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Frugal Living
by Donna Flood
Adoption, Ponca Tribal Way

Esther and Sam stood silently over the tiny grave of their last child. Here on the hill at the edge of their property the place would not be disturbed by the farming of the ground. Esther shivered and in her grief she shook all through her body as if the cold wind was a part of her. She had already had a child torn from her arms to be taken at the age of four to the schools of their conquerors. The woman who was past her youth had grieved for that child until her husband saw to it the medicine man came to aid her in recovery from her loss. They had survived the long trek on foot from the Black Hills to these allotments given to them. The parcels of land were small, contained, and measured out as was the custom. The land was new to them. They could not become adjusted to learn of the healing plants quickly enough to save those who were ill onto death.

As they walked back toward their house Sam spoke to Esther, "Woman! I know your heart is heavy. It has to be. We have been through so much, all of us. These things have been hard on us. When they took our little girl, you grieved so hard I was afraid you would leave me too. Don't do that again. We have our ways and they are good ways. Right away now we must go, we must make a short trip across the river out of this Fox Town area."

Esther was silent and respectful as Ponca women were disciplined to be. She knew of what he was speaking, and she knew too it was what had to be done.

Directly she went into her house. She began gathering up the things she needed, sweeping her house clean of all the items belonging to the child who had died. "Go with me to the timber, Husband," she addressed Sam. "The burning of these things must be done soon. Baby might be needing them, you know!" Together they carried the bundles to the timber. There was the hand made cradle, its garments, soft moccasins and whatever little toys it had. All these she stacked in a heap and Sam lit them with a fire. All the while the tiny possessions were melting into a heap of ashes, Esther gentle tapped the place where her heart was and softly sang a cradle song. Not long after the last coals were gone and the ashes had flown to the wind Esther leaned heavily on her husband's arm as he helped her back to the place where they must learn to somehow live and accept this new life.

"I am ready, let us go now," Esther spoke.

So it was Esther and Sam took their team of horses away from their home, across the river and into the camp of the McDonald family. Old man McDonald came out from one of the newly built government houses to greet them.

"McDonald!" Sam wasted no time with getting to the point. "McDonald, I am here for a reason this time. We just buried our last child, and you know our ways. You have a son the same age as the one we just lost. We are here to adopt your son."

"Come in, Come in," McDonald was ready to welcome the people to his home. "I am so sad to hear you lost our son. Come in, come in, see our son, Lewis McDonald who was the age of your boy."

When they entered the house the child, Lewis was brought to Esther and Sam. Esther was so busy getting to know him. "My you are such a good boy, so big, so strong! We want to take you as our son!"

The child's mother was helping the little boy child to get acquainted with Esther too. "Look, Son this woman is Esther. This is her man, Sam."

All at once the child began to feel a special place somehow. In his little spirit there arose an inspiration of something greater than he could understand and it made him pull himself up taller and stronger.

So it was the Ponca way. The boy Lewis McDonald was adopted by Sam and Esther Little Cook. Not in the way of their conquerors who had to have possession. No, the adoption simply meant that they would contribute to the child's welfare for the rest of his life just as if he were their own. If he needed clothing, medicine, schooling, security, they were his parents. In this way life was not taken away from them. Their need to prosper the child taken from them would simply be given over to this child. And so it was until the time of their death.

To this day when the Little Cook song is played to honor that family the McDonald family too will rise to enter the arena with them. These are the ways of the Ponca tribe, and though this is just a skimming of the richness from the top, it was their ways, and they were good. They were Ponca, "Pawn-KAH" Gentle Leaders, respecter of Wah KAH n Dah, Great Spirit who opposed the evil taking their child from them. They strengthened themselves to stand with Wah Kah Dah in this loving provision to say, "Life is sacred, and though the evil sickness and death took him away, we with our Native culture, customs will be able to overcome the loss through the adoption of another child his age."

In this way, "We have not given up."



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