So I asked Leela about the "she thought we lived in tepees" bit in the Pocatello State News Blackfoot Morning News. Leela automatically said, "Oh you didn't say that to me. They got it wrong." Since the reporter seemed to get that I understood the discrimination Indians were facing, I'm going to assume she wasn't being malicious and misheard Leela and wrote the opposite.

EDIT: Correction. I was wrong to smear the name of the Pocatelo State Journal. It was the Blackfoot Morning News who put the bigoted words in my mouth, and they didn't talk to me.

Kids and adults )

Leela took me to the sundance grounds near buffalo lodge. They put sand down sand around two tall trees that serve as "telephone polls to God," and during the hottest part of the year, the men come here to dance, fast – no food, no drink -- and pray for several days. They have two other sundance sites on the rez where the women are allowed to participate, and being two of the few co-ed sundances in the country, Indians from all over make the pilgrimage here. LaNada and Emma both explained that the fast purifies the toxins out of your body, but also out of your mind and heart, allowing you to let go of old resentments and grudges. It's a way of recharging your batteries. It also creates a positive force that goes out to the Creator/God/Jesus, which is brought back to the earth from the sun. Leela hasn't done it yet, but she plans to on her 18th birthday.

Leela says there's also a hole to hell that's opened up on the reservation. It made me think of the Hellmouth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Leela describes it as more like the The Exorcist, with evil spirits plaguing people and increasing the death rate on the rez through murders and suicides. The sundances, she says, are effectively shrinking the hole.

The mythology is strong on the reservation, and I find it fascinating. For example, Emma's house has been visited by Big Foot or Sasquatch. The way Emma talks Big Foot is a real, living breathing animal from the mountains, a humanoid animal like perhaps giants. She says it has a weird womanly scream, and it imitates the dogs barking. She found a giant-size body print in the grass once, pee and berry-filled poo at about six feet high on her house and a piece of her roof torn off. She sent the poo to a Big Foot researcher, but he said it wasn't enough.

Leela, however, talks about Big Foot in the same breath as the "Little People" and I think the Little People are supposed to be spirits, not animals. She says there are four kinds of Little People, those that look like ankle-high people, those that look like little blue aliens (not Smurfs), those that look like sticks (yikes Blair Witch Project!), and those that look like shadows. Little People, I guess, don't bother you if you don't bother them, but Leela seemed scared of them, telling me never to stop on this one corner.

Leela told me about all sort of scary creatures:

Shapeshifters, who can take the form of people, dogs, birds, etc.

The Deer Woman, who just likes to mess with horny men, mostly (she has two legs, not four, so she can hide her deerness with skirts).

The Old Woman Without a Face, who haunts this particular stretch of road.

Skin Walkers, shape-shifters who come from rapists, murderers and practitioners of black magic, who can be identified by their black coats. They are said to kill people and eat them.

Water Babies who came from the days when white settlers forced Indian families off cliffs, to die in the water below. Water Babies look a little like Casper in the water, but you don't want to see them, because that means you're going to die.

And my favorite, Clowns, which are spirits, sort of like It, that have white-and-black stripes on their bodies and red around their eyes and lips. They basically are like poltergeist. They grab you and tickle you and scare the crap out of you.

When we were playing hide-n-seek, Leela said to me, "They say you should never play hide-n-seek at night, because the spirits hide with you." I couldn't figure out why we were doing it, then. I guess for the same reason kids play with Ouija boards and do Bloody Mary. Leela says most tribe members won't talk about the bad spirits, because it supposedly calls them. But she loves to tell ghost stories. She said, "If you want to see a spirit, you won't see one. But if you don't want to see a spirit (and I guess if you talk about it), you will."

I asked about Coyote a.k.a. the Trickster, but Leela dismissed him as an old legend, an ancient story that is fodder for children's stories. You know, a myth.



August 2010

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