My Oneida Heart
As a very young girl I was fascinated by a little waterfall in the Brandywine River. I can remember watching, listening and smelling it, mesmerized.
I was also fascinated by rocks. River rocks, rocks in the street, gemstones, geodes, I would have a pocketful by the time I finished any walk. I especially loved quartz.
When I was five we went to Frontier Town in Ocean City Maryland. It was terrific. I thought the can-can dancers in the saloon were pretty, the stagecoach robbery was exciting, and panning for gold was neat. But my parents couldn’t drag me away from the Indian Village.
There was a little Indian boy who was about my age. He was in full dance regalia, buckskin breechcloth, fuzzy shin coverings, dance bells, pipe bead breastplate, and face paint. He had danced his little heart out in the ring and I was enthralled that he was so little like me, yet so accomplished.
I was given a little drum/rattle that day. I have kept it all these years. The paint is long since peeled and faded but it sits on my shelf near my medicine bag and sacred items, ready to sing out with my memories.
In my teens I became immersed in Native American studies and even won a Social Studies award for papers I wrote.
It was during this time I found out that I was part Haudenosaunee - specifically Oneida.
As I researched I found that Oneida means People of the Standing Stone and that one of their most sacred places is a beautiful waterfall near Onondaga Lake.
The Oneida heritage called to me from the waterfall and the stones I loved before I was old enough to know about my heritage or who the Oneidas even were.
I read Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee as a teen. The white part of me cringed in embarrassment with a thousand apologies for my white ancestors’ behavior while my Oneida heart beat proud, yet trembled with furious indignation.
By age 18 I longed to pack off to a Native American college and study about my heritage, perhaps learn the Haudenosaunee language and write.
But I met a boy who I fell in love with and we got married. I continued to study about my Haudenosaunee ancestors, while bringing my children into the world, but it wasn’t until my mid twenties that I finally went to a powwow. The Nanticoke Powwow in Millsboro, Delaware.
I showed up long before schedule and wandered around as Indians set up their stands.
I was completely enthralled as the dance ring was smudged, the opening ceremony took place and the dancing began. An Indian told a story about gathering porcupine quills for his grandmother by luring the porcupine into an open space with food, tossing a blanket over him and rolling him around it in, then letting him get away. He would gather the quills from the inside of the blanket. His grandmother got the quills, the porcupine got a snack and went away unharmed. Everyone was happy.
I wanted to live among these people who loved animals and respected life.
I found a book called Dancing With the Wheel by Sun Bear, Wabun Wind and Crysalis Mulligan and learned a great deal about centering and smudging. I also found out that my mineral totem is white quartz, my childhood favorite. I gathered stones and put together a medicine wheel. I began wearing a medicine bundle, that felt more right than any other religious symbol I’d ever worn.
Through my marriage and divorce, through all the twists and turns of my life I have felt guided and protected by the Creator and my spirit guides.
Since my divorce I’ve finished raising my kids while working full time in an office building, written novels in the evenings and on week-ends, and am now living on my own in a quiet apartment where birds next on my balcony.
My spirituality and writing has brought me through everything intact.
Since my younger son moved out a few months ago, I’ve been feeling restless, bored with struggling to afford an apartment I don’t fully use, wanting to travel the United States and connect with Native Americans.
It was announced recently at work that the department I work in is moving out of state. At first I was panicked. No job - now what?
Then the Creator calmed my heart with an epiphany: “You are free,” the Creator echoed in my Oneida heartbeat.
I am dancing back to the beginning of my life’s wheel, to my girlhood when I dreamed of a quest for a simple, spiritual life. I have realized it’s not too late to travel to Indian reservations, powwows and make the social and spiritual connection I have longed for since I was a tiny little girl.
So I will dance around the wheel again, this time to the beat of my Oneida heart.