Dancing to Remember


I am gathered with friends and family under a bead blue California sky. Powwow weekend. Santa Ynez Chumash Inter-Tribal. My shawl is folded over my arm. I listen to the wind, spilling through the tree leaves. 

Time merges with timelessness. Memories circle and carry me to a day forty years ago, when I stood on this good land, near the oak tree for the first time, with my young children gathered about. The same tree I am standing under today. 

I lean my back against this oak. This tree, giver of life. She has raised a community with song, dance and prayer. We return to this land, to this tree, in October every year. Laughter, flirting and romance in lives young and old take place all around her. 

She stands sentry. Her autumn softened leaves, swept up from a cool mountain breeze, fall gently on American Indian fathers holding sleeping babies. Mothers trading stories, their shiny cut beads reflecting light while braiding their children’s hair, with feathers in the colors of the earth, trailing. 

There were difficult times too for this oak tree, when she witnessed wild fires raging, drought years with dust rising against the clear sky. The times when her branches sheltered human arguments and angry outbursts, but mostly she is surrounded by love and caring. 


I stand high upon a flat rock, my eyes roaming, taking in the day, the years. Filling my lungs with sweet fragrances of the damp Mother Earth. Feeling my body grow light, like the feathers of the red tail hawk touching the soft clouds. 


For the record I am not California Indian. I am an Indian born in California, mixedblood Cherokee, Lenape, Seneca, and for forty-three years I lived in an area that makes up the traditional Chumash homeland. I spent those years walking gently, a guest on this good land and I hold the culture, traditions and history of the Chumash people in my heart. For my Chumash friends this is their landscape of time. 


I remember the words of my aunties and my grandmothers, about how each person is a connection to history and when we gather around the area and form a circle around the drums, singers and dancers we are all connected, and it's our way of saying that American Indian people are still here. This is our celebration of life past, present and future. 


First published in the Spring 2019 issue of News From Native California a quarterly magazine devoted to California's Indian peoples. This essay also appears in Terra Trevor's upcoming memoir, We Who Walk The Seven Ways. 
© Terra Trevor. All rights reserved.