Dancing to Remember

by Terra Trevor 

I am gathered with friends and family under a bead blue sky. Powwow weekend. Santa Ynez Chumash Inter-Tribal. My shawl is folded over my arm. I listen to the wind, spilling through the tree leaves. Time merges with timelessness. Memories circle and carry me to a day forty years ago, when I stood on this good land, near the oak tree for the first time, with my young children gathered about. 

The same tree I am standing under today. I lean my back against this oak. This tree, giver of life. She has raised a community with song, dance and prayer. We return to this land, to this tree, in October every year. Laughter, flirting and romance in lives young and old take place all around her. She stands sentry. Her autumn softened leaves, swept up from a cool mountain breeze, fall gently on American Indian fathers holding sleeping babies. Mothers trading stories, their shiny cut beads reflecting light while braiding their children’s hair, with feathers in the colors of the earth, trailing. 

There were difficult times too for this oak tree, when she witnessed wild fires raging, drought years with dust rising against the clear sky. The times when her branches sheltered human arguments and angry outbursts, but mostly she is surrounded by love and caring. 

I stand high upon a flat rock, my eyes roaming, taking in the day, the years. Filling my lungs with sweet fragrances of the damp Mother Earth. Feeling my body grow light, like the feathers of the red tail hawk touching the soft clouds. 

For the record I am not California Indian. I am mixed-blood Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca, and for forty years I have lived near a creek in an area that makes up the traditional Chumash homeland. I’m walking gently, a guest on this good land and I hold the culture, traditions and history of the Chumash people in my heart. For my Chumash friends this is their landscape of time. 

I remember the words of my aunties, my grandmother, about how each person is a link to history and that when it comes to powwows all Native people gathered around the arena are participating as we form a circle around the drums, singers and dancers. And how every Native person gathered is connected, making a statement that American Indian people are still here. This is our celebration of life past, present and future. 

First published in the Spring 2019, vol. 2, issue 3 of News From Native California, a quarterly magazine devoted to California's Indian peoples. This essay also appears in We Who Walk the Seven Ways: A Memoir by Terra Trevor.

Copyright © Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.

Terra Trevor is the author of We Who Walk the Seven Ways (University of Nebraska Press). She is a contributor to fifteen books in Native studies, Native literature, nonfiction and memoir. Her essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals including, Tending the Fire: Native Voices and Portraits (University of New Mexico Press), Children of the Dragonfly: Native American Voices on Child Custody and Education (The University of Arizona Press), The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal (University of Oklahoma Press), Unpapered: Writers Consider Native American Identity and Cultural Belonging (University of Nebraska Press), Voices Confronting Pediatric Brain Tumors (Johns Hopkins University Press), Take A Stand: Art Against Hate: A Raven Chronicles Anthology, and in numerous other books. Of mixed descent, including Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca and German, her stories are steeped in themes of place and belonging, and are shaped and infused by her identity as a mixed-blood, and her connection to the landscape. She is the founding editor of River, Blood, And Corn Literary Journal. terratrevor.com

River, Blood, And Corn Literary Journal: A Community of Voices

Copyright © 2010-2024. Individual writers and photographers retain all rights to their work, unless they have other agreements with previous publishers.We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.—Barry Lopez, in Crow and Weasel