Several hours ago I sat down to write a blog article. I had a topic I wanted to share, and I began browsing YouTube for moving pictures to illustrate my story. It was going to be a piece about two things I love—Native American powwows and the Fancy Shawl dance. It will have to wait for another time.
While looking for just the right dance competition video I stumbled upon a homemade video of a Choctaw wedding ceremony that took place somewhere in Oklahoma last summer. A Choctaw wedding ceremony is very beautiful and filled with intriguing ritual, so I thought I might spend a few minutes drawing whatever “feel good” energy I could from watching the ceremony. What I got was an altogether different result.
As the video played it felt good to share in the joy of the young couple beginning a new life together, but watching the video also brought on another more powerful feeling—an overwhelming feeling of sadness. As I continued to watch, sadness fell over me like a heavy, suffocating blanket, and soon all thought of Fancy Shawl dancing was driven out of my consciousness. What I was seeing on my monitor was breaking my heart.
Though there is nothing in the text accompanying the video on YouTube that says so, I have a feeling that the video was posted with the intention that it be viewed by family and friends of the bride and groom. I don’t imagine the couple ever thought the video would form the basis of a blog discussion, and for that reason I have decided not to post the video here. I think I can explain what it was that made me sad without showing you the video. I am going to try.
First, let me set the scene. As the video opens the bride and groom, parents, and guests are assembled outside a very modest home in an obviously rural area. The bride and groom, like many of the guests, are dressed in traditional Choctaw clothing, a sort of peasant style of dress consisting of simple cotton garments in reds and blues, featuring traditional tribal design elements. Most of the guests are dressed in jeans, t-shirts, sweaters or sweats. They are wearing the clothes of poor people. They are wearing the clothes of rural Choctaw. I can sum it all up for you in just two words—rural poverty.
It isn’t abject poverty. These people have homes. Small, inexpesively built cookie cutter houses litter the landscape throughout Southeastern Oklahoma. They have electricity and running water in their homes, and they, no doubt, have access to tribal health care. They have everything it takes to barely get by and to remain what they have been for as long as anyone can remember—poor, rural Choctaw. On the other hand, they have none of the things it takes to ever be anything else, and their chances of getting such things are slim to none.
Slim to none hurts. Realizing that your options are limited, your opportunities foreclosed, not by the boundaries of your talent or energy, but by the shackles of poverty is stifling and painful. Your instinct is to fight and break the restraints, but it is not a fair fight. For poor people, especially poor Indians, it never has been. It’s rigged.
I know what it feels like to be a newlywed. I remember the optimism and hope that filled me up to bursting when I was a young bride. I imagine the young bride in the video felt the same way. It is sad when dreams melt and trickle through your fingers onto the ground. It is sad when the bright colors of your dreams puddle at your feet and mix into dull shades of everyday sameness. It is sad when the years flow by and wash your dreams away.
One day I might see that young bride at a powwow. Maybe she’ll be wearing her full regalia and competing in the Fancy Shawl Dance. Maybe she’ll be whirling and soaring to unimaginable heights in the spirit of the dance, and for those moments she’ll be living in her dream. Then the drumming will stop and the dance will be over. She will put her beautiful costume back in its trunk and return to her life, the life of a poor rural Choctaw.
I want to think that I’m wrong about the couple in the video. Who knows? Maybe they aren’t poor at all. Maybe they never will be. Maybe looks are deceiving, or maybe they are not who I think they are. Or, maybe they’ll be the exception to what I know is the rule. Maybe.
Enjoy the Shawl Dance video I’ve posted above. It’s beautiful, and it’s fun to watch. It’s a dance of celebration as life in America goes on.