Chepa as a servant.

He’d push the red wagon while I steered it around the block always heading for the bumps at the end of the driveways. Maybe I’d let him have a turn. In winter it was the sled. Invariably one of the other kids along, making his load heavier.

On the bus he was subject to the bully. A stalky kid his age. This enraged me and I stood up to the mean kid with some tongue lashing of my own. Then slumped back down the high backed green seats.

I ordered Chepa around evem though he was one of us. Something I will have to live with.

That summer after school ended we headed once again to a church where we frolicked in a parking lot with a bunch of other 'Indian brothers' and their foster parents. Chepa met up with his real older brother Virgil. Then in the midst of all our fun a big bus pulled into the parking lot. It looked like what a singing group from the 60's would travel in.
Neck tightening I let go of the callous making monkey bars and landed on the ground, walking slowly over to the lumbering vehicle that was now being loaded with suitcases. The lack of oxygen from not breathing made me light headed and a huge sorrow washed over me.

I hugged Chepa forcing myself he would be back, that fall. He had to, he was our brother. But the truth seemed to sink in as I watched him climb the stairs of the bus then watch it pull away from us and head back to the reservation where his mother waited for him.

I wouldn’t see him again.

Years later my family did. He called from a re-hab center in Montana. After struggling with alcohol and drugs for years, he’d been admitted. The foster program was supposed to help with all those negative realities to living on the rez. But despite this, our Indian brother still fell into it.

Mom had heard from him on Mother’s day on 2006.

The Journey of Crazy Horse and the monument that sits in the black hills of Chepa's South Dakota make me want to journey there and see it. But also find this lost brother of mine.

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