A typical custom is a chief will make a puff of smoke then hold up a tribal peace pipe to four points of the wind; north, east, west and south. This is an offering of our words to spirits who ride upon wind to know our words are true. Each person gathered for discussion makes a smoke puff and holds up their pipe high for spirits to know each speaks truth. At end of this circular ceremony all are deeply honor bound to speak truth. All become of one mind.
Function of a peace pipe ceremony is to guide discussions of tribal affairs then decisions are made. All agree to speak about only certain topics and agree to speak truthfully. This creates an environment of trust. A chief listens to what is said by mixed tribal members: a medicine man, a healer, a warrior, a teacher and, important, a wizened grandmother along with knowledgeable others.
In time a chief makes decisions for a tribe based upon words of truth said. Words of a chief are respected and binding. All follow his decisions with pride and dignity.
Our peace pipe rituals earn our peoples a proud reputation for our being truth speakers.
We Indians are equally fierce and prideful about our love for each other and for our tribe. We are more than willing to risk injury and death to protect our families and our tribe. We never think about those risks, we instantly do what is needed to protect our peoples. This is why our American military never could defeat us; we do not fear death while those cavalry soldiers are frightened by death.
I am a young girl around seven or eight years old. A passage from a book:
In a flash, both mules bolt, knock grandma down, trample over her, just about stomp her in two with those eight hooves stepping on her... There is no hesitation, I bolt to help my grandma, have to get to her before the double tree knocks her on the head and kills her. Damn boy cousin grabs my arm again. This time I spin around and chomp down hard on his arm. When I taste coppery blood, I let go and take off running without looking back. I get over front of those mules....
Unknown to me this "boy cousin" who grabbed my arm to protect me is actually the love of my life, my then future husband. We both race in then wrestle with our two mules to save our grandma. He is plenty mad at me, later he gives me a stern lecture, "Those mules could have killed you!" Yet he risks his life as well to save grandma.
My vicious biting of his arm leaves our cowboy with a lifelong fiery red scar.
Now and then grandpa teases this boy I love, "That little injun girl of yours put the bite mark on you. She owns you, son!" This story of grandma and our mules becomes wildfire gossip around our rural farming community. Choctaw girls, with whom my cowboy loves to flirt and more, take to teasing him like grandpa. Those girls touch his wound, smile and tell him, "Chi Taha ihatak!" - "You are Taha's husband!" This doesn't stop my girlfriends from enjoying the more part of all his silver tongued devil flirting.
My husband and I have been together literally since the day I am born. Over those years a zillion times I tell him, "We're getting married!" A zillion times he tells me, "I ain't marrying no crazy injun girl!" All around our small Oklahoma farming town know I intend to marry the boy. Since six and seven years old I go on about marrying the darn boy. Close to my teens I am stick cracking heads of my girlfriends to keep them away from my cowboy, and stick cracking heads of boys who try to pitch a woo on me, "I belong to Billyray and he belongs to me!"
Often I talk with Choctaw women, my elders, about ways to have my boy marry me. I am advised to work hard and prove I would make a good wife and mother. Some teach me to be seductive, teach me ways to have sex and become pregnant. I drive my cowboy crazy with every trick I can think to pull. He drives me crazy, he will not talk marriage and will not have sex with me. Always the same, "You are too young!"
Thirteen and I am deeply honored, my family celebrates my Choctaw rite of passage to womanhood. My cowboy is in for it now, he is no longer allowed to say "no" to me, I am a full grown woman and he must treat me as such. This does not mean he will, this simply means he cannot say "no" to my wonts and desires.
We are out in our cornfield working hard at knocking down weeds and culling out ears of corn being eaten by bugs. Hot humid Oklahoma summer day, we are dirty, sweaty and smelly. My cowboy and I hear rustling of corn stalks. We look around, our tribal chief is walking towards us down a row. We toss down our hoes then shoulder-to-shoulder stand straight to honor him.
Our chief wears a stern poker face, we cannot read his face to learn what he is thinking. He looks at us for a minute, seems an hour, makes certain gestures at our sky with his hands and tells us we are married and to make babies. When I tell this story to mainstream Americans I have our chief simply saying, "chim auaya, lumaka" - "you are married, make babies". Our chief's actual words are complex and challenging to explain: "shilombish mali hachi auaya mih alla aiali aiakostininchi" - "wind spirits know truth of your marriage and children".
There is much deep meaning to his words, enough to write a story. Essence is our chief alludes to a peace pipe meeting and a decision; my boy and I are married and we are to make babies and begin a life of our own. Our chief and other elders offered truth of their words to wind spirits. This is highly sacred, my new husband and I are not to violate truth of their words: we are married.
Ornery, our chief looks at our corn, peels back a shuck leaf from an ear, says, "tanchi achukma" - "good corn". He does this to conceal a hint of a smile trying to come to life on his face. He straight face glances at us, turns, then walks away.
This now husband of mine looks at me, exasperation shakes his head then mutters, "I'm done for." I am stunned to silence, I am still working at understanding what just happened. This soaks into my head, we are married! I leap and fly onto my boy, clinch his waist with my legs, snake my arms around his neck, cinch tight, then begin passionately kissing him. My boy tries to get free, tries to get me off him but I will not let go. I do pull my lips away from his a couple of times to yell, "We're married!"
Two of us enjoy a Cornfield Marriage which serves well as a model for our daughter to hornswoggle her daddy into marriage; a shotgun wedding!
Years fly by much too fast. Our girl's daddy cuts her umbilical cord with the same pocketknife he used to cut mine. My husband cradles our minutes old girl in his arms just as he did for minutes old me. I see in his eyes the same love for our girl grandma says is in his young boy eyes when I am born. Grandma tells me, "...love in his eyes, I knew you would marry." Our girl's daddy raises her the same as he raised me, lots of laughter and love along with pride and dignity.
Typical daughter, she wants to be just like her ornery momma but turns out to be twice as ornery and a lot smarter!
My husband and I are born to illiteracy and ignorance. This is natural for kids born to be farmhands. Neither of us have high school diplomas but later years we earn college degrees. We make a promise to my swollen pregnant tummy, "We will teach you all we can, anything and everything with no topic taboo." This is our American Indian way.
Our girl attends public school, earns straight letter "A" grades and we home school her. Our cowboy teaches our girl and me hand skills; carpentry, plumbing, welding, auto mechanics, roofing, painting and many other invaluable skills. While earning a bachelor's, master's and finally a doctorate in English, I teach our girl and her daddy all I learn by bringing my lessons home. Our girl teaches us what she learns in school, those lessons her daddy and I never enjoyed being farmhands, a necessity of a farming life.
Same as her momma, at eleven and twelve years old our daughter begins menstruation. Just like her momma, at age thirteen we celebrate her Choctaw rite of passage to womanhood. In keeping with our traditions, we are no longer allowed to say "no" to our girl's decisions but we do tug on her reins while avoiding the "no" word. Like her momma at her age, she still has lessons to learn about life.
She is assigned many adult responsibilities at thirteen. Amongst those our girl is to tend to our family budget; deposit our paychecks, balance our budget, pay bills and decide a month ahead how much money we can spend and how much to set aside for savings. She is a smart girl, she checks out books from her school library to teach herself about family budgeting and money management. She does a great job and proves herself more spend-thrifty than her parents. At times our girl sits us down and talks budget. Important decisions are made by the three of us, we are one, we are a tribe of three. She is truly a full grown woman, same as her momma at thirteen.
Around sixteen, with a small lie about her actual age, she is finally able to find part time work, a minimum wage job typical for teenagers and she keeps a secret. She deposits her paycheck right along with ours while not telling us she is setting aside some of her money for a surprise.
Our girl's high school is sponsoring a trip to a Wild West theme park, "Movieland Frontier Town", on a Saturday and on our cowboy's birthday, "Daddy, I am treating you and momma to Frontier Town for your birthday!" She is exuberant, super excited.
Early Saturday morning we are in her school parking lot lined up with other students and parents waiting to board yellow school buses. Our girl is hugging a large and thick manilla envelope like she is holding a valuable Long John Silver treasure map. We do not ask, she does not tell. Her daddy and I whisper and decide she has a big homemade birthday card for our cowboy.
About to step up into a bus our daughter tells us, "I will be right back. Daddy, save me a seat next to you!" She grins and takes off running for another bus. We watch through a window, our daughter is handing out fliers of a sort to people boarding a second bus. She runs back to our bus, walks down the aisle while giving her friends and their parents fliers. She skips over us, continues to back of bus. A minute or two she plops down next to her cowboy, gets an arm around him then hands him a flier and ear-to-ear grins, "We're getting married!"
She is ornery and a schemer like her momma. Our girl squeezes her daddy tight with both arms, presses her face against his, I press my face against hers and the three of us read her flier. Our cowboy is bullfrog big-eyed, makes a nervous smile then grins. He looks at his girl with a poker face, "I ain't marrying no crazy injun girl!" She hits his chest, smiles, "That's what you tell momma and you two are married! We're getting married!" Our cowboy looks at me, "I'm done for." He says those exact same words like years earlier when our Choctaw elder married he and I out in our cornfield. His message is powerful, "Our girl is just like her momma."
Our daughter sets aside her own earned money, contacts Movieland and makes arrangements to have her fliers printed and mailed to her. She well knows how to take care of business, secretly. This is a true shotgun marriage. Her daddy cannot say "no" to her because she is a full grown Choctaw woman. He is also aware he must marry his girl because two busloads of kids and parents know those two will marry today. What those witnesses do not know is this is serious business.
Frontier Town is loads of fun, great entertainment, much to see, we grin and laugh constantly. Afternoon, time for their wedding. We wait amongst a sizeable audience of students and parents. Girls and boys marry, plenty of laughter and congratulations. A few couples actually kiss at end of ceremony, most simply give each other quick pecks of the lips. Plenty of grinning and blushing faces.
Our turn arrives. I walk along behind our girl and her cowboy. Up at the altar I step aside so all can see and to display respect for our girl, this is her special moment. An old two-bit Tinsel Town actor plays the part of a Wild West preacher man. He recites a bunch of silly words then finally gets around to, "You may kiss the bride!" Our girl is quick, takes her daddy by surprise, she leaps up onto him, wraps her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck then takes to passionately kissing her husband just like I did to him out in our cornfield. Our cowboy tries to pry her loose, she will not let go and she will not stop kissing him. Their audience lets loose whoops and wolf whistles and applause and foot stomps. My girl has me smile with pride, she is living out those stories we tell her of our own marriage amongst tanchi achukma.
Minute or so she stops kissing her cowboy but before dismounting she whispers in his ear. Preacher man pulls off his hat and fans his face, onlookers cheer and whistle while our girl and her husband walk down the aisle. Her daddy is blushing but grinning. Our girl keeps her sparkling eyes fixed on her cowboy and her grin wraps around her head and kisses in back. Takes a couple of minutes for all to settle down and marriage ceremonies to resume.
Nighttime, three of us are lying in bed while laughing and talking about fun events of this day. Our girl tells our cowboy a hundred times, "I told you we're getting married!" He grins and says a hundred times, "And I told you I ain't marrying no crazy injun girl!" Her daddy heads for our kitchen to refresh our bowl of green grapes and to grab another small split bottle of chilled champagne. My daughter knows I am wondering and knows I will not ask. She hugs up to me, kisses me then quietly tells me what she whispered in his ear, "This is not pretend, this is real."
Best of all for our day, our daughter pulls off the most loving hornswoggle of our lives.
We American Indians are fierce about abiding our traditions. This marriage of our girl and her daddy is just as real as this marriage of our cowboy and me out in our cornfield. Their preacher man married those two, our Choctaw elder married us. This is difficult for mainstream Americans to comprehend we Indians marry in our minds, hearts and spirits not on official government paper. This is our efforts and behaviors over years which actually has us marry. We display a sincere desire to be together and to be a team working at living life; we are tribal.
Our Indian marriages are like a peace pipe ritual. We are sincere, we are truthful and we honor those truths we offer to wind spirits. We earn our marriages, we protect our marriages and we bring honor to our marriages. The three of us in our tribal family are married and always will be. We are of one mind.