I could write a whole book solely by looking at this picture of this little girl. To me, she was the most precious thing of the pow wow. She was the most brilliant little soul dancing around in the open meadow, a point of pure light, pure goodness, and absolute innocence. There she is, so tiny, fragile, and precious, holding so much Spirit that the whole pow wow could have been her and her alone. At least, this is what I see and it is because her image tugs at my heart and memory strings.
I seem incapable of moving beyond this little girl to write about my overall experience at the pow wow. She truly was the brightest point of the day. The sun was hidden by heavy clouds that took pity on us pow wow goers. It was horribly humid, rain threatening to fall at any moment, but the cloud cover provided respite from the burning rays.
I was excited to be going to my very first pow wow, but I was also filled with a deep, hollow sense of trepidation. My excitement was distantly chased by a long had fear. I was excited to finally be among Native American people, people who believed in Spirit, and who may share my beliefs. I was excited about being able to get my hands on authentic charms and supplies for my practice. In the weeks before the pow wow I saved some money so that I may bring home some part of a practice that feels too distant at times. This is the wrong way of thinking but as a simple human, my mind automatically leans that way; wanting and even needing to have something physical in order to feel connected. I was utterly happy because I was going with my mom and I was going to be able to treat her to whatever she wanted. She has strong indigenous heritage and was childlike in her excitement of the upcoming pow wow. But then, I got a massive ticket on my motorcycle and we were screwed.
I could afford to pay our entrance fees. That was it. Not even for a snack was there a penny left. I was determined to not disappoint my mother, to give her a chance to deepen her spiritual connection, and I was determined to not miss this event for myself. By the grace of my cousin we were able to get to the pow wow, which was held pretty far from where we live.
As we made our way down the highways, that subtle fear crawled beneath my joy and excitement. We got there and my mom bolted in a random direction, simply following her enthusiasm. As we walked towards the camp where all the merchant tents were pitched around the dance circle, I got more anxious. The closer we got to the commotion, the more Native Americans there were.
(How to say any of this without sounding like an asshole? Native Americans are rare, okay? It is not like you run into one down at Times Square. Pockets of my childhood are filled with stories of indios from my mother’s country. My own maternal grandfather and all of his ancestors are what are called indios, or in English, Indians. The term is a sensitive one that is offensive to some and at worst irrelevant to others. The proper and respectful term is indigenous people. But even then, you call someone an indigenous/indigena in Spanish and you’re insulting them. Langauge is a tricky and fickle thing.)
In my soul there is a part that resonates with the Native American people and spiritual path. So, how do I reconcile what is inside with what it outside? I don’t look it. I don’t look like I belong. In the absolute I am from the world of the Greek Gods; that’s my core. So I didn’t know how to behave and couldn’t feel comfortable even just being. With the political state of the native people, with the phrase cultural appropriation thrown around, I was uneasy. I was afraid of being wrong, rude, an outsider, a threat. I know that the Native American people are very protective and wary of strangers, as is expected with such a troubled history, and so I was afraid of being unwelcome. I was aware of the strength of tradition, the firm belief in ancestors, the emphasis placed on family, blood, and inheritance, and was afraid that in the eyes of those around me I would seem lacking in all of these areas.
As I made my way around the circle of available merchants, I felt hyper-aware of all of my movements. I couldn’t even walk right. My walk, my gait was off. On top of that, the heat and humidity made my clothes feel like they were a size too small and superfluous. It was not until I sat on the grass at the very edge of the dance circle that I was able to calm down and take in the people around me. I receded into myself and observed, almost to a meditative state where I was able observe the flow of life and celebration. I noticed then my heavy heartbeat. I noticed, too, the hidden and calculating looks I was being given. I was aware of being measured, of my wavering status as foe or friend.
My fear was mixed with flashes of a memory. Perhaps about five years ago, I was on the bus on my way home from college. It was crowded and I was standing near the rear exit. I looked over to the side and there was a young man making his way to the back. I froze. He was so beautiful. I could see from his tense facial expression that he was aggravated. The truth is that as he walked down the aisle many turned their heads to look at him. And this seemed to bother him more, but he was so attractive that no one could keep from looking. He was not alone, he was with a friend of similar appearance, but his friend did not captivate nearly as much. The pair walked past me and further to the back of the bus. I too could not help but turn to keep looking. He had long, straight, the blackest of black hair, and caramel skin. His facial structure perfect, balanced, and intense eyes. He was lean and muscular, and there was a rebellious hint to his fashion sense. I must have been staring for far too long because I then noticed him looking back at me. He looked back at me with such contempt that I shivered and felt ashamed. He was of Native American descent and it was obvious by his physical appearance; his clothes and body a testament to his heritage.
The afternoon was inching by, it was noon then, and more people had begun to gather around me beneath the slightly cooling shadow of the only tree by the dance circle. There were few people who actually looked Native American. I remember seeing a blond woman dressed in the Native American style and thinking how odd, how close to being offensive it was. I thought back to the countless news stories of outrage from the Native American community at the inappropriate use of their traditional dressage and wondered how disrespectful they might find this particular woman. And so the fear became clear in my mind; I was afraid of getting that same look of utter hatred I had gotten years ago.
As you read this you must understand that I have had close to zero exposure to the Native American community. My connection to this is through Spirit, through soul. So there are things I don’t know, things I don’t understand because my knowledge is not based on the current sociopolitical landscape, and the lack of physical contact with any part of this culture and spiritual practice made me feel insecure. I doubted whether I had any right to be there, any right to speak, express my affinity, and partake of the celebration.
Because that is what the pow wow was for; a celebration of the diversity of the several nations present and a time for peaceful union despite the differences. And that was key, a time for union, oneness regardless of difference. I realized this as the pow wow was started and the ceremony master (I don’t know if that is what the person in charge of the pow wow is called, but this is how I can best describe it) explained why we were all gathered there. The point was driven further into my understanding as I took more notice of the dancers and the public. The dancers were from different nations, some from the Dakotas. Beyond their political differences, everyone was so ethnically diverse that I suddenly realized the foolishness of my fears. As the ceremony master took time to explain the dance circle purification ritual and emphasized the participants’ differences, I started to feel more at ease. (Check out the gallery.)
See, fear is a dangerous nebulous thing that fogs the mind. Because of a few negative experiences I let fear cloud my day. But as the ritual cleansing carried on, I felt my own energy getting lighter. I released whatever fear I had as I solidified myself, as I regained the certainty of who I am. Seeing how different everyone was around me reminded me of what I already knew; it’s okay to be different. What matters is the soul that is inside.