Waiting for kidney transplant, Lakota quilter holds family sacred

Journal by Trace A DeMeyer
Porcupine, South Dakota (Special to NFIC) 7-09

 Ellowyn Locke with quilts

It was the busiest weekend in 2007, August 4 and 5 on the Pine Ridge reservation, with the 22nd annual Oglala Lakota Nation contest pow wow and rodeo, the final days of the Two Dogs and the Swallow Sun Dance, and a constant roar of Harleys headed to Sturgis through the Badlands. 

A steady stream of bikers, on an estimated 600,000 motorcycles, traveled South Dakota highways; some stopped to pay their respects at the Wounded Knee Memorial; while others bartered for arts and crafts at makeshift huts covered with fresh pine-bough roofs across the road.

In Pine Ridge, bikers bought a tank of gas, an Indian taco, t-shirts, quill jewelry, or cds from vendors set up for the pow wow. Several rows of bikes lined up outside the new Prairie Winds Hotel Casino in Oglala, flush with cash from the Shakopee Mdewakan, their rich Minnesota relatives who operate the Mystic Lake Casino, who hope tour buses will deliver enough people to fill the new 100-room hotel in Oglala.

Ellowyn Locke, a member of the Oglala Lakota Oyate (Tribal Nation), does dialysis three times a week. She finished her four-hour dialysis this day and rushed home to finish two star quilts for Bob and Wolf, invited guests who were driving all day from Colorado Springs.  Despite disabling diabetes and severe fatigue, Ellowyn’s been sewing quilts for months, prepared for her family memorial planned in August 2007.

Despite unseasonably scorching 100 degree heat, the Locke and Afraid of Hawk families held their traditional Lakota memorial-dinner-giveaway on August 5 at St. Julius Episcopal Church in Porcupine, honoring five generations of women, Sadie Janis Short Horn, Gladys Short Horn, Frances Locke, Michelle Afraid of Hawk and Cleschelle Roper, each first born daughters.

Among those invited was Everett Lone Hill, a close family friend and blood grandson of Fool’s Crow, who had a kidney transplant in 2006. Everett, 63, encouraged Ellowyn to get the surgery done as soon as possible. A fluent speaker of traditional Lakota, he served as MC at the memorial, providing the microphone and loudspeaker. Prayers were offered, family remembered their relatives and I was asked to read the family history I wrote, for the 50 people. (Sadly, Everett passed in June 2008.)

The youngest to be remembered, Cleschelle Afraid of Hawk Roper died tragically at age 18 in 2005. She’d been living in Porcupine less than a year. She died from acute alcohol poisoning. Her cousins who threw a house party and served alcohol were never criminally charged. The tragedy still hangs over the families, dividing siblings who will not speak to one another.

Alcohol abuse is not uncommon, even though the rez is dry, meaning no alcohol is sold in Pine Ridge. Abuse is still rampant. A short walk, a mile and a half to Nebraska, four liquor stores sell these Pine Ridge residents a million cans of beer a year. On August 4, tribal police checked cars for alcohol leaving White Clay, Nebraska, headed back to Pine Ridge.  Checking my rental car, the officer found three freshly decorated cakes I had just picked up for the memorial, along with groceries from Gordon, Nebraska.

Cleschelle’s great aunt, Ellowyn, never got over the loss, or her death. She planned this memorial for months, hand-sewing several quilts and pillow tops as giveaway items. The memorial was meant to put closure on the tragedy, so Cleschelle’s spirit could rest. Ellowyn has a large family with nine brothers and sisters. Priscilla and Cheryl, along with many nieces and nephews, contributed and served the memorial food and helped with the giveaway.

Ellowyn suffers from diabetes, like her parents. For years she controlled and monitored her symptoms with diet, taking a pill instead of daily insulin injections. Eventually her kidneys gave out. Since 2006, she goes to dialysis every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A computerized dialysis machine cleans her blood over a period of four hours.

Locke, 59, is lucky, she’s eligible for a transplant. She finished seven required medical tests, and has been placed on a transplant list. The procedure might take place in Rapid City or Sioux Falls, where transplant teams stand ready; when an available kidney is ready. After a phone call from the transplant team, Ellowyn will drive hours to her surgery. For three weeks she will be in intensive care to prevent infection and to monitor her new kidney.

The Memorial: Remembering Locke and Afraid of Hawk families, AUGUST 5

Frank James Locke was born in the 1920s. He met Gladys May Short Horn at age 17 and they married when he was 18. He was 7 years older than Gladys. Frank served in Germany in WWII and talked about the Army where he served as a paratrooper. He was honorably discharged. Before Frank married Gladys he attended the New Mexico Santa Fe Art School. Frank was a very good artist and could draw. He came back and opened a garage in Porcupine, then moved to Springfield, SD, to attend the SSTC teachers college where he trained as an auto mechanic in 1962-63. When he finished, he moved Gladys and his children back to Porcupine.

From 1965-1970 the family lived in Wounded Knee so Frank would be closer to the McGill Factory where they made fish hooks, where Frank worked. Eventually the company pulled out. The family lived there until 1973 then moved back to Porcupine. Over the years Frank suffered from diabetes and had a leg amputated. He worked on building a good life and homestead for his family on the 160 acres he bought here in Porcupine. Frank died in 1979 of a massive heart attack and is buried here on the hill.

Gladys and Frank married in this church. Gladys had nine children with Frank and raised some of her grandkids, too. She was born in Kyle and raised in the Badlands. Gladys was a very talented seamstress, an expert. She made quilts, canned food and made all of her own clothes. She worked for St. Julius Episcopal Church, helping to raise money.

Both were very generous people, and home was most important. Gladys became very ill with diabetes and went on dialysis. She passed away in 1986.

 

Frank and Gladys loved their home, their tribe and their children. They planned ahead to care for their youngest, Debbie, who was born handicapped; Frank left his pension to care for Debbie.

They are both buried here on the hill overlooking their church.

Their oldest daughter Frances is also buried here. Frances was a business woman, with a head for numbers. She attended Pine Ridge high school and graduated. After high school she attended a business college in Denver and then spent six months studying accounting and office procedures at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake.

Frances married Dwight Afraid of Hawk in 1968. Frances worked for the BIA in Aberdeen and Manderson, doing accounting. She also worked for her tribe. One of Frances’ favorite things was photography. She took many photos when she and Dwight traveled and were raising their three children, Michelle, Maria and Mike, in their own house on the family homestead in Porcupine.                       Frances worked hard all her life and believed in education. Her children played office as a game. She loved them very much. Frances became a diabetic then got very ill and died at age 42. She left her BIA pension and Social Security for her kids.

France’s daughter Michelle was her oldest. She was born in 1968 and grew up in Porcupine and Aberdeen. Michelle was very athletic and had a head for business like her mother. She also loved to take lots of photographs. When Michelle was a teenager, 16 years old, she went to the Utah job center. She studied hard and graduated from the program. It was there she met Clevelle Roper, Jr., who was also in the program. Clevelle was from Kansas. Together she and Clevelle had two children, Cleschelle and Clevelle. They lived in Minneapolis. When Michelle got sick, she returned to Porcupine and died in 1999. Clevelle raised their children in Kansas.

Cleschelle, Michelle and Clevelle’s oldest child, did not get to enjoy adulthood life but she did live a full life while she was here. She looked like her mother Michelle and was always laughing. She attended school in Minneapolis, Kansas and recently in Porcupine. She loved fashion like her great-grandma Gladys and loved photography like her grandma Frances and her mom Michelle. Cleschelle wrote poetry and loved music. She and her brother wanted to live closer to their mother’s family and had only been here a short time when Cleschelle, a very loving girl, died at age 18.

Today we also remember Dwight Afraid of Hawk, who was born in the 1940s in Wounded Knee. Dwight was married to Frances. He was older than Frances. Dwight’s grandfather Richard Afraid of Hawk was an interpreter in 1890, during the time of the first massacre in Wounded Knee.

Dwight’s family were professional bead-workers at the Wounded Knee Guildersleeve’s Trading Post. They were employed there. Dwight was very educated and business-like. Like his wife Frances, he worked for his tribe, and held an office job. Dwight became ill and died of natural causes in the mid 1990s. Both he and Frances left land and security for their children.

From the grandma Sadie Janis Short Horn, to Gladys, to Frances, to Michelle to Cleschelle, all were 1st born daughters, five generations of remarkable and talented women.

I am honored to be here

I am honored to be here as one of the adopted relatives of my dearest friend Ellowyn Locke. Back in 1992, I met Merle in Oregon at an art show. We talked a long time and he said, “You have to meet my sister.” Well I did, I drove out to Porcupine by myself and Ellowyn and I have been sisters ever since. I come back almost every year. I am a writer, editor and a journalist. I’m writing a book about the Indian Adoption Project. I opened my own adoption and met Cherokee & Irish ancestors.

When we first met I was writing a children’s book and needed Ellowyn’s help. Ellowyn taught me a lot over the past 15 years. We enjoyed long visits. I learned about Lakota history (and a few important words) and she took me to the Badlands to meet relatives like Aunt Edna and Uncle Eugene. At her kitchen table we’ve laughed from sunrise to sunset. I call Ellowyn skinny, (eh, just teasing). She named me Winyan Ohmanisa Waste la ke, because she has known me as the traveling lady, moving from Oregon, to Seattle, to Wyoming, to Wisconsin, to Connecticut and now to Massachusetts.  She knows me. I love to travel.

I also love going to the Badlands to pick sage, in the sacred place where her mom Gladys grew up. I love to pick buffalo berries, too, though I think eating sweet meat (pemmican) is best. We visit on the phone all the time and I keep her close to me, with a special quilt she made for me.

I call Ellowyn Strong Walking Woman, Winyan Washaka Mani. She is very strong and cares deeply for her family, her relatives and her tribe.

Ellowyn taught me the most important thing I know, which is Mitakuye Oyasin, which translates to we are all related. Pilamaye, thank you for letting me speak about family. I thank Ellowyn for inviting me today.

Trace A. DeMeyer (Cherokee) is finishing her memoir Split Feathers. She lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

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