Monday, June 28, 2010

The Day the Music died in Indian Topeka

Maybe you’re getting old when…you look around and do a head-count and suddently realize that a lot of your friends have died. Some have died young, and others were too old to die young. A case in point is the Potawatomi song-maker Gary Cooper. He died today. I knew Gary every since we were kids. His Dad Walter Cooper taught school in Delia, Kansas and they had a house right down the street from the school. We went to school there only briefly, but that was the first memory I had of him playing in that front yard.

Over the years, my brothers and I would run across him at different events. He was a friendly guy and became a life-long friend. He was a cousin to one of our old friends Vernon Yazzie. Vernon went to the same school as us and we stayed at each others homes and this was how we would often run into Gary Cooper in our excursions into t-town.  In revisionist history, they are called excursions.Vernon was one of those guys who died young.

Gary started a band and played in every honky-tonk in the area, sometimes twice. He must have made a decent living at it because he played right up until the bitter end, but truthfully our chosen hobby doesn’t’ pay the bills, so Gary did some roofing work with his dad in a day job. They had a house in North Topeka. We grew up on the reservation and he in the big city. Our paths crossed many times over the years, but as it happens in life, we rarely saw each other in the last few years because my focus changed to family and family type events. Gary never did marry and stayed close with the guitar.

The last time I saw Gary was the Potawatomi Gathering held here last year. He played up on the stage and I dropped by to see him and when I was leaving he said “I’m going to dedicate the next song to Gary Mitchell.” He did that to a lot of people beside me and it made us feel good for a second or two. He was in a wheel-chair and his health had steadily declined over the last few years, but he did what he liked until he couldn’t anymore. Around these parts there were few Indian bands, but there was a song-maker once, his name was Gary Cooper.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Old boxing stories

I ran across an old clipping from the Holton Recorder and this guy named Jim Hoy wrote an article called: Jess Willard was the Pottawatomie Giant. According to the story Willard was the World Boxing Champion from 1913 to 1919. “As a fighter, he was variously nicknamed the “Kansas Giant” or the “Pottawatomie Giant, but whether this latter sobriquet came from the county he lived in or from the Indians with whom he traded horses on the reservation in neighboring Jackson County, I don’t know.”

I remember talking to Maynard Potts, who at the time was in his 90s, about Willard. Maynard had a great memory and could tell some great episodes of Potawatomi life.  He said there used to be a store on the southwest side of the reservation and Willard was just starting out in boxing and the Indian boys from around the reservation would go down there and try him out, but would always lose. This was a funny story.

Monday, June 21, 2010

All is quiet on the home front

Around here everything is quiet on the home front. The Pow-Wow has come and gone. The rains come and the heat stifles the air the next moment and the rains come again, but that’s the way it is in the summer time. But those conditions can only help our gardens. The tribal elections are getting closer. The expectations are low so it’s not that exciting. The Potawatomi Gathering is coming up in August but that is in Oklahoma, a place hotter than here.

So we have to cross the borders of this reservation to find some real excitement. In Missouri, a farmer put up a sign in his field that said “Democrats – Party of the Parasites,” and although it is in an area of Republicans, somebody took exception to his yard art and set it afire, not once but twice. Funny! But there is more to this guy's story: He received more than $1 million in federal crop subsidies since 1995.  Around here, they don’t put up political signs –yet, but they could get burned too.  Who really knows? While we are on the Missouri topic, the Royals are not in last place but pretty damn close.

Tiger didn’t win the U.S. Open but the poor guy still ended up with a pretty fair paycheck of $300,000. They say part of his game is gone and maybe it will come back, maybe not. I personally wouldn’t count him out just yet. A lot of people couldn't care less what happens with some of these pro athletes because of their feelings of entitlement and their attitudes of being above others, but this is Sports America.

In the Deep South, first they get a horrible hurricane and now oil is going everywhere ruining their environment and seashores. Some say it’s the price you pay for a view but it also is affecting their livelihoods and that isn’t good.  The politicians will make some empty promises and soon will forget them.  Yet, that isn't good for the people who depend on the sea or the fish-consumers of the world either.

On a sad note, we lost three people here: Mike Jensen, Dale Thomas and Wesley Begay. Age or cancer took their lives. Death is an inescapable truth here and everywhere. I knew all three men and they each made their own marks on this life. Life does go by fast, make the most of it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Busy Weekend Again!

In many parts of the country, there are oil spills, storms and flash floods causing extensive damage and deaths to wildlife and humans alike. Here there wasn't anything of that magnitude, but there were challenges. On the Prairie Band Reservation the 2010 Pow-Wow survived some heavy rains and some hellious humidity, but between rain-falls the pow-wow was completed in its entirety.

There were people from all over joining the celebration and vendors everywhere. It was all good. I’m glad they had a good experience coming to our reservation. The most important thing that these pow-wows can do is highlight the progress the tribe has made over the last few years. The only real drawback is that everybody can't win.  Some make big money, others don't.  That's the way of the pow-wow.

I missed parts of it because I attended my nephews wedding. I’ve been around Willie Potts since he was a baby and now he’s 35 years old and married. He asked me to come to the ceremony and say a prayer in our language and I’m glad I could help him out. I also count his parents as long-time friends. I don't have many of those so its important to keep the ones you have. Why?  You'd want at least a few people at your funeral. An old coon-hunter told me once after I told him I was getting into the frying pan of tribal politics 20 some years ago:  "now you will find out who your friends are,"  and I've found out his words were true. There was a lot of hard work planning the wedding and everything went well. The company was good. The food was good. I imagine that day will be a positive experience for both Willie and Tracy. After it was over, we went home to rest and later we caught the evening performance at the pow-wow.

On Sunday, I stayed home and did some work. I figure the pow-wow would go on without me and it did. My daughter told me that the work could wait until after the pow-wow.  True, but I just can't tell my inner self that yet. I was able to get most of my yard mowed and did some more organizing in my workshop. I told my wife that I will get organized before I cash in the chips and I will. I put up a new mailbox that my sister-in-law gave us. It came from Canada. I just hope the young hoodlums who go around  bashing mailbox’s will leave this one alone, but with that said they probaby will do just that.  My neighbor gave up and rented a post-office box to get his mail.

We packed in a lot this weekend and by Sunday night I was fairly tired. I slept so hard that I didn’t hear the storm outside and I guess there were tornado warnings everywhere. The rain was good for the garden. It rained close to 4” here.  Now the Potawatomi Gathering is next, but we are not sure we are going yet.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Michelle Obama meets a Potawatomi girl

My granddaughter Tara was able to meet the First Lady, Michelle Obama.  Her husband Dawson was part of the Marine Corp security provided for the First Lady in her visit to San Diego.  Tara was able to sit in one of the front rows.  Ms. Obama made a visit to encourage the Marines and their families.  Tara said she "felt pretty blessed to meet the first African-American First Lady.  She's a beautiful and wise woman." This happened today at Camp Pendleton.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pow-Wow thoughts!

Our annual pow-wow is this weekend and the weather is suppose to great until maybe Saturday night when the rains are threatening to drop by, but it’s also an opportunity to have a good time, no matter your political affiliation.  It's a time to watch the dancers do their thing. The food promises to be good, I promise. The stands have a lot to offer.  The grounds are a great sight for new visitors to our reservation. And it will be a good time to see some old friends like the mc -Wallace Coffy of Oklahoma, an old friend and a battle-scarred politician who can tell you a couple of stories.

My girl Joanna (a.k.a. Juana; Dumplins or Dumps) has worked constantly in the evenings and weekends on the crown for the pow-wow princess. I imagine she is happy it is finished, because it was some real time-consuming work. Her work is top-of-the –line. It sure appears to me she has the patience and that would be a requirement in beadwork.  But, don't take my word for it though, look at the picture on the right and judge for yourself!

Beadwork does seem hard to do, at least in my estimation, and it’s good to know it won’t die out. It isn’t easy the way Stephen Strasburg made it look when he struck out 14 batters in his first game with the Washington Nationals last night. The boy was throwin the fastball 100 mph and that is awesome, at least it looked that way on the highlights.

His debut was on another ESPN channel, but I watched the Woman’s College World Series on another station.  I watch the series every year. Those girls are excellent athletes and I watched quite a few games. I do have to apologize to my yard for not mowing during these games, but what do you do? Softball was part of so much of my adult life and it’s hard to give up.

Enough tangents, the pow-wow is almost upon us and it will be worth your time to attend and another bonus - the politicians will be out in force kissin babies and their mommas if given the opportunity.  That too is a must-see!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pow-Wow time!

Over the holiday weekend, we loaded up the family and drove to Black River Falls, Wisconsin. Our main reasoning for leaving our reservation was to take part in a tribal ceremony they were having for my granddaughter's husband, but that soon fell through when he missed his plane in San Diego. But, we improvised and made the most of it and watched the Ho Chunk Veteran’s Pow-Wow.

Right off I ran into Billy Daniels, afamous guy from the Forest County Potawatomi. I’ve known Billy for a good long while now. The first time I met Billy was at a service in Wisconsin back in the early 1990s. I was impressed with him since he knew the tribal language and the Indian ways. He has come down to our rez a few times and attended our services and has stayed at my home, so it was good to see him again.

The kids danced and I sat under the nearest shade since it was fairly hot. The announcer said they had over 380 dancers, a pretty good total since it wasn’t a contest pow-wow. I like going to pow-wows to watch the people, dancers, visit on occasion and look at the stands. There is some great beadwork and craftwork out there and I imagine it takes some time to make them so the prices are probably right. I have nothing to compare it to since I have no artistic talent.

After the pow-wow the kids swam in a nearby swim area with a beach, if you imagine a beach in Wisconsin. And they swam in the hotel pool again when we got back. We kept some late hours which ran against the grain for us old folks but it was nothing for the kids. I think they enjoyed the trip. They swam, danced and filled their bellies and got to see something different. It was a good start on their summer vacation and as I remember summer doesn't last long enough when your in school.

We stopped at a casino on the way there and spent the night and won enough gas money to get to the next casino. It was a good experience to see how other Indians conduct their pow-wows and run their gaming operations. Our pow-wow is coming up June 11-13 and I hope it is a good experience for everybody.

Wisconsin used to be our home-20 and I can see why we were removed. It is a beautiful area, lot of trees, great looking farm-land and hilly. On the way there I did most of the driving and I got to pass some old people three or four times which is pretty unusual for me since they usually pass me up. Isn’t that sad to have something like that make you feel good?

A bit of advice for you summer travelers: don’t talk to strangers unless their paying you a jackpot, drive the speed limit or maybe a couple of miles over and don't charge too much because the bills will hit the mailbox sooner or later. On the home-front have somebody watch your house and don’t tell nobody your gone, because you might have all your stuff gone when you get back. It’s nice to get away on occasion, but home is where it’s at for me.