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~ Dr. Dawn Karima
For Duane Brayboy-Williams
Everybody called my uncles the "Sons of Thunder".
They cut a wide swath thru the South, fists flying,
panties dropping, shot calling and money balling.
Then, I arrived. "We thought what if she grows up to marry a Skin just like us?" Uncle O told me. "Then, we'd have to kill that joker and do time." So, they changed. How much?" If somebody messes with you," Uncle Sugar grins, "We won't kill him. We'll just make him wish we had."
"No matter how much meat you feed it, a wolf will always run from your table back to the woods," my Grandaddy used to say, "Wild boys ain't much different. Choose wisely."
"I voted," my other Grandaddy used to say, "I been voting since I been a man. Wrote in Osceola, Billy Jack, Crazy Horse, and Quanah Parker." He said that every time he voted, but we already knew he voted Democrat every time.
"What's that?" I asked my Grandaddy. "It's a Treaty," he answered as he picked me up and set me on his knee, "Treaties are promises. And it's a very bad thing to be a breaker of promises. They break a treaty, they don't just answer to a courthouse, they have to answer to Edoda and our ancestors." Then he read me the Treaty of New Echota. Out loud. Every word. I was four years old.
"Ain't just weapons that win a war," my granddaddy, a WW2 VET, told me. "Everybody thinks you win a war with your weapons, or with your strategy. They think that's where you win a war, but it ain't. Where you win a war is your friends, the folks who fight alongside you. You can't win a war by yourself... Allies matter."
"We gon' talk about this later," My granddaddy used to say when any of us got into trouble, "But we gon' fix it first." Mercy triumphs over judgment.
Twelve times Crimson Harjo has kept me alive. "Sometimes I think I can feel you, even when you're afar off, " he says, "but doctors said after 90 days all of your blood was your own. But I sometimes I think that during those 90 days, my heart was helping yours beat." He's calmly driving. I'm stunned to hear him say so many words at once. My granddaddy used to say "There's all kinds of ways to tell somebody you love 'em. Never knew a Native who needed to use words."
Unity is our strength. My Grandaddy used to say "No such thing as a Black NDN, a South American NDN or a White NDN. You're either NDN or you're not, and if you are NDN, there's work to be done...get to gettin'."
"Watch the Whirlwinds, but wed a Warrior," my Grandaddy told me at the first powwow we went to after my coming of age ceremony. I think of that every time I watch men's traditional. I think that's why I so love that category.
My Grandaddy used to say, "Don't ever tell your enemy that his arrow did its work. Don't holler, don't show pain. Keep fighting, win and walk off. Make your enemy worry that his arrow might have missed. He'll think twice before shooting at you again."
"If a pretty girl decides to fall in love with a knife...she best be sure not to cut herself when she kisses the blade, " My granddaddy used to say. He was talking about the kind of men that some folks call "Bad Boys".
"Stand around being NDN long enough and you'll find yourself in the middle of a family reunion, " My granddaddy told me in the Amtrak train station one time. Wasn't ten minutes before a slice of pound cake and sweet tea proved him right.
"This whole family's too damn good looking for our own good," my Grandaddy used to say..."And that's a good thing, cause if you'uns gone stay in this family, you best be pretty or you best be useful."
You know what my Uncle Clarence did? Back when he fell in love with my Granddaddy's Sister, it was illegal for a Southern White person to marry a Native person. So he gave up White Privilege, lived under Jim Crow, even worked for Civil Rights. He stomp dances and stayed happily wed to Aunt Pauline for 60 years. Native Elders at the BIA are talking about what a good Native man he was. I start to correct them, but then I realize they're right.
Crimson Harjo is a Creek, but on account of his Mama and my Grandmama being best friends and Uncle Sugar and he being best friends, when Crimson's Mama married a new man and moved out West, he just stayed here with us. He and Sugar got to stay home from first grade on the day I was born. "Looky here Crim," Uncle Sugar told Crimson, "A lil' baby Creek. Ain't she pretty?"
According to Grandaddy, Crimson Harjo leaned over and told me something in my ear. It's the only thing other than "Happy birthday" "Merry Christmas" or "Sugar here?" that anybody knows for sure he ever said to me . The happiest day of my life was the day he told me what it was.
Grampa Brice is my Grandaddy's Baby Brother. He walks the white path, married to a non -Native. My Grandaddy was a hard core traditional. I'm surprised when Grampa Brice asks me to sing Cherokee hymns." I want to hear what my Mama sounded like again, Baby Girl. I'm forgetting."
"You always got to have that one unsaved friend," my Grandaddy used to say. "Church folks gotta repent or whatever they do. So you gotta keep the Traditionals, the Warriors, the wild ones around you. They know, they ain't scared and they ain't gotta ask permission or forgiveness."
Grandaddy explained things when I was tiny. "Making a picture of me, you need the black crayon for my hair and red one for my skin" he said as he drew himself. "To make a picture of you..."
"You need ALL the crayons!" I giggled. Grandaddy hugged me,"Osda, Honeygirl. The prettiest things in life need all the crayons to color."
My Grandaddy used to say, "Never fight a man till you know how far he's willing to go. And if you ain't willing to go that far or farther...fight him another day."
You know, my Grandaddy never would say "Goodbye" to me. He always said, "Love you forever and all the days after." He meant every word. When I say it, I mean every word, too.
Photo Credit: Nora Moore Lloyd