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Next month - on April 22, to be exact - it will have been one year since Eagle Wings Woman, also known as Georgia Little Shield, walked on. Georgia, whom I have elsewhere remembered as a  beautiful woman with a warrior's heart, founded Okiciyap a few years ago to feed the bodies and the spirits of her people at the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.

We were introduced to Okiciyap by Kossack betson08, who was very close to Georgia and worked with her for many years, first on Pretty Bird Woman House, and later on Okiciyap. It was etson08 who wrote Georgia's memorial diary here, and I'm going to let her words speak for who this brave and beautiful woman was:

Georgia Little Shield (1959-2012)
Georgia was my friend, a tremendous role model and leader, and all-around nice person. She taught me about the kinds of things that many American Indian women endure. But, by her own stubborn example, she also showed me that it is possible to overcome.  

Publicly, Georgia was a warrior woman, a role model and just a nice person, in whom the many people she helped could confide. This is what made her a strong director at Pretty Bird Woman House on the Standing Rock Reservation.

When her health issues forced her onto the disability rolls, she didn't stop trying to help other people. She wanted to improve her own community, Isabel, which is on the Cheyenne River Reservation. So she convinced a group of people, including some of her family members, to form Okiciyap ("we help") the Isabel Community. That's how the project started.

A number of dedicated Kossacks have since formed the Okiciyap group here, to shine a light on the food pantry's accomplishments and to help support its operational needs. Their latest effort, in collaboration with the DK Quilt Guild is the creation of a stunningly beautiful quilt for auction, with all proceeds going to support Okiciyap's operating expenses. I'll discuss those operational needs - saving lives by feeding bodies and spirits - over the jump, but first, feast your own eyes on this exquisite work of art:

Okiciyap Auction quilt

Now, join me to learn how your bid can feed bodies and spirits in one of the most economically desolate areas of the country - and how this quilt might feed your own spirit a little bit, too.

OKICIYAP (WE HELP):  FEED THE BODY

A food pantry's obvious mission is to feed the body, and Okiciyap has been doing that for more than a year now, often on little more than a shoestring and a prayer. This community has stepped up time and again to help ensure that it can fulfill its mission of saving lives in one of the country's most financially impoverished areas. But as I noted in a diary last September, the economy has had a devastating impact on the ability of food pantries like Okiciyap to continue to feed the growing numbers of hungry children, adults, and elders. Here's part of what I wrote then:

I've written at considerable length about how severe the food shortages are generally in our Native communities.  About how many too reservations are food deserts (as, of course, they were originally intended to be).  About how lack of access to nutritious food creates disproportionately deadly impacts on our peoples' health.  About how such shortages compound the equally deadly effects of unimaginable financial poverty and destitution in places like the Dakotas.  I'm not going to rehash all that here; if you want a new appreciation for how blessed your own situation is, just read the information available via some of those links.

Today, I'm simply going to point out that last year, we were afforded an opportunity, by a warrior woman from the Cheyenne River Reservation, to do something about this.  Led by betson08, countless Kossacks stepped up, and helped Georgia Little Shield get the Okiciyap Food Pantry off the ground.  And last winter, people at Cheyenne River who might have starved were able to eat.

Then earlier this year, Georgia herself walked on.  Her sister, Cindy Taylor, stepped up and into the prints of Georgia's moccasins.  Helped again by betson08 (who is also responsible for me writing this diary), and in turn by innumerable other Kossacks who have been buttressing Okiciyap's efforts for months now, Cindy has kept the food pantry open and keeping Cheyenne River's elders, children and families fed.

Across the country, food banks are reporting shortages that are significantly reducing their ability to serve their clients properly.  There are a host of reasons for this, but the most immediate cause is the fact that the federal government is buying significantly less surplus food - the source of much of the food that gets distributed to food banks across the United States.

In 2010, the USDA purchased nearly 500 million pounds of surplus food for such redistribution; in 2011, it bought 421 million pounds (a reduction, true, but a relatively small one).  In 2012, however, USDA purchases have dropped to only 129 million pounds of food - roughly a quarter of what the federal government bought for food banks just two years ago.  

Nowhere is the need more critical than in Indian Country.  And yet, "Indian Country" isn't even on the radar in most states.

But when I wrote that diary, in September, Georgia's sister Cindy had notified us that they were so short of food that they were only able to open on an emergency basis. The winter looked long and bleak and deadly.

And this community stepped up, once again.

But we're not done; not by a long shot. As I noted last week, the effects of the sequester are expected to hit Indian Country especially hard. It will hit the tribes directly, but it will also have a devastating impact on the food banks that supply pantries like Okiciyap.  And while we need to feed spirits, too, the spirit doesn't survive if the body isn't fed.

So while you read the following sections, please consider helping Cindy and her staff to feed more bodies this year - and save more lives.

OKICIYAP (WE HELP):  FEED THE SPIRIT

Back at the end of 2011, Georgia gave express permission for me to use a part of her story to explain why Okiciyap's work goes far beyond the mission of the ordinary food pantry. Bodies need food to survive, but no less do spirits - and in Indian Country, too many spirits, especially of children and youth, are malnourished.  Here's what she said then:

You know when I was 7 years old and would pray for God to come get my dad as he was a very violent White man that verbally and physical to all 5 of us children. When God did not come get my dad I told my mom that God was going to come get me on May 15, This was when I was 7 years old. I figured that out when I attended a few sessions with a great Councillor that I was already thinking of dying. At seven years old. So many children are going through this now. This why I am working so hard to get this building up to Isabel as it will provide a place for the children go and feel welcomed and feed. We are going to have after school activities and tutors to help those children that need help. Please help us keep our children safe and secure.
              ~ Georgia Little Shield, on why the Okiciyap building is so desperately needed.

In that same diary, I outlined some of my own similar experiences. I recently wrote about a very few of them in terms much more raw here. I don't necessarily recommend reading that latter link; it's not pretty. But the former link goes to some lengths to make the nature of the problems explicit: the suicide epidemic among Indian young people; the violence, physical, sexual, and otherwise, that feeds their feelings of hopelessness; and the role that Georgia envisioned for Okiciyap in preventing both suicide and violence, causes that are permanently embedded in my own heart.  As I said then:

[F]or our children today, it's not at all past.  It's their present, their now, and when it isn't being stolen from them directly, they're throwing it away because they've lost all hope in basic survival.

Genocide by other means.

Byron Dorgan tried to tackle the issue.  As he noted in a piece that was published by the APA last year:

The rate of suicide for American Indian and Alaska Natives is far higher than that of any other ethnic group in the United States—70% higher than the rate for the general population of the United States. American Indian and Alaska Native youth are among the hardest hit. They have the highest rate of suicide for males and females, ages 10 to 24, of any racial group.
Think about that for a moment.  To most of the country, we're utterly invisible - nothing more than caricatures on a movie screen.  And our children are choosing to leave this existence at a rate higher than in any other ethnic group in this country.  

The numbers shame all of American society:

The rate of suicide among Native American youth, ages 15 to 24, is the highest of any racial or age group in the United States[.]  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Native Americans between the ages of 10 and 34 years[.]  The Native youth have an average suicide rate 2.2 times higher than the national average for their adolescent peers of other races [citations omitted].
The reasons are legion.  At bottom, though, lies the fundamental fact that their lives are too often filled with racism, near-unimaginable financial hardship, and constant reminders that the larger culture cares nothing for their lives, much less their needs.  When a young person from one of our nations ends his or her life, and people ask why, their friends will reply with a horrible, brutal truth that no one wants to hear - and I've seen and heard variants of this from all over the country:
She felt that no one cared whether she lived or died.  And then when [another youth from the same tribe] committed suicide, and she saw how people cried and cared about [that person], she decided that she was better off dead.  Then maybe people would care about her, too.
No, it's not a direct quote, because I don't have it in me right now to go digging for the painful examples that contain the precise words used.  Suffice to say that variations of this have appeared over and over and over again when one of our children takes his or her own life.

This is what Georgia wants to stop.

 

There is, sadly, much more. If you want a better sense of the scope of these problems, read here. Then read here.

It was Georgia's dream to provide a safe haven for the young people of Cheyenne River, where the spirits could be fed and allowed to grow and blossom into a healthy adulthood. I can think of no better tribute to the spirit of Georgia Little Shield than to help carry on her legacy of feeding the spirit of future generations.

THE QUILT:  FEED YOUR SPIRIT

A quilt is a magical item, something that weds art to practicality to create something entirely new - something far, far greater than the sum of its parts. I know because I'm privileged to own one: a community quilt made for me by Sara R and her sister Ann, filled with messages from members of this community and blessed by my "cousin." Sometimes, when life seems especially hopeless, that quilt is the one thing that lets my spirit rest and heal.

Quilts have a time-honored history in Indian Country, particularly among the Indian nations of the Northern Plains (for example, among the Oceti Sakowin, or Sioux Nations, of which Cheyenne River is a part). Lakota star quilts are famed for the beauty, artistry, and infusions of Spirit. Today, as modern technology shrinks physical barriers between our worlds, star quilts and quilts in other traditional patterns have spread throughout Indian Country as an intertribal art form.

As far as I know, none of the supremely talented quilters who made this quilt is Indian. I'm sure, however, that within each quilter's own tradition, the colors and patterns in the blocks they've made have symbolic meaning, whether artistic, historical, or something deeper. If I'm right about that, maybe we can convince them to tell us about how they chose the patterns for the blocks they've created, and the symbolism that infuses each.

However, artistic symbolism exists both in the intent of the maker and in the understanding of the beholder. And while I'm sure my own interpretation is unique to me, and not representative of what other Indians would necessarily see, when I saw the photos of the finished quilt, I found spiritually significant symbolism speaking to me from each and every block.

[Please note:  I am speaking in generalities here, and discussing nothing that is not already "out" in the wider public eye, so to speak. Because what is sacred and/or to be kept secret varies widely among tribal nations, I will NOT be elaborating on anything beyond what already appears below.]
Come with me on a little tour:  Let me show you what I see.

The Morning Star:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  top left block
Sky symbolism figures in many (most? all?) Native traditions. In my own, celestial bodies play roles in some of our origin stories, and in a number of stories designed to teach specific lessons. One of those celestial bodies is what is known in my language as Waaban-anang, the Morning Star. Many traditional artists depict it as a four-pointed star; for some peoples, it symbolizes guidance or navigation; for others, it represents a Spirit Being or specific powers.

The Vortex:

Okiciyap Quilt  2013   top center block
To me, there is a clearly cyclical design of this block, with an equally clear feeling of circular, clockwise movement. In some tribal traditions, this sort of symbolism appears in images depicting sun cycles or other calendrical concepts. You may find it in ancient swastika-like imagery, the meaning of which varies among tribal cultures. To me, it looks like nothing so much as a vortex, a concept that likewise has widely varied meanings. I don't know that we have a word that directly translates to "vortex"; the closest might be maajijiwan, or "whirlpool." It appears in the traditions of the Native American Church, and in origin and other stories among Indian nations across the continent. In some, it may be good; in others, not always benign. In my experience, however, it is always powerful.

Totem Poles:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  top right block
Totem poles (at least as modern society generally conceives) are not part of my tradition, but the word "totem" comes from our language and is as fundamental as it gets. The word is actually doodem (the corruption of the spelling came later), and its most basic meaning is "clan," our fundamental social unit. Our clans, generally speaking, are represented by animals (personifiers of spirit beings, for lack of a better way of putting it). So while the modern "totem pole" as a type of spiritually significant art is usually regarded as a phenomenon of the Northwest tribes, it also embodies concepts that for us are deeply personal.

The Four Directions:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  second row left block
One common concept in many tribal cultures is that of Four Directions. It's just what it sounds like - a representation of North, East, South, and West, all in one elegantly simple image. In some cultures, it's not limited to four:  There may be five, six, eight, or many more directions that have spiritual or other significance, and they may or may not be labeled "Sacred." It's a common theme in much Native art across the country, and since European contact, a good way to preserve one's own beliefs without running afoul of invaders bent on religious conversion, since to European eyes, the symbol looked like nothing so much as a cross. It can also be used to represent other symbolic concepts that come in fours, and appears at the heart of much modern "medicine wheel"-themed art.

The Dreamcatcher:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  second row center block
The dreamcatcher has become a sort of intertribal symbol. Multiple Indian nations, including my own, take credit for having first created it, and there are two major variations in the stories with regard to how they work. The way I first learned the story, Grandmother Spider's web catches your good dreams, so that you'll remember them, but the hole in the very center allows the bad dreams to slip through, leaving your sleep untroubled. The other version of the story is the reverse: The hole lets your good dreams go through, but the web catches (and neutralizes) the bad ones. In our tradition, there's a backstory to the creation of the first dreamcatcher, designed to instill in people a sense of the importance of fulfilling their spiritual responsibilities. How they are made also varies widely: In some traditions, the hoop must be made of red willow bark to be authentic; some are incomplete without feathers attached; and some have beads or fetishes woven into the webbing, which is usually made of sinew.

Indian Horses:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  second row right block
Today, horses are synonymous with Indians, and they've become an integral part of many of our tribal cultures. I've written in the past about "ledger horses" as an art form ("ledger" referring to the old Army ledger pages used as an artistic surface when invasion, reservations, and heedless slaughter deprived our ancestors of the buffalo hides traditionally used for such purposes. Today, it's a popular Native art phenomenon that has stretched to tribal cultures across the U.S. But the term "ledger horse" has expanded to encompass not merely the appearance of "art horse on ledger sheet," but to the type of artistic rendering of the horse image itself. The horses at the center of this block remind me of the ledger horse style, which in turn reminds of all the symbolism associated with them: Horse as warrior, as companion, as family member, as Spirit Being.

The Eye of Spirit:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013 third row left block
A popular pattern in a lot of Native art, both ancient and modern, is the diamond symbol. You find it in Navajo weaving, Pueblo pottery and silversmithing, and beadwork and traditional dress all over the country. The significance no doubt varies widely, but among some peoples, the diamond shape has been used as a quick and easy way of depicting an eye (if you think of an elongated diamond shape turned sideways, you'll see why). In some cultures, it's used specifically to represent the Eye of Spirit, which connotes great power. It's an image that finds its way into much of Wings's art, and it's one that speaks to me on a very visceral level, evoking a sense of wisdom, guidance, healing, and wonder. This block repeats the pattern and combines it with what I see as Four Directions imagery, making it symbolic on several levels.

The Medicine Wheel:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  third row center
For many people, this will look nothing like the modern conception of a medicine wheel, and yet, for me, it fits perfectly. The medicine wheel as depicted in modern Native (or faux-Native) art usually has four spokes bound together at the edges by a hoop. It may hang from a leather thong, it may be trimmed with beads and/or feathers, and it may be divided into different colors (usually four). But the original medicine wheels on which the modern design is based were constructed by Northern Plains tribes on the earth, using large stones laid out at intervals in a spoke pattern. To me, the spoke pattern in this block is clear - and, like many of the ancient wheels, not every spoke is identical in length. The fact that the pattern is made of fabric in four colors (and specifically, these four colors - white, yellow, red, and black, which are found in many traditional representations of the medicine wheel) cements the impression for me.

The Water Bird:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  third row right block
The Water Bird, sometimes called a Peyote Bird, is a symbol that appears largely in the traditions of the Native American Church (not to be confused with Thunderbird; there are similarities, and there are differences, and while some traditions may regard them as synonymous by no means is that universally true). The Water Bird is a messenger of sorts, with a specific spiritual role. In Native art, the Water Bird is usually depicted with the head straight up, and rather pointed; wings spread, but often pointing downward; tailfeathers spread, and sometimes split like those of a swallow. If you turn this block so that the lower-right corner is at the top, you'll see the image that I see - a Water Bird in flight.

In All Directions:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  bottom row left block
Sometimes, directional symbolism runs wider and deeper than the usual Four Directions. You may be familiar with the documentary series (and accompanying book and soundtrack), <em>Waasa Inabidaa:  We Look In All Directions from a few years ago. The literal translation of the phrase is perhaps closer to something like "to sit in a such away is to see all around, a long way off." But part of the idea is perspective: to see one's place in the world both historically and in the contemporary sense, and to understand it. For me, this block evokes that especially well, because it combines multi-directional imagery with, again, a repeating diamond pattern that I've come to associate with the Eye of Spirit.

Lightning Bolts:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013  bottom row center block
Lightning bolts have different significance among tribal cultures, but one seeming commonality is that they bear a sense of great power. In Native art, Thunderbird is sometimes depicted as holding lightning bolts (sometimes symbolized by arrows) in his or her talons. They have parts in some of our origin stories, in a variety of ways. Here, the sharp angles make me think of the lightning bolts that our Animikiig, or "Thunder Beings," carry. Where I live now, they're a harbinger of that most valuable of resources, that greatest of blessings:  Water.

The Evening Star:

Okiciyap Quilt 2013    bottom row right block
This particular star pattern is reminiscent of many of the designs found in traditional Lakota Star Quilts. For me, though, the color choices, the black and white print background, and the symbolic imagery embedded in the star itself take my spirit in a specific direction: With this final block, the quilt comes full circle for me. We began with the Morning Star as dawn breaks, guiding us as we start the day. At day's end, with the warm, deep colors of sunset comes the Evening Star, to watch over us as twilight fades and the darkness descends like a blanket woven with thousands of smaller stars.

Every person who looks at this quilt will no doubt see something very different. This is simply where it took me. Maybe it will take you down your own unique road; maybe something in my own path will speak to you as well.  

But two things I know: If you win this quilt, it will bring you blessings in some form, whether via magic and mystery, hope and healing; and your dollars in bidding on it will help save lives.

Both of those things, like this quilt, are worth much more than the sum of their parts.

So beginning tomorrow: Bid early; bid often; and good luck!

Chi miigwech.

THE RULES

OKICIYAP QUILT AUCTION RULES 2013

1) Auction runs from 5:00 p.m. (12:00 CT) Wednesday, March 27th to Sunday, April 7 at approximately 7:00 p.m. CT. The last two+ hours of the auction will be held online. If  no higher bids are posted by 7:10 p.m. the best bid before 7:00 p.m. will be declared the winner.  

1.1)The auction will end as soon as no higher bids are posted within 10 minutes of the highest bid received. Final bids will be decided by the time posted on the message. The decision of the judges on winning bid is final.

1.2)After the final bid is decided and the successful bidder notified, the donation will be made, and once confirmed,  BeadLady will send the quilt to the lucky winner!

2) Bids will be accepted by making comments in diaries, as well as by kosmailing weck and/or glorificus at any time.

2.1)  If you wish to remain anonymous, you may set that up with weck or glorificus in advance, and we will use a number when we post your bids in a diary.  (example = Anon-02)

2.2)  If you want to leave an absentee bid, you may do that with either weck or glorificus.  We will need to know the highest amount you are willing to bid and we will place those bids for you in 10 dollar increments as the bidding progresses throughout the auction.  If the bidding goes higher than you first authorized, you may contact the same person again with a new top limit, or bid in the diaries. Absentee bids should be
placed with weck or glorificus as far in advance as possible.

3) Bidding by groups is allowed, as long as only one contact name is used.  Please let us know the details of your group and who is the official spokesperson for the group.

4) Bidding is in minimum increments of $10.00. You may bid in higher increments that can be divided evenly by $10.00.

4.1) Bids must be in U.S. funds.

5) weck and glorificus will do their best to inform all bidders of the newest high bid.  To receive this information in you Kosmail box, please ask weck or glorificus to join Daily Kos Quilt Guild Auction Alliance group.  

5.1) We will send groupmail to everyone (Each member will be made an editor for the duration of the auction)  Reminder*A groupmail won't show up on your main page; you will have to check for messages manually.*

6) A PayPal link will be included for other donations to Okiciyap.  While we cherish the thought that you may choose to donate to Okiciyap during the auction, there is no advantage in the auction to doing that.  It is not necessary to donate through the PayPal to Okiciyap to participate in the auction. To use the paypal link, click on the link that goes to the Okiciyap Pantry's new website.  http://okiciyap.weebly.com/...

7)  The winning bidder can make payment arrangements that are not through PayPal with weck or glorificus.  We know that some folks don't use Paypal.

8)  The winning bidder will have 48 hours to confirm their success.  After 48 hours, the judges may, at their discretion, offer the second highest bidder the opportunity to redeem the quilt.  The decision of the judges is final.

Originally posted to Okiciyap (we help) on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 01:19 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos Quilt Guild Auction Alliance, DK Quilt Guild, and J Town.

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