We were out walking in the suburbs, like we do, when we heard the music—drums and voices like weather, water and wind. We followed ‘til there was no more sidewalk, just an empty lot between houses too fine to be anything but empty and for sale. There was dirt and thistle and at the back of the lot, a fence. You said you’d toss me over it—showed me your hands laced together like the bucket of a catapult. I wasn’t sure you’d be able to hoist yourself after me and I refused long enough to find a gate, mud drifted over its bottom edge, burying it closed. We kicked and kicked, like pocket gophers, until the dirt moved and we could squeeze through the gate, into the hayfield behind the houses. Elmer Rattlesnake, the voice on the Pow-wow microphone, called over the field.
“And there you have it…”
We found the road—oiled dirt, tire ruts marked with gravel like trails of bread crumbs—and we moved through the darkness, toward the voices. If this was ficton it would have been too much for me to write that the moon was full, that it was a blue moon. But it was—a real-life blue moon, which, of course, was not blue but orange with the low, dirty haze rising from the hot city to the south.
At the Poundmaker gate, men at a campfire were calling hello and inviting us inside. It was what we wanted but we told them no thank you, hearing the music from the road is enough, we said, saying, without saying, that we are unworthy and we know it and deserve to be left outside. But they stood up from their lawn chairs, told us, “Tansi” and, “Follow the orange snow-fence, duck the trees, and you’re there.”
There was tobacco and fries with gravy, hand-made jewelry in trays, beautiful young men with bustles of eagle feathers illegal for everyone but them to own, checking their phones between numbers. We didn’t have our phones. When we left home, it was just for a short walk and there was no need. No white-faced Pow-wow selfies for us. Which is for the best. Everyone knows taking pictures of something human and ancient and not our own can take your soul away.
There was a lag between formal dances and the community took the field. Blue jeans and running shoes, dads with babies in their arms, aunties with young girls at their sides, dancing forward in rays, families turning in a slow wheel beneath the lights. It was rhythmic but not merely a march. There was footwork, learned movements—skipping, stomping, spinning.
Elmer Rattlesnake was on the microphone again, making the last call for the jingle-dress dancers. Reminding the crowd about the moon and calling for noise. I made it with my hands, clapping.
This is what my father taught me, a little girl raised in boreal towns near the Reserves where he worked, a grown young woman visiting Reserves as a hired specialist herself. Honor the invitation by keeping still. Speak when spoken to. Keep the small pox to yourself. Bow your head when the prayer is said. You will never speak more than a word or two of the language. Don’t dare pretend to know more. But listen anyway. Listen. For the love of everything, listen.
It was all so beautiful, all love and joy—the kind that made me lonely even sitting beside you in the bleachers. The seats were set in a circle–always, I remember, always circles.
It was time to go. Our children were at home in bed and didn’t know where we’d gone—would never imagine it was here. We had to go. As we moved through the crowd, young women eyed my hair—the blond flag against my back. Is that a dye-job? It’s not a dye-job. It was real, it was mine, there was nothing I could do about it.
We moved on. And in the crowd, beside a man dressed in traditional Blackfoot clothing, was a man in a kilt. He was there celebrating his heritage as a member of a First Nation. But he also had an ancestral claim to a dark blue and green kilt fastened with a family pin. It’s how my great-great-great grandfathers dressed when they came to North America as soldiers, fresh out of Scotland, two centuries ago. It was identical to a garment hanging in my own closet, through the trees, over the fence, and into the suburbs. I stared at him, the way the girls had stared at me seconds before. Without speaking, I stared at this man, outside the circle, still a brother.