Dance of Hope — Inspired by Elizabeth Ferguson

Today’s story is inspired by Elizabeth Ferguson. I met Liz through my cousin at a Better Way Imports Awareness Event. I liked her right away. Then I heard that she’s called “Crazy Liz” by a lot of her friends. I’m still not sure what that’s all about. But I’m hoping to find out (curiosity has always been an issue with me). Liz is a member of Kava Writer\’s Collective (I love her stories set in the 1990’s…she’s awesome). Liz is a loyal friend, a sweet wifey pooh and she loves her pets. Oh. And she’s flipping hilarious. I’m not kidding. And, if you ever have to call AAA…be nice. You might need her help. 

Here’s her story idea…

Kachina Wildhorse is a Native American teen girl. Setting 1980’s in North Dakota. Conflict: she wants to be normal and popular. But she lives with her Grandparents who want her to live in the traditions. They are poor.

Kachina was always reminded of what her name meant. Kachina, a shard of hope for the Lakota. Kachina, the sacred dancer. Kachina, the one to represent the past by her dance. Kachina, the only future for her family. Dance, Kachina, dance. Dance for the heritage, the past, what was stolen, for what little remains.

She rested on her bed, reading “Teen Beat” magazine. There was a stack of them in her backpack. Already read through, cut up and handed down to her by a friend at school. Pictures of Michael J. Fox, John Cusak, Madonna. Not a one of them looked like her.

“Kachina, what are you reading?” her grandmother asked, walking into her room.

“Just a magazine.” Kachina shoved it under her pillow.

“Tunkasila wants you to do your language studies.”

“Tell Grandpa that I have too much school work.”

“So much school work that you have to look at these magazines?” Her grandmother pulled the glossy papers out from under the pillow.

“Grandma, I don’t want to study the language.”

“It’s our heritage, Kachina.” Her grandmother had a hurt expression. “If you don’t learn our traditions then they will die…”

“With me,” Kachina interrupted. “I know. You tell me that all the time.”

“But all you want to do is become like them.” She held up the magazine. “They have no respect for anything. Not their family, their culture, their ancestors. Not even for themselves. And you want that for your life?”

“I want a life that’s free from a whole bunch of dead people.”

“Kachina…” her grandmother said. She couldn’t finish.

“You didn’t live in a teepee. Didn’t hunt for food and clothing. You weren’t the one that the land was stolen from. That’s all the past. It isn’t you and it isn’t me. Life changed. It isn’t like that anymore.”

Her grandmother backed up against the wall, clutching the magazine. Kachina stood up, walked toward the door.

“Your mother said the same thing,” her grandmother said. “And think what happened to her.”

“I’m not my mother.”

Kachina had to get outside. She was so suffocated within that house. In the room where her mother grew up. With the same wallpaper on the walls that her mother looked at. The same bed she had slept on. The same pressure to live the traditions of the past. Not allowed to be who she was.

And so, her mother had rebelled. Run away. Off the reservation. Away from the safety of holding onto the past. Into the dangerous world of discovering who she was. And who she became was a single mother at a young age. Abandoning Kachina before even naming her. Took off. Never to be seen again. To live her own life. To make her own traditions. To sever the past. Like leaving a shadow behind.

Kachina looked out over the reservation. She felt a weight. Like an anchor that planted her, not letting her move from the past. She was held to a life she never understood.

Small houses and trailers were placed next to roads and sidewalks. Paint chipped, rusted aluminum, cracked cement. The church where her grandfather preached. The area set aside for tribal dance, bon fires, meetings. All around her was tradition and the past crashing into the present and the new order. And the collision was a devastating reality and necessity.

Kachina wondered how long anyone would live there. All the children were sure to move away. Go to college. Get jobs. Leave the poverty and restrictions of the reservation behind them. She would go as soon as she could. It would be the end of looking back. Of being the hinge of past and future.

“Kachina?” her grandfather called from the house.

“I’m here.” She turned to him. He walked toward her.

“Your grandmother is upset with you.”

She nodded.

“I understand, though.” He put his arm around her shoulders. “It’s a lot of work to carry on our traditions.”

“But it isn’t fair.” Kachina felt her small body shake. Emotion took over her. “I’m tired of living every one else’s lives.”

‘What do you mean?”

“You treat me like my mother, afraid I’ll run off and ruin my life. You want me to be like you, to learn this language and dance and the stories. And I’m supposed to be like the women from so long ago. Before they lost everything. But none of it is me. Why can’t you both just look at me and see me?”

“We’ve asked too much.”

“I want to be like the girls at school. They have nice clothes. Nobody shops at the second hand store except me.”

“Kachina, you know we don’t have money for that.”

“And all the white girls have big curly hair. And I’m stuck with this!” She flipped her silky, black hair. “It won’t curl no matter what I do.”

“You’ll be thankful for your hair someday.”

“And my skin. It’s darker than all the other kids.”

“But aren’t they always trying to have tan skin?”

“None of them have to relive history all the time. They just get to be kids.”

“They don’t know who they are.”

“I just want to be myself.”

“And who are you?”

“Kachina Wildhorse.”

“Yes, yes you are.” Her grandfather kissed her cheek before walking back toward the house. “We’ll have our language class tomorrow.”

She wondered, what did it mean to be herself. Why was it important for her to be Kachina Wildhorse. She realized that it meant more than hair and skin and clothes.

Kachina closed her eyes and breathed in the air. She imagined a woman swirling and hopping and spinning. Fringes of every color swung around the woman’s body. Joy and sadness and loss moved through her motions. She danced like a butterfly as the men sang and hit the drums.

Eyes still closed, Kachina knew that dance linked her to the past. And it also propelled her into the future. Who they once were was what made them what they would become.

She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to embrace all that made her who she was. She opened her arms, letting the drum beat in her head move her body. Around and around.

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