Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Meeks Jackson

In the early morning hours of May 29, 2011, most people were asleep and outside it was pouring rain and the thunder roared like an oncoming train, but inside a Topeka hospital the circumstances were much different. The life of Meeks Jackson slowly slipped away but she was surrounded by the people she had influenced in her life and that had to mean something to her, some way, somehow! She was 88 years old.

I suppose in the grand scheme of life and history, her role will be minimized, but a closer examination has to be done before a conclusion like that is reached. I imagine we make suppositions like that all the time and it is a fact that it’s the same everywhere - some people make a difference, most don’t or some choose indifference and then life is soon over, no matter what. For me, you have to really understand the dynamics of a reservation to fully understand the loss of a tribal member of her magnitude.

In my day, I was heavily influenced by three people: Meeks, Maynard Potts and my Mother. All three are gone now. Again just as when we lost Maynard and Mom, the death of Meeks has to go down as a tremendous loss. All three of these old folks could have kept their knowledge of our ways to themselves but they didn’t. They shared their stories and it was up to us to listen. I have talked and written about Maynard and my Mother’s contributions and now I will relay some of Meeks work:

Meeks meant many things to many people and here is some commentary:

Venita Chenault said "she was indeed one of our most valued elders and both generous and patient with those who were learning.....

My Texas cousin Dianna Payne said “I will always remember Meeks and her kindness and patience. She never made me feel dumb or ashamed for not knowing traditions and was always willing to answer questions and share. She taught me to make traditional clothes so a part of her teaching will continue thru me in that way, and for that I am very thankful.

Robert Lara said “She was a treasure to us all and loved by us all. I remember her and my Grandmother talking Potawatomi and sewing all the time when I was little. I always felt safe and at home at Koya's house. She treated me so good my whole life and told me to do good for myself. I am trying my best. And I have her and all our other elders to thank. Megwetch!”

Ruta Mendez also commented on her time with Meeks “ She always reminded me of my Grandma Blanche and I know they were family also. So soft spoken and caring. My son, Gabes, worked at the Language Dept for 2 summers on youth program. Gabes really enjoyed working with Meeks and he learned a lot from her

And for some it was lighter moments with Meeks that they remembered as noted by Nathan Hale when he said “I think what I will remember the most is her humor....I loved joking around with her."

Joan Rebar told of some of her early life: “Meeks, Marjorie Wapp, Alberta Marshno used to all ride a horse to Sonny Brook (an old one-room school house) and they would sleigh ride together and do everything together because they were all within months of being the same age and live close. Mother is the oldest and Alberta was the youngest. We both have good memories of Meeks.”

Meeks believed in Potawatomi language and the value it has. I sat there with her and my mother for hours at a time listening to them talk the Indian language with each other.  I thought "they make it sound so easy." Eventually  I learned some of their words. I’m no fluent speaker, but if those two, along with Maynard, didn’t feel like telling me some of their beautiful language the loss would have been mine. My brother Eddie and I chose to learn prayer words from them, knowing we didn’t have time to learn more. We kept the scope narrow. We teach our kids and grandkids the words we learned from them. Maybe the language will be chumped off and go by the wayside, but why? Those old people believed in what they were doing and it's our faults for not learning sooner, now the opportunities are fast slipping by. Nowadays, some people value language and others couldn’t care less, but that is modern day life.

Nonetheless, Meeks wanted the language to continue. Now it's up to all her pupils to carry some of it on. If they do, it only cements her legacy. Will they? Only time will tell. If it doesn’t work out like that, we will still remember her for all the positive she brought to this patch of earth called the Potawatomi Reservation.

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