Rhythm Of The Sioux
Dear diary...Summer of 1994 was filled with months of glorious sunshine. I was lucky enough not to be going out to work that year and so became a full time housewife. When I wasn't cooking, cleaning or shopping, I was able to pledge myself entirely to my new hobbies, spending every day possible in the garden, either growing or picking herbs and flowers, drying them, also inventing new ideas.
As autumn and then winter approached, It was while reading an article in our local paper of Thursday November 17th 1994 that I realized there were many others out there who felt the same way I did, about living the Native American life style.
The first time I contacted Jeff ( Spotted Eagle,) I wrote to say I'd watched him on Big Breakfast which was on Channel 4 at the time. The episode was shown sometime after the 28th December, but I can't remember when exactly. He looked so proud in his Indian Chief costume, I couldn't help but admire the lengths he went to put his thoughts across, which infused me and many others with enthusiasm.
He talked about his ambitious plans for Camp Dakota, which would become an Educational Resource Centre with cultural, visual and performing arts projects. It was hoped he would establish 14 Tipis on the site as a permanent fixture.
Jeff's idea was to create colourful painted Tipis, with the smell of wood smoke from camp fires, where there would be craft demonstrations and talks. Also in the pipeline he wanted a Sun dance lodge right in the middle of camp. Dotted around there would be other lodges, because he wanted it to be as authentic as possible.
Jeff had many famous people wishing him luck, like Norman Wisdom, Frankie Vaughan and many others, when he made special appearances on radio and television. Apart from the fact he was a Swindon bus driver, I don't know where he got all his energy from to do so much good for our town.
I wrote to Thamesdown Leisure Services expressing my deepest hopes that the project would take off. I thought that the idea of youngsters learning Sioux projects, like Indian bead work, costume making, dancing and many other challenges got me so excited.
In 1994 I got some of my ladies from my dance aerobics class together, we did a sponsored workout and raised money to go towards Tipis, which Jeff was over the moon about and sent me a lovely thank you letter.
Jeff's eldest daughter named Morning Star was able to dance with hoops, although I never saw her dance, Jeff assured me she was really good. His daughter was still at school and knew a lot about the Lakota Indians and their background, she gave me my name of Evening Star which I was very thankful for.
I recall driving with Spotted Eagle and his family up to Coate Water park in Swindon, where we met up with other like minded people, who had erected Tipis and lodges to show a little bit of what could be done with the land, with its beautiful lake and walks with surrounding trees and grassy areas, you couldn't help but imagine those woodland Indians with their Tipis dotted around. Many men, women were busy at some venture or another.
Spotted Eagle took me around to meet the many groups that were all clothed in the traditional dress of their choice of tribes, they were all very friendly and more than willing to show me what they were doing. I was fascinated by the bead work some of the men and women were displaying on their costumes, and the stories behind their meanings. It left me so impressed that I asked Jeff if he would show me how to produce my own bead work.
When I got home he gave me the address of a company I could order beads and also where to get the loom from. After my weaving bead loom arrived, I wanted to know so much more.
Jeff and his wife showed me how to weave the beads on to the loom, it was a pleasure to spend those precious moments deep in thought as I worked, thinking of what my costume would look like.
The first time I wore my costume was while taking part in a local Summer get together on Jeff's local green, along with other like minded people. I sat outside one of the erected Tipis feeling so proud of myself, as I worked the loom and had the general public asking me how I made the designs while watching intensely, I was in my element and threw myself whole heartily into what I was doing.
My costume was made of chamois. Spotted Eagle had arranged to meet up with me one day. He took me to a local warehouse that sold chamois leathers at a cheap price. When we arrived I couldn't believe how much they had, there were piles of off cuts, enough to sow together and make myself an Indian dress, and like Jeff said, it was really cheap because we cut out the middle man.
Not long after I got to know Jeff, it was in the Spring of 1995, he introduced me to a lady from Chiseldon by the name of Lisa, we started to write to each other. Over the months we found we had a lot in common, I went for a visit to her house, she showed me all her passions for the American Indians. Lisa was as keen as me to see the camp take off and we talked about our thoughts a lot.
Lisa was crazy about the film Dances With Wolves and had a crush on Kevin Costner, so much so that she had a huge poster of him in her hallway. She'd watched the film so many times, she knew it off by heart. It was then she decided her Indian name would be Wolf Dancer, which I thought was very appropriate for her.
Next port of call was to visit the American Museum in Bath. So myself and Lisa decided to pay this sprawling house and grounds a visit. After much arranging, Lisa picked me up from my house and off we traveled. I recall thinking It was nice to be free from children and housework for the day.
I was able to buy books and read up as much as I could on the life of American Indians. It was amazing to think that so much information was held in one place. I managed to get a book on Indian hand sign language. Also a book I would recommend reading for anyone interested in the history of the American West, called: Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. It uncovers the truth behind the culture of the American West between 1860 and 1890...well worth the read.
A much more complex book is: The Indian How Book, by Arthur C. Parker. It writes about American Indian Crafts, Customs, Food and Clothing and their recreations. Sadly I did find it hard going to read, much preferring the hands on approach from Spotted Eagle which was more helpful.
I also bought a handmade rug, but I never actually put it on the floor, it was too valuable, so I hung it on the wall. I still have it to this day and now it hangs on our banister at the top of the stairs on the landing, still looking as good as new.
Our local club my husband helped to run held Wild West themed evenings back then, so this was another opportunity to wear my costume and show my interest in the Sioux Indian way of life. It was a simple costume compared to so many of the others I'd seen, but it still took me ages to complete and I wore it proudly.
Sadly Jeff passed away, I think in 2006, his dreams sadly never came to fruition, but I will never forget such a gentle man that I'm so thankful and proud to have met.