Home is where the Heart is

by Arigon Starr
News From Indian Country

A gigantic “howdy” from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I’m working my way west to Los Angeles after a whirlwind trip to Santa Fe’s Indian Market and the Ponca Pow-Wow.

Both events have occurred annually for decades. This was the eightieth year of the Santa Fe Indian Market. The Ponca Pow-Wow is now in its one hundred and thirtieth year (yes, that’s ONE HUNDRED!) and White Eagle Park, where the event is held, was just listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, a first for a “cultural” location in the state of Oklahoma.

Hundreds of Indian artists displayed their paintings, pottery, jewelry, carvings, clothing and more at the Santa Fe Indian Market, presented by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA). The Market, as most folks call it, shows no signs of slowing down. The week starts early with events hosted by the Institute for Indian Arts (IAIA), the Autry National Center and the Native American Rights Fund, among others. Actors, musicians and singers also flock to the Market, with concerts going on at the Santa Fe Indian School’s Paolo Soleri Theater and around town.

You could see everybody from N. Scott Momaday (spotted at the Autry reception at the La Fonda Hotel) to John Trudell strolling around the Plaza. This year, I lent my talents to Gary Farmer’s annual bash (which also featured his group the Troublemakers, Keith Secola, James Luna and others) and Star Nayea’s Native Youth Forum (with participants like Joy Harjo, Conroy Chino, etc.). I was also pleased to spend time with Indianz.com’s Acee Agoyo and Todd York, plus Jeanne Givens, a member of the board of Trustees of IAIA. In the midst of the teeming crowds, I also met some of my Kickapoo cousins, including Jennell Downs, the current Secretary of the Kickapoo Tribal Council.

After the weekend, I headed east towards Oklahoma. I stayed with friends in Lawton, Oklahoma, and was sorry to hear about the heavy rains that caused much tragedy in the western part of the State, especially to the family of Kiowa chairman Billy Evans Horse. My sincere condolences to all.

When bad things happen, you appreciate family even more. I’m fortunate to have so many wonderful folks in my corner.

The Nightingale Theater hosted my concert on August 21st – which to my pleasure was a sell-out. Gerald Wofford, of the Muscogee Creek Nation’s television show Native News Today was on hand to tape the part of the performance, which my cousins saw the following Saturday on tee-vee! Karen Shade, a dynamic Cherokee/Navajo journalist with the Tulsa World was also on hand with a photographer. Karen’s profile on me was certainly responsible for bringing so many people to the show. “Mvto” (“thank you” in Creek) to everyone who made it such a memorable performance.

There was time to visit my friends at the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma. My father, Ken Wahpecome, lost touch with the tribe after he joined the Navy and moved our family around the country. He would occasionally visit Oklahoma, but we didn’t get much time to spend with our Kickapoo family because my Mom, Ruth Wahpecome, has so many kin in Tulsa. My Aunt Sue Alford and cousin Paula Willits (a Creek tribal councilwoman) came with me to the tribal offices in McLoud where I reconnected with long-lost folks related to my dad’s mother Jeanette Okemah. I was even surprised to learn that current Kickapoo tribal chairman, Marlon Frye, is my cousin! Jennell Downs and Laveda Salazar took us to a traditional Kickapoo summer house, which is made of cattail stalks by the women of the tribe.

Sue and Janene Alford and I headed north to Ponca City for the big Pow-Wow. We camped with our Aunt Lucy Kemble and caught up with her children Kirby, Sue, Jim and Terri who all sing with the traditional group Yellow Hammer. (FYI, if you’re voting online for the Native American Music Awards, Yellow Hammer is up for Best Pow-Wow Recording for “In Memory of Perry Lee Botone, Jr.”) There was more laughter and family lore around the dinner table. More Kickapoo cousins were at the Pow-Wow and it was great fun to hear stories about my Dad.

You never really know how much you miss folks when they’re gone. My dad passed away in March 2005, yet it still feels like he’s riding right beside me.

The contest dancing was perhaps the best I’ve ever seen. Ponca tribal chairman Dan Jones (who’s an old pal from his days in Hollywood) seems to have the right idea to televise the fancy dance championships. I hope this comes to pass – everyone should get a chance to see what happens up in Ponca!

I’ll be heading to the northwest in a few days. Look for me out on the road in Washington and Oregon. There’s an old Motown song by Marvin Gaye which might be my theme song this summer – “Wherever I Lay My Hat, That’s My Home!”