Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Wind Beneath My Things

When I pulled up to Leola One Feather's trailer on the Pine Ridge Reservation...I made several immediate observations. There was some kind of mud house that had been started and abandoned right next to it, the trailer they lived in looked like it had once been abandoned, and the signs of apathy borne out of extreme poverty were everywhere.  Piles of trash were scattered around the small yard, and anything that had ever broken was thrown out into the weather and old clothing that had been out grown was in mildewed piles, as well.  There's no trash service to her house, there's no convenient dump to take what you don't need any longer...there's no vehicle to get it there even if there was such a facility. The trash and leftover everything that had taken over anything that might have been called a yard were representative of the overwhelm in her life and the disadvantages in her community.

When this lovely and soft-spoken woman emerged from beneath her tin roof, she smiled big, then quickly put a hand over her mouth and muttered something about bad teeth. Honestly...I didn't notice her teeth...I was too busy noticing the smile that reached her eyes and I how her hands were always on the heads or the shoulders of the 2 little boys who walked closely and shyly next to her. Her grandsons live with her and literally walk in her shadow...a shadow that is long and tall in its grace and in its way of perceiving the world very differently from the way we do; those of us who do not walk under the Lakota sun. She hugged me tight, happy to see me again and I felt something akin to being my God who had put me in the path of this place and by her.

Leola loves to tell you of the places she hopes to travel to and is quick to point out the types of birds landing nearby...watching them fly away...a look of longing in her eyes.  The spirit of the ones with wings lives in her. And even though her grandsons speak their native language first and English second...she wants them to know of both worlds....but always through the eyes of her warrior descendants. That will be a fine line that will not be easy to walk. She herself is a warrior...a once-teenage member of the AIM (American Indian Movement) uprising and occupation of 1973.

The first time I met Leola and the little boys White Plume was last year when a friend suggested I stop to see her, asking me to bring blankets if I could as there is no electricity in the trailer and a small wood burning stove for cooking and for heating. She said their floor was plywood and cold....which indeed it was. The same plywood covered every that had been broken out before she moved her family into the trailer. Plywood that kept the cold at bay a little, but also blocked out the sun and ensured that if the wood- burning ever turned to one would get out.

But there was a different spirit at her home than there was in other homes I had visited on the Rez. Even with despair written in big, bold letters everywhere I turned...Leola smiled...Leola dreamed...Leola encouraged her grandsons to have strong, bold hearts that noticed things beyond the poverty and the plywood. In the midst of the debris-strewn property, she had encouraged 8 year old Onalsala to decorate a little "rock garden" plot, to paint on whatever he could (with paints donated by my dear friend Steven) and to see things differently...just as she did. Explaining to me that her little tomato garden had not gone well this year, she didn't express it in a way that we might...a way that is not aligned with all living things. She didn't say "darn grasshoppers destroyed my garden!" She simply smiled and said "For the past two years the grasshoppers have shared my garden. This year they did not share it with me."  Spending a half hour with Leola gives me perspective. Spending five minutes with Onalsala gives me revelation.

I had lowered the tailgate on my truck to unload the items I had brought specifically for him. Warm boots, a pillow, paints, canvas pad, a Bronco sweatshirt...important things that any child would be enamored with. I set them out and encouraged him to take them...expecting wide-eyed wonder at the material bounty in front of him. But Onalsala, the warrior grandson of Grandmother Leola and son of Wakan Tanka, the Creator, touched the paints for a second, then looked over my shoulder, beyond me,  beyond his surroundings and pointed. "Look at the wind in the trees," he said with the same light shining in his eyes that shone in Leola's....Bronco sweatshirt not even on his radar.  In that quick moment, before he turned his attention back to the paints, I felt the wind moving through me. It was as though this little boy, wisdom beyond his years, was telling me....don't forget the focus is on God...don't forget to carry His message. The wind in the trees, the Holy Spirit moving through the people of this place...his love the breeze on the hilltop that can not be ignored as it touches the beautiful people in this beautiful place. A rainbow promise of total destruction never happening again. Onalsala knows the wind and recognizes its voice in the trees. "Here," it says touching his hair as his grandmother does...always recognizing the promise of the next generation. "The change will" Wopila tanka, Onalsala. Thank you.

If you would like to be involved with the work we are doing on the Pine Ridge Reservation...
email me at


  1. Lovely post, what an amazing soul!

  2. Wonderful inspiring post, that teaches us so much!!

  3. KC,
    You are a moving storyteller and how you weaved so much tenderness into this story is a testimony of God's hand on you my dear! I so love reading about your work, your mission, your calling.. Thanks for sharing your heart and if you don't mind I would love to have you guest blog on my blog or let me reference your in a link. I would love to help you get the word of need out for your wonderful ministry. I love and support you 150% because I know your heart and it is true, humble, and oh so good and filled up with God's Spirit. Love you, Katie

  4. I came here from Katie's link & so glad I did. So touching. Your work is amazing. I'll send you an email. Jan

  5. This is a true art from the heart movement and you have given me a revelation! I wish you peace...and yes I am smiling. Grace lives there. Mary Helen Fernandez Stewart

  6. What an absolutely lovely and inspiring story! Thank You!

  7. Such a lovely woman. Such beauty that surrounds her.
    And how do you keep from hugging those little ones to peices.
    Blessings my friend