My name is Sislka and I am a daughter of the Cherokee tribe and my mother is trying to battle for change. She wants a hospital but the tribe wants a casino. When money breeds war and greed breeds hate am I destined to end up like a dead fish?
“What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and losses itself in the sunset.” - Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and Orator
If you think you can ‘paint with all the colors of the wind’ think again. My father told when I was little the wind is colorless like glass. I think he gets that pessimistic view from his grandfather and so forth. The Cherokee (Tsa-la-gi) line has long been divided like the border of Canada you can cross it but you must have a stamp of approval first. He’s part of the ‘royal bloods’ as Americans have grown fond of calling full blooded Indians.
My line in the blood is like being a stain of mud on a pristine kitchen floor. The tribe would rather evict me out of it than allow me an even a cent for my life. But I am a girl, and in Indian world women are worth more no matter how obstructed or tainted our gigv. Which is the reason I am sitting inside our chef’s home listening to a debate of what to do with the new land reform bill we got.
I like to say the un-ne-ga people are the greedy ones but as I sit here counting the cracks in the ceilings they are not the only ones. Talk. Talk. Talk. Its all the elders ever wanted to do these days. Mother said making another casino was like growing a garden without any seeds. If money was all the tribe was after than making billions ff the un-ne-ga would be the way to go but if you want to strike an example among the millions of Indians a hospital would be richer.
Mother is a pristine beauty among the tribe. Bartered to give two men in the tribe sons but only one got lucky there. Dad the unlucky one. She was all his though. Did the deed with the other man to put money in Father’s pocket. End of story. My half brother pointed out to me once as she said “ Do not marry that boy for he is your ‘U-do’.
Clever as the tribe is it has its downfall aside from being all over history books. Rules are made to be followed and breaking them can mean exile. If you think for a second I am lying they already exiled my uncle for marrying outside of the tribe. Its ok to marry outside the tribe if you aren’t full blooded. Pacts are pacts.
“ Are you saying that you still want to reap in the old ideas of burning money to make money off the foolish Un-Ne-Ga?” Mother (E-Tasi) slammed her coffee fingers against the table. Silence resounded around the room aside from my breathless counting of the cracks. I think I am at about five hundred now give or take.
“No Aiyana. I am saying it is the best outcome with little risk. Your proposition carries more unexpected curves like a river. We need particular licensees and all we have for medical experience is living off the land.” Old geezer as I called him had a bead of water slipping down his face.
“The long term investment for the tribe is better made. Casinos can run dry like American Oil wells.”
“Yes but so can health insurance policies.” I blinked for a second losing my count before I glanced at my mother’s deep charcoal eyes focused in intent. She wasn’t going to back down. They said her spirit animal when born was a tiger. A beast never meant to be tamed and rightfully so grandfather said. It might just bite him in the behind now.
“Paco, Give your child some leeway here. After all, she did practice the ways of the Un-Ne-Ga medicine.” A smirk leaked its way across her blemishless face. Did I forget to mention a rainstorm thundering across the land at the moment? Pitter pattering from the drops echoed inside the small house. Contrary to belief we don’t live in huts anymore. A pitty.
“Leeway is all she’s ever been given, and she couldn’t even produce her husband a boy.” Harsh reality is grand-dad gave no shits about softening punches like butter. The other elders jotting down words of scribble on paper took no heed to his gun shots towards her. If anything her pride long lost along the shores of the eastern sea.
“I don’t have time to waste over bickering about my child rearing body. The soul doesn’t chose its gender. When you are done voting please place votes in the box at the center of the table. Paco, can pick them out and like a good game of who got the short end of the straw he can relay your votes.” She uncurled her knuckles looking satisfied with the turn of events.
I wasn’t much for the politics of the tribe. All I care about is getting home in time to watch Adult Swim and scurry away into home work for school. Mother refused to send me off to Indian schooling. I wore a uniform and dressed up like a high society Un-Ne –-Ga.
This kept me away from learning more about the tribe. It kept me out of high political issues which meant my blood never came up in the conversation only her child rearing skills. Failure a continuous drone from our neighbors.
I got called an Un-Ne-Ga lover by other children. Sticks and stones can hurt but words will never cut deeper than the mental wall you build for yourself. A going lie is that words don’t hurt. I think words are the reason I have disdain for so many tribe members. Mother keeps preaching the kids didn’t know any better. That’s a load of horse radish on an uncooked burger. But I won’t say nothin about it. I’ll be the good little daughter in front of the elders.
Around the table’s chairs each had a towel of color to promote the position of those sitting in it. I thought it a silly idea when we could just do a single throne and everyone else line up like soldiers. Paco would love the idea of ruling over everyone but in the council of elders everyone had the power to vote against the cheftens final verdict.
Tonight is not the night we find out the thunderstorm has gifted us a curse. My mother slid out of her chair having nothing more to say. Father waited for her to leave the room before he muttered an apology and headed to me.
“Sisika come on. Stop counting the cracks in the wall, they will never tell the secrets that lie here.” He reached out his hand for me but like the true teenager I am- my hand swept passed his as I headed out the door.
Mother slammed our front door as if it was an enemy. Lilac innocence wafted pass my nose as I passed our hallway for that lead to my room. I will tell you a thing or two about being an only child. I am invisible like the wind half the time. Always counting cracks like lost love.
My room strewn over with posters of the latest anime, and books that came out. I couldn’t decide what to do with my bookshelf so its just sitting along the side of the wall awkwardly misplaced. The books I have some of Native American traditions, and others more common like Harry Potter or Queen of the Damned by Ann Rice (a book not allowed to me sat lining the top shelf.
Aqua walls decorated a pale ceiling like flowers on a gravestone. No computer, no television, just books, and toys littering the pink carpeted floor. Somehow my parents forget taste in designing rooms but I doubt they did the work on it.
Collapsing on my comfortable sheets I found safety in the pillows. Mother would be up all night drinking Un-Ne-Ga red whine and flipping through channels like a mad-woman till dawn approached.
I awoke to the oddest sound like the flickering of fuzz on our old television but from the outside. Dawn long approached our yard. I glanced out the window to see a small puttering blue car parked in our drive way. Strange.
Horses neighed off our farm alerting the dawn of their awakeness. Father tended to the farm everyday without fail leaving house chores and paper matters to mother. I rose from my bed groggily wiping my eyes as I threw on a T-shirt about loving the weekend, and slipping on shorts as I yanked through my thick hair.
I ran downstairs curiosity burning inside me. Standing in our front door my mother had her thin arms folded with a frown stretching across the wasteland of her face. Montega in front of her had his buff arms crossed as well. Your traditional stand off when two families have yet to come to terms with facts. He’s a well dressed man for the most part, and the daddy of my half brother who has never seen my face upon the reserve.
“Aiyana,” I could hear the distinct slam of our backdoor as father crawled his way into the living room ignoring the ruckus of the man who paid him for a child. “Are you serious about the hospital thing? My wife in tears sobbed to me that such an idea would be dismissed.”
“Montega are you here for moral support or to ask for a second child?” Her eyes spotted me out of the corner of the slits. I slinked my head down wanting to know more.
“I am here to tell you that you have my father’s blessing.” Montega puffed smoke out of his pipe trying to look at the sky as if it’ll tell the secrets. “But not mine. A casino can run us rich with billions of dollars but a wee little hospital...well that’s an Un-ne-Ga solution to problems.”
“Your always a chaser for Un-ne- ga dough. You like to run to the greens as if they grew on your own farm. Montega, your already a gamblin man, you don’t need to run a casino to prove that your corn grows the best.”
“Sure I do. But Aiya-” I gulped. No one but dad used that on her and got away with it. A twitch of her fingers and I caught the sight of war painted on her face.
“You can leave.” My father snuck past me tossing a few apples towards Montega. I twirled to the kitchen to grab my lunch box(a picture of an Evee on the front) and zip past the adults towards our bard. I road a horse to school. Most kids took a yellow prison.
I named my horse Thunder after a storm catapulted through our reserve and knocked over my favorite tree. He’s a stallion all raven colored, with deep eyes that make me believe he’s a freedom fighter. Soft fur like a fluffy bedding, and hooves that pounded made him my soul mate of a creature. No other creature could speak to my heart like him.
Thunder neighed as I approached our rouge barn made of fifteen stalls. One for each of the tribe that chose to house their horse’s with us, and three of those for our house. My backback slung behind me as I raced to greet the neighing joy ahead of me. He started to gallop towards that gate of the open half of his stall hooving the sand in desperation. Father said no one in the tribe could calm his soul and it took me a crying girl to manage to make the strong stallion break. He said it was my eyes.
Thunder hated halters or anything that kept him restrained. I jumped the metal fence to land hard in his stall, slinging my body onto his sitting form, and leaped over the rail with him. Riding on him like the taste of freedom in the wind.
The school’s abrasive metal gates denied my horse access like its a criminal. Kids stared as I road past them for the barn allowing thunder to shovel dust in their face. Thunder got reigned up like a house horse whining the entire time to the stable hand. I turned from the stable hand to stare Justin Rayback in the face.
Justin scrunched his lips at the sight of me. Here we go. “If isn’t miss stink like a farm.” My mouth clenched at the words as I trudged past him elbowing his rib just a bit. A city boy knew nothing about the work on the land, and worse yet I was the only Native American in the school. Call it a curse but boys never looked once at me.
Aqwa high-school with walls like a mental hospital and teachers that breathe down our neck felt more like an enclosed jail for trouble kids. My first period rounded with mathematics a subject much like death, and sleep for me. I could add but put calculus on my desk and I’m out like a light.
I slugged from first period to second which is my favorite class of the entire school. English. A class that other kids detest but my best friend Savannah and me. Our English classroom has no desks. No desks meant we sat crisscrossed on the floor like grade schoolers without assigned seats.
The room littered with quote posters about reading, and writing along with shelves of books that we could borrow as we wish. Mrs. Cajile believed English is not just a grind of grammar, and paper work. She preached that English is about stories. Savannah a dark skinned reptile( as other classmates called her) tended to be a loner like me. Her dark skin like wet sand brought out the leafy green eyes she had. A beautiful girl with a sparky personality from the inner city.
“Sisika,” Her bony finger poked my rib. “Did you read the chapter assigned to us for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer stone? My eyes balled out tears.”
“I read more than just that chapter.” Smirking back at her I passed over a note that would give her some insight on the ahead chapters. We are like Lassie and his dog. Too attached to each other to ever leave.
We headed for third period an art class littered with the types of kids who made paper airplanes just to fly them at people. Savannah hated it. We ditch to go feed my horse in the stables where the stable hand gently discusses with us the power of politics, and my tribes relation to movement in the state.
Back on the reserve
Telutci (Sislka father) sipped on a milky caramel substance from an old mug. His dark eyes zeroing in on the reservation’s latest newspaper.
War against Casino rages
Paco declares no interest in hospital. Votes are in, but have yet to be revealed. Learn more next addition.
He heaved a sigh shutting the page in exasperation. Newspapers allows painted words out for blood these days. Truth is it might turn out more bloody. Murder on the reserve is not illegal and Aiyana keeps spitting out atrocious ideas that might just get her name in a casket. Paco is not the kind of dad to sugar coat.
If his memory served correctly Paco killed the middle son to prevent the reserves name from being tarnished or branded off the charts in Native American history. Yes, the Cherokee hold up in history but are we the best clan in the nation? No. We just unleashed a lot of blood, and Siloaki was no stranger to blood.
Telutci winced as sirens whirled past his home. One day he hoped those sirens would never make it to his.
"Our land is everything to us... I will tell you one of the things we remember on our land. We remember that our grandfathers paid for it –with their lives."- John Wooden Legs, Cheyenne
Sing me the song of your people, and I’ll tell you about the war on mine. Bands of pale oranges danced on the roofs of houses as my horse skidded to a stop just above the reservation. Thunder neighed welcoming all the horses down below to their stallion. Echoes of the horses response reached my ears. Down the slope the first house on the reservation is grandpa’s and he’s become accustomed to passing me baked goods for home as I pass.
Ironically, the old shack of Grandpa's built out of marble with an American flag dancing off a side pole always made me cringe. I’ve never been positive if its there to remind us of the slaughter of our people, or the bond we never made with the UN-Ne-Ga.
Burnt toast wafted around me like someone forgot to turn down the toaster, and out popped four pieces of charred rock. Not the usual smell of sweet roses or horse dung that rung from the land. Grandpa per usual in his tan robe sat smoking a cigar and watching the stars with a tin of cookies next to him.
“ Sislka, you mind sitting next to me for a bit?” Plumes of gray lifted with the pushy wind. I set thunder beside the well in his front yard. Mother disliked Granpa but never told me not to talk to him.
“What is it granpa?”
“Did you ever hear the story of the house of silver fox?” He shook his locks of graying hair as time etched its way on his face. Silver fox had a place in our traditions origin stories but I knew little. Folk tales tended to stay locked in gramps generation.
“Only that he was part of our creation.” Never insult an elder. The words wrung inside my head like a bell. Gramps started rocking the rickety wood porch swing he built back in his earlier years.
“’Nobody shall ever come in here,’ and he left a strong wind to guard his sweat house. No one dares go there for a whirlwind blows up out of it, makes a noise like thunder, and only shamans can go near. But whoever enters is turned to stone inside. Wolf and Silver-Fox left their power there. Even now, wolves will catch people that come near, and whoever gets inside, turns to white rock.” The chirping of owls off the range whipped around me in the wind. Chilling.
Mid-Summer and my revealed skin felt like ice. Grandpa wasn’t one for telling meaningless stories but the meaning in it remained lost in me. “Grandpa, why would people try to go near a place that would turn them to stone?”
“Desire sweetie, Its powerful like a drug, and it will kill us.” He puffed out more smoke nearly choking on the air. He bent down slowly to give me the familiar package of oatmeal cookies that only mother ate. I sniffed the burnt toast air hoping back on Thunder’s back. Granpa’s words haunting me as the still of the quite seven O’ clock night whispered in my ear.
Coming up to the family stable the pungent burnt toast smell over took everything. Covering my nose like I was walking by dog crap I noticed the house across the road in shambles. My breath escaped me as it dawned on me. My cousins home caught on fire. Charred crisp like over burned toast.
I leaped off thunder leading him into the barn smelling of horse dung and hay. My hands yanked open the stall sounding like a rattling barrel of a gun as it slammed shut in front of thunder. Another stall shutting caught me by surprise. Father?
“Sislka just the daughter I wanted to see.” The parka on him tainted by particles of cinder from the fire next door. His hand cleanly washed ready to feed the beggars of the night.
“Can you share your room with your cousin?” Dread waved over me. Bits of black cinder pasted on his coffee skin. Tolls from working spread in lines on his face. Many claiming he’s getting too old to tend to the horses, and be the tribes chief fire-fighter.
“Do I have to?” My voice reminded me of when I was five and my mother asked me to mix up our mashed potatoes and all I did was whine back. His hand busy dusting the empty stalls made it hard to see if his silence was a form of affirmation or if he got lost in his own thoughts.
Sprays from luminous light made his three gray hairs twinkle under the flickering florescent light in the stables. Not a word. His muscles kept lifting the broom as he kept at it like a soldier. Back in the day, I hear he use to be fought over by women but my mother being the only trophy he desired. I turned veering for the large exit door of the barn.
“Sislka, wait.” I twisted on my sneakers to see him placing the broom against a stall. “Your Etlogi asked if you could spare your cousin some clothes. I told her its up to you.”
“My clothes too dad? Can’t they have Montega take them in? I mean he birthed a cousin for her as well.” The words slipped and I could feel the power of getting out of sharing my room draining like a faucet. I angered the bear. A giant Gris-sly bear.
“If your going to give me lip I will mandate that you give up your room and sleep in the barn till your attitude adjusts. You know what..yea. Sleep in the barn. Father’s orders.” I heaved a sigh yearning to stomp away in defiance. But like gravity my feet planted to the cement of the barn.
“I’m not giving you lip Father. I just want my clothes all to myself.”
“Selfish.” He muttered the words under his breath as if my ears couldn't pick up the echo. I’m my parents disappointment. A girl refusing to go tribe school and rather blend with Un-Ne- Ga. No better than Grandpa. “Your going to do as I say or else mother will transfer you out of that Un-Ne-Ga school you love.”
I gulped down any words of refute mustering in my mind. Muffles of groaning from an empty stall further away from us echoed. Dad twisted around huffing a sigh. “Chilam,”
We walked over to Chilam seeing a girl about my age with curled locks of short raven hair, and blue eyes sprinkling out droplets. Chilam Cowake. My cousin who housed her mare next to thunder. My words choked in my throat like a raging fire. Regret..tasted like this.
“Chilam,” I sounded like an Alien from outer-space. She use to tease me like all the other tribal kids about me growing up with big boobs, or too flat chested, and that my skin would turn pale like an Un-Ne-Ga’s. Gum got stuck in my hair once because of her. “I’ll give you a shirt or two. Please,” Father gave me a dirty look for trying to cover up my tracks.
“Your going to share a room with her one way or another. Quite those tears,” His voice softened as he leaned down to pat her tears away like she was three all over again. I despised Chilam. The burnt toast smell making sense.
Standing up Chilam wiped her face with the back of her tawny hands. A faded pink tank top, and ripped jean shorts making her look like one of those girls at school who try too hard for attention. I hear through the grapevine she’s sought after by many.
Ice eyes looked at me locking me down. Looked like we were about to share hell for a bit. Father gripped her hand leading her away from me and as he turned to look back at me I could see the words forming “stay here tonight” along his lips.
Neighing from the horses, and a container of cookies kept me occupied for all of about an hour. Time ticked by and the hollow in my stomach began to rumble. Footsteps bleeding against the pavement to the barn resounded. “Waytte.”
The barn doors charged open. Mother stood with her arms crossed over the thin blue T-shirt she’s wearing. A man who looked identical to Granpa’s younger years stood next to her. My uncle. The one who avoided me like I was crap underneath his shoe.
“Sislka, don’t make me worry.” The rumbling in my stomach sounded like an earthquake. Waytte is our word faith. Which has no place in my mother’s vocabulary as far as I remember. “You have a Waytte ceremony next week, and you can’t attend smelling like the horses.”
“Aiyana don’t be rude.” My uncle’s rare but deep voice sharp as a knife. “Go on home Sislka, your cousin will be in misery as is about losing everything. She’ll need you to get her through it.”
“Like I needed her back when the tribe kids decided throwing rocks at the chieftens grand-daughter made for entertainment?” Poison belched out of my mouth. Words I can’t take back are all I have to say. My birthday’s in a week along with my “Waytte” or coming of age ceremony which is a big deal to my people but not me.
“You are still holding a grudge against my daughter for that?”
“Dayami, please,” My mother reached out to touch her brother’s shoulder in a calming tone. Our tribe has a policy to let go, and move on. Such a policy went against my survival tactics at school.
“I am.” Dayami’s charcoal face turned into a furnace. The burned up jeans at his feet, and tattered shirt proving how close to death my uncle got. I’m sure he could hear the raven trying to yank his soul away.
“You were six. Get over her child hood behavior. She’s different now.”
“No different than back then.” I smirked. Its silly but angering Dayami felt nice. A good slap against tradition. Mother stomped past me picking up the oatmeal cookies I detested, and yanking me by the arm to follow her out of the barn.
Dayami punched a stall door a few times before stepping in line with us. She practically tossed me up our front porch steps which had the Cherokee flag hanging, swung open the door, and shoved me into the house. My smirk only grew bigger at the amount of attention she gave me tonight.
The door slammed behind me and Father with his arms crossed whistled. Whistling a bad sign from him. “In preparation of your Waytte ceremony we are going to restrict you from your room.” I heaved a sign. Great. All my anime posters are now Chilam’s to use against me.
My eyes rolled in defiance. I plopped down on the carpet cris-crossing my feet as Father threw a book at my lap. The title of the book “One good story, that one” by Thomas King. Aside from homework I would have to read this little dime to make up for my attitude to my parents.
Hours went by before Mother came calling down the stairs that lights were to be out. Sharing the living room with my uncle Dayami lead to nightmares crawling behind my eyes. I tossed, turned, woke up in a silent scream, and did all over again till beads of morning sunshine bleed through our windows.
Loud banging on our front door caused Dayami and I to toss around before waking. Rays of light spread across the room flickering off the living room mirror like a disco ball. Who could be trying to get a hold of us at this hour?
Dayami yanked the front door open his face a scowl of disdain for the poor sap on the other side of the door. Standing before us stood the tribe’s mail man holding a tiny envelope between his fingers directed for mother. “Dayami, tell her the results came in.”
“I’d rather my sisters ideals be pushed under the rug. ” The mail man chuckled in nervousness. Our door shut in his face as my uncle limped up the stairs having hurt his left ankle during the fire trying to save Chilam. Her mother hasn’t returned home from the trip up North.
“Aiyana,” My uncle knocked on the master bedroom door. His hand with the envelope shaking.
“Go away. Let me sleep.” Mother’s sleep habits reminded me of mine on the weekends. Sleep till noon, wake up, clean, or watch television.
“The mail man dropped off the results.” Both my parents knew the name of the local tribe mail man but neither cared to address him by name. Its an insult by my family like an unspoken agreement. I could hear mother groaning in respite as she climbed out of bed, wrapped on a blue robe, and swung open the door to yank the envelope from her brother. Father left hours ago to continue to investigate the fire.
She slammed the oak door in our face another habit my family acquired through inheritance. Dayami went back down the stairs leaving me like a helpless child staring at her door. Tears dripped down my face as I heard the paper tearing and her hiccups of sadness coming out of her breathe.
I headed downstairs hoping my uncle would shower to rid the scent of charred clothes from my nose. My body automatically went to my pristine kitchen to open the fridge and systematically eat pickles.