A Circle Begins

in the surround of snow-touched mountains

a circle begins

in a meadow by a snow melt creek

where hands weave a house of thin green saplings

it is a way of song

a way of breathing

a pure womb to center oneself through sweat

a way of blessing and being blessed

a circle of humility, prayer and asking

and there are no clocks to measure time

but the beating of our singing hearts

-Harold Littlebird, Laguna Pueblo


“The story is told of a construction company which contracted to build a bridge across a major river.  The company decided to start building the bridge from both sides of the river.  The engineers calculated that the two sections of the bridge, starting from each side of the river, would meet in the exact center of the river where the bridge would be completed by joining the two sections.  When the day finally came that the two sections were to be joined, it was discovered that there had been a slight miscalculation by one or the other side and the beams of the two sections did not arrive at the middle of the river at the same place.  At least one half of the project had to be abandoned.”
~ told by Homer Noley

The challenges and shortcomings of building this bridge reflect and parallel the difficulties in understanding and interpreting another’s basic worldview and philosophical orientation.  Other traditions at times seem to be coming from opposite sides of the river.  It is a difficult and sometimes an impossible undertaking to construct a comprehensive “bridge of understanding” from your side of the river to the other; but only after a bridge is in place can you cross and meet the other side.  I want to encourage you to actively participate in creating bridges of understanding, to get to know the world around you.

This is my twentieth blog, and my last “official” blog for my AIS class.  I want to thank you readers for taking part in my endeavor to create a blog.  I hope my blog taught you something or inspired you to learn more about American Indians.  You made this blogging experience a happy one through your support and encouragement, thanks.

“Lost Sparrow”

About a month ago on the first of April, I went to a film screening here at the University of Illinois for the documentary Lost Sparrow. This emotionally wrenching documentary follows writer, director, and producer Chris Billing’s search for unanswered questions— Questions about why his two adopted Crow brothers ran away.  Questions about why they unexpectedly and mysteriously died on the railroad tracks back in 1978.

At the screening, Louellyn White, introduced Chris Billings and the film.  Louellyn has a special relationship with this documentary as she grew up in Mohawk Valley, New York, an area near to where this tragic story took place.  As the lights grew dim and the audience quieted, I sat in my seat uncomfortably anticipating the answers to “the questions.”  I had a presupposition on the reasoning behind the two Crow brothers decision to run away.  The day before the film screening, my professor Gilbert invited Louellyn White to speak to our class about the documentary.  Professor Gilbert showed our class the same movie trailer that I posted above and as I am sure you did after viewing it, I read the trailer’s “hints” and came up with answers to Chris Billing’s questions.  By the end of the documentary I think the entire audience was moved to tears, anger, or a combination of them both.  Chris Billing answered questions after the screening.  From the questions asked (and statements made by audience members,) you could tell that the documentary touched its audience in a highly emotional manner.

I took away a few different things from viewing this documentary.  Firstly, I was touched by the daughter Lana’s ability to accept an apology after all these years.  Secondly, I was happy that the making of this film paved the way for the two Crow brothers to be buried properly on Crow land.  And lastly, I was reminded of the importance to speak out in child-abuse incidents.  It must have been a difficult task for Chris Billing to make this movie as he had to face skeletons in his family’s closet; but I am thankful he did and think we can learn from this story.  If you are interested in this film, please visit the Lost Sparrow Web Site.  Also Mr. Billing informed us that the documentary will air nationally on PBS sometime in the future.

Last year I wrote the research paper “Storytelling:  A Native American Tradition.”  During the research portion of this project, I stumbled across two books written by Joseph Bruchac:  Roots of Survival and Our Stories Remember.  These books brought storytelling to life for me and helped me see stories from a Native American perspective.  Throughout the course of this blog project I have wanted to recommend Joseph Bruchac to you readers, but I never felt like the timing was right.  Today as I was figuring out what kind of artwork I wanted to feature for the Northeast Woodlands region, I realized that Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki American Indian, is from the Northeast area!  This is the perfect opportunity for me to “kill two birds with one stone” so to speak, and introduce the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi simultaneously with Joseph Bruchac.  On Joseph Bruchac’s webpage, it explains that “For over thirty years Joseph Bruchac has been creating poetry, short stories, novels, anthologies and music that reflect his Abenaki Indian heritage and Native American traditions.”  Bruchac has the remarkable talent to create stories “where the words themselves take on a life of their own, and the rhythms and cadences open a floodgate of images and sympathies, until we feel the heartbeat of their author and sense the lifeblood of experience that they contain.”  (I pulled this quote from a book I got for Christmas, The Wisdom of the Native Americans (introduction, p. XVII) and I feel like it describes Bruchac’s incredible ability to generate verve in his writings.)  I love how Joseph Bruchac describes the process of storytelling for an interview on ARTSEDGE:

“A Mohegan Indian elder said, the story is a circle and the process of learning a story, and, in fact, of going through your life is circular. It’s a circle with four dots in it. The first stands for the importance of listening. We have two ears and we are always supposed to listen to two sides of everything. The second dot stands for observing, using our two eyes to see that far away and that close to us. The third is memory because if you don’t remember what you’ve seen and heard, it’s as if it never happened. And then, of course, the fourth, which completes the circle, is to share. To listen, to observe, to remember and to share.”

Bruchac remains one of my favorite authors, and I look forward to reading more of him in years to come.  I encourage you to check out his websiste to learn more about Jsoeph Bruchac and the Abenaki Nation.  Also, this interview between Bruchac and Eliza T. Dresang talks about Native American Literature for children and teenagers.

The art of the Woodlands people is closely related to the natural environment. The territories of the Woodlands people have extended from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River. Although the terrain varies from seacoast to mountains, valleys, and inland waters, one element was common to all – the forests. Everything the people needed to survive came from the trees, the plants, and the animals of the forest. (Surrounded by Beauty).

Native American nations of the Northeast Woodlands come from the states of Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Main, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont.  The American Indian nation I would like to introduce is the Abenaki Nation.  The Abenaki Nation has been State Recognized since 2006 and is not yet Federally Recognized.  If you are interested more in the Abenaki Nation of Missiquoi, you can visit the  Official Website of the Abenaki Nation of Missquoi and watch the video I added below.  The video only takes ten-minutes to watch.  It was produced in 1987 from the Robin Washington TV Library. Although this video is outdated, I believe it shares some useful background information on the Abenaki Nation.

Instead of presenting an art or craft for the Northeast Woodlands region, my next blog will be on Joseph Bruchac, an Abenaki author.

Today, most Sioux (Dakota, Lakota) people of the United States live in the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Nebraska.   The article “Surrounded by Beauty:  Arts of Native America” (also available on the website Surrounded by Beauty) explains that:

The Sioux people are perhaps the most familiar to people living in the Upper Midwest. Sioux is actually a name given to them by others. The word derives from an Ojibwe word meaning snake-like or enemy. Dakota, a word that means friend, is what they called themselves. Once all the Dakota spoke the same language. As white settlers moved into Minnesota crowding the Dakota who moved westward on to the Plains, they gradually formed three groups speaking different dialects. Today, we refer to the eastern people as the Dakota or Santee. The western people are known as the Lakota or Teton, and those in the central area are known as the Nakota or Yankton people

If you want to learn more about the Sioux tribe, you can visit the Official Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Web Site.

Beads have been in Sioux culture for a long time.  The Lapel Pin I featured above is by Leonard Good Bear of Sans Arc/Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, South Dakota.  Traditionally, Sioux (as well as other Native American tribes of the Plains) used beads as trade items.  The “Plains Indians” originally carved these beads from natural materials like stones, wood, and animal bones; but this changed when Europeans brought glass beads with them to America.  Below you can see some beautiful beaded artwork I found on two different websites that sell authentic Sioux beaded products.  I love the bright colors and thoughtful designs on these pieces.  I feature pieces that immediately caught my attention; pieces I want to add to my jewelry collection.  If you go to the websites, you can browse otherbeaded work.

Beaded Bracelets

Artist:  Michael Running Shield

Turquoise Beads with Peso Pendant

Artist:  Todd Lonedog Bordeaux

Beaded Bracelets

Artist:  Dawn Stocklin

It was early morning when we packed up and left town in my father’s newly bought Ford Explorer.  One happy family; mom, dad, sister and me.  Mom brought a snack-bag stocked with goodies and a cooler filled with my dad’s favorite drink, Diet Coke.  We had gone to the grocery store earlier in the week and mom let my older sister and I each pick out a treat to bring for the long road trip.  I picked Cheese Ritz Bits Sandwiches.  My dad started the engine and we pulled away from our home.  As we left the neighborhood I began to fall asleep, wrapped in a blanket my grandmother gave me.

When I think of the Great Plains region, I reminisce about the road-trip my family took to the Kittle family reunion in Nebraska.  Even though I was only three years old, I still remember being amazed with the changing landscape.  The Great Plains region rests between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains and is known for its prairie, steppe, and grasslands.  During our trip we visited Wind Cave National Park.  After visiting the Wind Caves, we headed north and drove through Custer State Park.  This was one of the most memorable parts of our road-trip because as we drove through Custer State Park, we got stopped dead in our tracks— by a herd of buffalo.  I remember being completely surrounded by buffalo.  Our Ford Explorer shook as the buffalo crossed the road; the buffalo were HUGE, carrying their thick, heavy, brown, shaggy coats with them.  Buffalo are important to my memories of the Great Plains; they are also central to the culture of many tribes from the Great Plains region.  The Sioux (Lakota, Dakota) are an example of an American Indian tribe from the Great Plains.  I heard of the Sioux when I was a little girl as we stayed in Sioux City, Iowa, on our journey westward.  For the Great Plains region, I want to talk about the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and the art form of beading.  So stay tuned, my next blog will introduce the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and display some beautiful examples of their beading.