(from The Fair and the Falls, Chapter Seventeen, “A Mingling of Peoples”)
David Brown Eagle, whose mother was a Spokane, was one of the participants at Native American's Earth. He grew up on the Blackfoot and Colville reservations, and he remembered childhood trips to Spokane. "We'd come here to shop, say, for Christmas, and down by the water, where Expo was, I remember we'd park under the train trestle. We'd walk through the Skid Road area. It was really, really ugly."
As he grew up, one of the important influences in his life was his grandmother, who was in tum raised among Indians who remembered when the white men first settled Spokane. "There's going to be a time," she told her grandson, "they're going to come, and they're going to take your horse, they're going to take your land, and they're going to take your home. But Grandson, whatever you want to give from here (indicating her heart), they can't take that away. You can only give it up." Raised among people who had indeed lost horses, homes, and land to the whites-land that included the Spokane Falls-Brown Eagle's grandmother could speak these words with authority. (135)
"There's going to be a time," she told her grandson, "they're going to come, and they're going to take your horse, they're going to take your land, and they're going to take your home. But Grandson, whatever you want to give from here (indicating her heart), they can't take that away. You can only give it up."
When he was in high school, Brown Eagle and several friends liked to attend powwows. Accompanied by drums, they would dance "until the sun was coming up." Dancing was a spiritual experience. Each object in the regalia had meaning. As Brown Eagle put on bits and pieces of his costume, each would bring back memories. "It's kind of like a story time within your own head." Whenever he began to dance he was prepared, just as a good runner is ready for a race.
You don't sit around all week and then run on a weekend. You train for it. I don't sit around all week and dance on Friday. No, what I do, I train during the week, not for the dance but for my body so when I go to a powwow, and I dance, it's like, wow, man, it feels good!
The whole process is to offer prayers through the songs, through the dance and to recharge, reenergize and get rid of a lot of excess baggage or garbage we may pick up during the year. Early morning of that last night before the sunlight, it's an exciting time because everybody knows the sacrifice, if you will, is complete. The songs were sung, the dances were danced, the words were spoken, the prayers were offered. It's really a beautiful, strong spiritual experience.
As an example of the spiritual content of the dance, he described the Sneak Up, a dance that probably originated in Oklahoma. Accompanied by a drum beat, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, the dancers would imitate warriors. In the middle of their circle would be a prone warrior whom they would try to rescue.
"Then they lift this man up. They retrieve the wounded warrior from the battlefield; then, when they pick him up, that's when everybody goes crazy. I mean, in a good sense, because they see what they've done. The first time we did it, this friend of mine from the Nez Perce reservation-he was wounded in Vietnam, and he was a prisoner of war-he relived that situation where he was wounded and relived that experience of being a prisoner of war, but also he relived the belief that as a Nez Perce warrior his strength as an individual within his tribe and as a veteran and as a warrior veteran was very significant."
This dance was meaningful to Brown Eagle and other participants because they too were veterans, and their sense of brotherhood added to the meaning of the ceremony. "In other words, you get energized, you call upon your spirits, you call upon your brothers who are dancing with you, you call on the significance of a song and how it lifts you up. How would you say in the white man's terms a pep rally! But probably more so because there was more of a spiritual base in it. So it was a good feeling, and it still is, to connect, and I believe a lot of dancers still have that. They have that excitement of going out there to dance. I mean, it's really a rush."
In presenting native culture for the general public through a series of dances, there was always the danger that persons seeing the performance would think they had learned all there was to know about the dance. He compared the situation to someone following a Catholic priest for a couple of days, and then putting on a robe and claiming he was ready to conduct a service. Brown Eagle could anticipate a point when his descendants, if not properly taught, would look at an Indian dance and say, "What's the big deal?" So, he added, "we need to understand the big deal within ourselves first and foremost. And if we lose sight of the big deal, then everybody else including our great-grandchildren and our grandchildren, they'll say, 'Well, there's no big deal about being Indian.'''
Brown Eagle, and many other Indians at Expo '74, were encouraged by the fact that Native American's Earth was their festival. They were calling attention to their presence in the modem world. In that way, it reflected the spirit of the American Indian Movement. "All of a sudden the status quo was changing. 'Hey, I ain't sitting in the back of the bus any more. Hey wait now, either stop the bus or put me in front or let me drive.'''
"All of a sudden the status quo was changing. 'Hey, I ain't sitting in the back of the bus any more. Hey wait now, either stop the bus or put me in front or let me drive.''' It was an important lesson. "How many people here in Spokane," he said, "don't even realize there's a Spokane Tribe, don't even realize there's a Spokane Indian Reservation within a forty-minute drive from here, don't even realize there are even Spokane Indians other than the baseball team?" Native American's Earth provided a vehicle for educating fair visitors to Indian cultures. No longer was the Indian "out of sight, out of mind." The Indian participation at Expo was a way of saying, "Hey, we're alive and well."
For the most part, the Native American presence at Expo '74 was as hospitable as any other aspect of the fair. David Brown Eagle recalled the Spokanes performing the Round Dance and the Owl Dance, "social dances" where the audience was invited to take part. He described his own method for encouraging participation. "If you're out there in the audience gawking and then somebody says, 'Come on up and join us,' you know, one of two things will happen. One, you'll get afraid and become less of a gawker. And then you get the ones that are excited and want to be part of it and experience it, and they're the risk takers; they're going to jump up and take part. And those that are willing to take part are going to experience part of that hospitality and that good feeling. And so when they leave, they're gonna think 'Wow, Spokane Indians are nice people.'"
(You know you want to!)