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Glittering Medicine Woman (Naatohwiikahnaa)

[ 0 ] August 1, 2010 |

When my great-grandma Fanny passed away, Grandpa Dave said, “The day I went to Browning to make funeral arrangements for the old lady, I came home to nothing. Shaggy (Grandma Fanny’s dog) was curled up on his rug in the kitchen, dead. All the old lady’s cats (eighty to a hundred, or so) had left. I don’t know where they went. There was no trace of them. No one saw them leave. The wind blew away all their tracks in the snow.”

As the daylight softens, I sit cross-legged in a soft, overstuffed chair of memories, listening to Blackfoot stories told by my grandma and mother. Encircled by an audience of cats, who understand my grandma’s language and heart. Black cats; orange cats; yellow cats; striped, spotted tabby cats wearing unwashed fur faces. I hold one kitten tightly, awkwardly, as it purrs. Grandma Fanny talks of the Buffalo Days, stories of hard times, and long-lost memories of ancient people.

She tells of animal-skin teepees pitched along river bottoms—for shelter from cold, frozen winters— where raiding and hunting parties of warriors abounded. Herds of horses were strapped to travoispole harnesses, ready to carry camp equipment, Elders and small children wherever game was to be found. The people used brightly painted parfleche suitcases to carry food of dried pemmican, animal fat, saskatoon berries, chokecherry cakes, dried mint leaves, roots, herbs and old trader tea.

Grandma Fanny talks on and on, in tongue clicks, whispered pauses and gestures of sign language. History comes to life in her newborn grey eyes that once glistened young and brown. My grandma is old and blessed for having lived a long life. Today, she is young in heart and laughter.

My grandma sits, poised in her long, dark blue flowered dress and corn yellow apron. Her long, thin, white braids hang loosely tied to each other at the ends (this is what tradition calls for), a sign of her place as a holy, respected Elder.

Her tan-colored skin is beautifully aged for her eighty-six years. Blue-green glass bead earrings and elk-tooth necklace bespeak her femininity. Skeletonboned hands with rounded, collapsed beauty; spindly knotted knuckles tell of her strength as a child survivor of people who came to Earth long ago.

I motion to my grandma with my hand. “This kitten can’t stop crying.”

“Bring him to me.” She holds him, studying his face and eyes. She uses the black eyedropper top of a small, brown glass bottle to give him medicine. “He’s sick. His head hurts. His mother got killed on the road. A car ran her over.” She wets a soft cloth with water from a cup on the table beside her bed and washes his face.

Category: Legacy

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