FOLLOWED BY -- OKIE STOMP DANCE: SOUTHERN
INDIANS, OKLAHOMA, FLAGSTAFF [HUNTER GRAY JULY 10, 2003 ]
Note by Hunterbear: [excerpted
recently from a longer post of mine]
Several years ago, I gave a lecture on Native American challenges at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio. A reception and dinner preceded my presentation and, since Kenyon is Episcopalian, liquor was served. I had none for two reasons: I've never -- ever -- had a drink before I give a talk -- and I no longer really drank. About the time, though, that we were finishing dinner, I learned quietly that some people had decided that my being Indian and abstaining equaled alcoholic. I passed the word that, when things were essentially all over, I'd go to the Kenyon pub and have a shot of Johnny Walker Red just to crack a stereotype. And, when things had concluded, that's where a number of us went -- and I had, in fact, one big double-shot of JWR. Then to bed and off the next day to an impoverished Catholic college where I gave a freebee lecture.
Both of my parents -- my father an Indian full-blood and mother an Anglo -- were alcoholics. It killed Dad and seriously screwed up Mother. Others in my family had and have serious problems. I wasn't born an abstainer but, soon enough, I became one [in the non-puritanical sense] and have remained one for decades. There is virtually no drinking in my own family group of Eldri, our children and grandchildren -- whether here in Idaho or
In the following news story/interview -- from the Navajo Times, January 23, 2004 -- the statement is accurately made that "In Chicago (the Warbonnet) was right next door to a daily work/daily pay
place called Ready Men. It was a real dive, a real bucket of blood."
You bet. And sadly, The Warbonnet is what's called an "Indian bar." [As far as I know, it's still doing business.] But, of course, like all the others,
it's Anglo-owned and managed.
I know the Warbonnet. Many, many years ago, we lived very close to it -- in Uptown -- at 5049 North Sheridan. Often friends would stagger forth, make it to our apartment for soup and a couch. Sometimes, in response to an urgent message, I'd go to the place and retrieve someone. At any given time after 6 pm, there would be at least two hundred Natives milling in the huge room. If someone decided to leave, he/she would have to pass right by the white bartender who would offer a free drink. Odds were that the person never made their get-away at that point.
We had a Native conference going in Chicago one spring and I, with a
message, needed to reach a fellow-speaker, Syd, a Sioux from Flandreau,
South Dakota. I learned he'd gone to the Warbonnet with some others -- he was not much of a drinker and I certainly had no concerns on that score -- but I stepped into the place and found him at a table very slowly nursing a single shot. As I was passing my message to him, I became conscious of angry eyes burning -- burning! -- into me. Turning, I saw this older Winnebago lady friend of Eldri and myself, Stella Johnson. She hated alcohol with a pure passion and had obviously come to the Warbonnet to get someone from her family. But now she was looking at me with Horror!
"John, not you." she said. "Not you." She was obviously badly stunned.
[After all, I was vice-chair of the all-Indian Alcohol and Drug Abuse
Treatment Program of Chicago.]
"No, not me, Stella -- Mrs Johnson" said I. "I'm only here to pass
something from South Dakota to Syd." But she stalked away.
Syd was grinning.
And when, soon thereafter, I got home, I found the phone had already rung. A mutual friend of Stella Johnson's and ourselves had called Eldri. And Eldri, of course, could assure the Indian Grapevine/Moccasin Telegraph that I, indeed, remained an abstainer.
But the Warbonnet -- and places like that -- are purely horrible.
But let me make this fundamentally clear: As I note in this short commentary on Natives and alcohol:
"There is no
evidence whatsoever to indicate that Native Americans are
racially vulnerable to alcohol in the genetic sense. Economic poverty,
victimization via racial and ethnocentric prejudice and discrimination,
cultural conflict, alienation and loneliness -- these are all among the
reasons for Native alcohol abuse. But not racial genes."
Brief Commentary on Native drinking -- Hunter Bear [quoted from a longer post of mine]:
"There is no evidence that use of alcoholic beverages was either widespread or frequent in the "old time." Some tribes, a minority as far as we know, did have very weak alcoholic beverages [ e.g., Apache "tiswin".] But these were tantamount to 3.2 beer and nothing stronger. When the Europeans came, with really strong stuff -- e.g., rum -- the Natives had no cultural controls in place for its usage and things for them moved into disastrous realms, liquor-wise. This was especially the case when strong alcohol was so frequently used by the Whites in a deliberately Machiavellian -- genocidal -- fashion: given to the Indians in order to kill, subdue, or cheat them.
I certainly hold the European incursion "and all its works" directly
responsible for Native alcohol problems in the First Cause sense. I do, of
course, recognize that individuals [Native and otherwise] have a clear
responsibility to avoid this disastrous canyon plunge or/and to return from it. I should add that, assisting Native people in dealing with alcohol, has been something on which I've been focused for almost my entire life -- wherever I've been. In some instances this has involved formal programs [e.g., I was Vice-Chair for a long time of the all-Indian Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Treatment Program [ADAPT] at Chicago] -- and this work has also involved a vast amount of my volunteer time [ much at night.]
And, in situations where tribal nations were and are going through a very
difficult period of adjustment vis-a-vis the increasingly looming Anglo
world [e.g., the Iroquois in the latter 1700s into the first part of the
1800s, or the Navajo of today] alcohol usage can be heavy and catastrophic.
To a great extent, the Iroquois pulled out
of this -- very much via cultural
revival and especially the rejuvenation of the traditional Longhouse
religion through the teachings of the Seneca prophet, Handsome Lake -- and also by finding meaningful and challenging work in, among other things, the Western fur trade and then in the still very wide-spread high steel construction trade. [Always very good union activists!]
The most sedate bar in Rochester, New York, in the latter 1970s, was the
Blue and White -- an all-Indian [mostly Mohawk] establishment. I often did much of my paperwork, as Diocesan director of social justice, in that always quiet, pleasant setting where the only music was traditional Iroquois and where only once do I recall a voice being raised.
The Navajo are working through things at this present moment and it's been very tough and tragic. But they -- the Navajo -- or Dine' [as they call
themselves, meaning "The People"] -- are making it right along.
There is no evidence whatsoever to indicate that Native Americans are
racially vulnerable to alcohol in the genetic sense."
HUNTER BEAR Micmac/St Francis Abenaki/St Regis Mohawk
HUNTER GRAY [HUNTER BEAR]
When you cut to the bone and cut away the college degrees, academic and other titles, published books and articles, ours is essentially a working
class and Indian family. We consistently join unions -- and we always
support them with the greatest vigor.
It's critical to always keep fighting -- and to always remember that, if one
lives with grace, he/she should be prepared to die with grace.
OKIE STOMP DANCE: SOUTHERN INDIANS, OKLAHOMA, FLAGSTAFF [HUNTER GRAY JULY 10, 2003 ]
On July 8, I wrote
in part: "Two years ago, it was not unusual
for at least four or five substantive discussions to
be proceeding simultaneously on ASDnet [DSA discussion list].
At this point, Grant's Tomb, by comparison, looks and
sounds like an Okie Stomp Dance.
Tom wrote on July 9 and I responded on July 10:
Last time I was at Grant's Tomb, an extraordinarily skilled trombonist was
> practicing there. A lot of jazz, a little classical music, some salsa. Not
> sure how that compares with the Okie Stomp!
Thanks for your note, Tom. Good comment and I'm sending this around a little
No competition for the Okie Stomp -- whether we're talking Inside the Tomb
or the gifted trombonist on the outside. The Okie Stomp Dance actually grew
in large measure out of the traditional and ritualized and staid and still
very culturally viable Green Corn Stomp Dance of the Creek Indian Nation.
As you probably know, the five large Southern tribes -- Cherokee, Choctaw,
Creek,Chickasaw, Seminole -- were forced from their Deep South lands by
Andrew Jackson and his infamous Removal successors, moved westward at great
loss of life, and dumped in "Indian Territory" [much later, of course, to
become Oklahoma.] One group of Cherokees were able to remain in the
Mountain South, as well as a faction of Choctaws in Mississippi and a large
group of "resistant" Seminoles in the remote Florida everglades -- a more
recent breakaway faction of which has become the Miccosukees. A few
scattered remnants of Chickasaws and Creeks remained in the Southern swamps
and have, very recently, emerged in an activist sense.
I have a half-Mississippi Choctaw grandson and relatives in Oklahoma. But
my experience with the Okie Stomp draws from the fact that my home town of
Flagstaff, Arizona -- on Highway 66 -- saw vast numbers of Dust Bowl /
Depression refugees passing through on their way to California. Most were
from Oklahoma, some from Kansas and Arkansas. Once at cool Flagstaff --
high elevation [7,000 feet above sea level and the immediately adjacent San
Francisco Peaks that go up to 13,000] -- some stopped at that point,
attracted by work in the lumber woods and sawmills [vast stands of Ponderosa
Yellow Pine.] Others went on to California, only to be often driven back
at the border by armed California posses and state police -- and they went
back to Flag, stopping there. So I grew up with lots of Okie friends --
virtually all of whom were part-Indian [often a quarter, sometimes an
eighth, not infrequently one-half.] And some were relatively full-blooded.
When the Okie Stomp Dance began to develop in the Muskogee, OK region and
environs, its seeds certainly came to land in Flagstaff where it had lots
and lots of kin.
The traditional Creek Stomp Dance -- guided carefully by highly trained
Native singers and drummers -- proceeds in a wide circle around a sacred
fire which the Creeks actually brought with them to Indian Territory [OK]
from Alabama. As with all Native dances, there are very strong religious
The Okie Stomp Dance is purely social -- and it's a very wild and woolly
affair. Couples and singles walk slowly and consecutively in hard, steady
stomping fashion in a large circle around either a fire or something
simulating a fire [e.g., a Coleman gasoline lantern.] The steady drum beats
are extremely strong and very profoundly resonant. There is wild fiddle and
guitar music. In time, there's a good deal of yelling and whooping with
Stetsons thrown in the air. An Okie Stomp can easily last a half hour or
so, sometimes an hour.
My two younger brothers "innocently" took a very respectable visiting
cousin from my Anglo mother's side to a Saturday night of dancing
culminating with the Okie Stomp, at Lake Mary, south of Flagstaff. The kid
was from a quite well established business family -- one of whom had
married a Cherokee lady from the North Carolina/Tennessee border. My Native
father didn't think it was a good idea to subject Cousin D. to the Stomp --
but my brothers. quietly critical of the kid, went ahead anyway. Initially
badly shaken by the generally chaotic atmosphere [some men were wearing
revolvers], he really got into the spirit of things and, by the time the
Stomp rolled around, he was totally caught.
He later married a Native woman. Don't know if the evening at Lake Mary --
and the Stomp -- had anything to do with that, but who knows?
Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings. Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]