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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 1, March 2019
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Keitha Keyes
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Stepping Out

Apache, Comanche, Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Sioux, Blackfoot, Kiowa, Cree . . .

Names of Native American tribes I first heard about in cowboy and Indian movies I saw in Australia a long time ago. Today I am in Oklahoma City to see a powwow. Over 1,000 dancers, singers, and drummers will perform, and I am eager to learn about them and their cultures.

Change rooms overflow with people discarding their everyday garments. They emerge wearing buckskins, moccasins, eagle feathers, porcupine quills, beading, and lots of turquoise.

replacing
his baseball cap
with a war bonnet . . .
a chief strides
into the stadium

Groups of singers gather round huge drums on the perimeter of the arena. They take it in turns to provide the music for the dancers.

The "Chicken Dance" imitates the mating ritual of the prairie chicken grouse and requires great feats of athleticism.

the dancers
strutting, challenging . . .
testosterone
in a blur
of colour and energy

By contrast, the "Women's Southern Buckskin Dance" is slow and graceful. The dancers create an illusion of moving forward while making a swaying motion on the spot. I've read that buckskin dresses, decorated with beadwork, can weigh up to fifty pounds.

The "Women’s Jingle" is a dance of healing. Dresses feature many rows of jingles made from old tobacco tin lids shaped into cones. Each jingle represents a prayer someone has entrusted to the dancer. With each step that she takes, all the jingles sound together like little bells and create a musical accompaniment to the song.

I listen
to the tinkling
of the jingle dancer
and wonder at
the power of prayer

There is even a competition for "tiny tots."

moccasins stomp
to the beat of a drum
children
retell the stories
they too will pass on

As I leave the arena at the end of the powwow, my thoughts drift to the indigenous peoples of my home country Australia.

Eora, Cadigal, Antakirinja, Arrente, Burranbinja, Dharawal, Pitjandera . . .

To my shame I know very little about them.

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