Many Generations and Many Hundreds of Miles: Reflections from the Powwow Trail

“The journey began one day long ago on the edge of the Northern Plains. It was carried on over a course of many generations and many hundreds of miles. In the end there were many things to remember, to dwell upon and talk about.” (Momaday, 1969 p. 3)

Two months ago my seven month old son, Tobi, and I set out from our home in Auckland to journey through much of the country travelled by our Kiowa ancestors. Their nomadic migration from the Cold Country(the northern region of the central United States) to the Southern Plains (the southern region of the central United States) became our pilgrimage. We began in our current tribal homeland of Anadarko, Oklahoma on the Kiowa Comanche Apache Reservation. Tobi first danced in the arena, and was inducted into the “Pole-yopes”, Little Rabbit Society of our tribe, the first war society of the four remaining societies. We ended, in Fruit Heights, Utah where we visited dear friends, and celebrated my mom’s graduation from BYU after a 25 year break to work hard and be the world’s best mom (totally proud).

The journey between those points took us over 7,000 miles, mostly through Indian Country, eight states and one Canadian Province. As we travelled we began to feel the rhythm of our pilgrimage: drive, visit, eat, dance, make regalia, drive, maybe sleep, dance some more, then suddenly be caught by most spectacular moment, repeat.

When I found the above passage by M. Scott Momaday (1969) describing my ancestors’ journey to the south, I felt an immediate affinity to his words. There is certainly much to “remember, to dwell upon and talk about” (p.3). I felt we took part in a journey that has been remembered, dwelled upon, and talked about for many generations. I was raised on the stories of these lands, and our relations to the people who remain there; raised to pine for the beauty of these places. My Big Sister (maternal grandmother) travelled much in this country, sharing the stories of our tribe in these places with my mother, and her siblings whom she raised. She was raised by her Big Sister who remembered living in the Cold Country, and who passed these memories on to her.

At the height of the pilgrimage we travelled with four generations into Crow country (Montana), and I watched and listened as Tobi’s big sister passed these memories on to him – and his best friend/travel buddy/big cousin Evelyn Alice. I set out on this journey to be part of two very important life events. Hoping that somewhere in all those miles I would find the courage I’d need to start a different journey towards a PhD. After three years of hesitation I wasn’t confident I would. Yet, as I found myself wrapt in the beauty of our surroundings, or the richness of the things being sharing, or the joy of treasured company, for fleeting moments, I too began to remember.  “Words like transformation and empowerment are the modern catch terms for processes that Indian people traditionally termed making or finding one’s personal medicine” (Cajete, 1994 p.190). Kiowa elders call it walking the Good Road. For me this road is a journey of remembrance, and returning. It’s a process that includes rooting oneself in the: stories, histories, memories, genealogies, ceremonies, journeys, and the land which woven together make not only present reality but also the links to past and future.

I am new to the road of serious academic inquiry – feet firmly planted, paused, in anticipation of that enormous first step. While I wait, while I stand in the stillness of memories both future and past, I pray that my feet, whatever direction they take me, will stay planted on this good road.

by Rachel Cocker Hopkins

5 comments

  1. Wow Rach, this is amazing and such a great insight into your transformational journey this summer. I am so glad that you could join us up at Kamloopa and it was a great privilege to see you and your sister dance! So beautiful and a moment in the middle of the night that I will never forget. We look forward to you joining our crew on the PhD waka bringing your lineage and insights into our discussions.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Kia ora Rachel, thank you for sharing this journey with us. It stirred my soul as I read how it stirred yours. How lucky for Tobi to have the privilege to listen to Big Sister share those traditional stories as once she heard them. One day it will be your turn to share as you’ve heard them. That is quite a journey you’ve been through and it puts you in good stead to join your indigenous sisters on the PhD journey. If there was ever an ideal time it is now when there is so much support in our cohort.

    Liked by 1 person

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