Program 104: Elder Wisdom

Zona Loans Arrow

Zona Loans Arrow

Zona Loans Arrow

with Barbara Roberts

Arlie Neskahi:

I’m Arlie Neskahi and you’re listening to Wisdom of the Elders. On today’s program honoring native women, we pay tribute to a brave and courageous young Isanti woman.

During the 19th Century women were often called upon to display the qualities of a warrior.

Barbara Roberts introduces us to Zona Loans Arrow of Fort Yates, North Dakota on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Zona tells the story of her great grandmother who was captured by the Blood Band of the Blackfeet Nation.

Music:
Burning sky
Wind
Creation
Canyon Records

Barbara Roberts:
The raiding party of the Blood Band attacked an Isanti Sioux hunting camp. They kidnapped the teenaged girls – none of them were older than thirteen or fourteen. They rode north on horseback into what is now Canada. Among those girls was Zona’s grandmother.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Zona Loans Arrow:
In her mind she marked the places they went and what hill and what water, the trees and even the mountains and how many days they rode and what happened to them.

She wanted to get back to her people. That was all she had in mind.

Roberts:
Wrenched from her home in an extraordinary test of will, she learned how to survive for the four or five years she remained with the enemy. Survival meant being a faithful companion and servant.

Loans Arrow:
And this man that stole her had three other wives. … She observed him, what he does. She was a good rope maker. She tanned the hides. So she made ropes for him and kept some for herself. She was making moccasins for herself as well as her husband. She would make dry meat, and make some more bags for water and stuff. She would give to her husband and she kept some. She took them and she hid them in the mountains in a cave someplace. She hid all these provisions that she was going to one day pick up and go.

Roberts:
The seasons came and went. Then it was the dead of winter. The weather was treacherous… but she knew the time had come to make the thousand-mile journey home.

Music:
R. Carlos Nakai
Premonitions Of Christopher Columbus
Spirit Horses (Concerto For Native American Flute and Chamber Orchestra)
Canyon Records

Loans Arrow:
And this winter is the time now that she was going to escape. Sure enough, the night came, the day came when they woke up to a blizzard. She opened the back of her tent; out she went.

Roberts:
The reason for leaving during a blizzard is as frightening as it is ingenious.

Loans Arrow:
That blizzard, it blew snow, so they couldn’t track her. See that’s another thing of wisdom she knew. So she went and she went to her cave. She dug snow and she went inside and she got her provisions out. She fixed them up and put them on her back.

Roberts:
By that time it was daybreak. She had water, dried meat and dried berries to keep her going. She was wearing snowshoes she’d made specifically for this moment.

Loans Arrow:
She snuck out of that cave and she walked. She walked south she said from where the sun comes up she went towards the ‘Itokaga’ and that’s South she said. She walked, walked and walked till daybreak.

Roberts:
When she needed rest, she’d huddle up in snow shelters that she’d dig out for herself.

Music:
Burning Sky
March To Bosque Redondo
Blood Of The Land
Capitol Records

Loans Arrow:
She was always a slim woman and strong. So she don’t eat very much. She had dried berries and stuff that she had. And she ate some and then by the fourth day she past the mountain where a chief is lying down with his war bonnet. That’s called Chief Mountain I guess now. And that tells me that she was still in Canada.

She always dug a cave in the snow. And she sat in there and she watched him. She didn’t want to move so she knew they represented the army of some sort. She called them Red Coats.

Roberts:
It was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Determined to get home to her people she prepared to do battle with one of the guards. She wanted a weapon. She knew she would kill him or die herself.

Loans Arrow:
She was hiding behind this tree and

She sprung at him jumped on his back and slit his throat and down he went. Never made a sound. So then she took that bandolier off of him and that gun and she ran.

Roberts:
She laid low for about a week while the authorities looked for the guard’s killer. When the search was over she got on her way again–as the frigid wind blew fiercely– under cover of night. But this time things were different. Her loss of innocence was even more profound as this time she’d killed a man. This was something—like the provisions on her back– that she’d carry with her.

Music:
John Huling
Into the Memory
Spiritlands
Red Feather Music

Loans Arrow:
That’s the first killing she made but she did it to survive. She did it to get that gun and them shells.

Roberts:
And she knew how to use them. She’d learned how from her kidnappers. Now that she was armed, she was able to summon up the courage to take on another bloody battle, this time with a bear. There she stood hiding behind a tree as the bear was charging, running on all fours.

Loans Arrow:
She jumped out in front of him and he stopped and he raised himself up. She took out that gun and held it under his throat. She pulled the trigger and she went down with the bear.

Music:
John Huling
Into The Memory
Spiritlands
Red Feather Music

Roberts:
Bloodied and grateful to be alive she made camp. Because of that bear she now had fresh meat to eat. But there was still more walking to do. Tired but driven, she continued.

Her next fight for her life came from a mountain lion. He took her by surprise, but she took him down much the same way she did the bear. After she ate some of the meat she’d get up and keep walking…each step, each encounter made her tougher and more determined that none of this would in be vain. She would get home.

Loans Arrow:
She always had that knowledge that she was going to get back to her people. And her name was “Tawokonze Wakan Win”. That means, when she sets a goal she’s going to reach it. And more.

Roberts:
Zona’s grandmother walked on. She kept following the river until she began to recognize the hills. She knew she was getting closer to home.

Then one day she saw a man … she saw his stature, the color of his skin… she knew this must be one of her own. She hid and watched the village for three days. Her joy was overwhelming, but measured. She began to walk out in the open. She’d made a flag out of buckskin and painted it red and white.

Loans Arrow:
She raised it up and she was walking with it. And this guy here he got on a horse and he came. He went around her three times and he asked her, ‘Who are you?’ and so she said, ‘I am – Tawokonze Wakan Win —daughter of,’ she named her dad and her mother, Good Day. But I can’t come near you because I killed a person.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah, Lawrence Laughing
Deer Dance [Garter Dance 2] Orenda
Silver Wave Records

 

Roberts:
The Isanti have their own religion and when someone kills another, that person is held in isolation from the camp. Her people had long written her off as dead. As word of her incredible arrival spread, a crowd of people went to see her for themselves.

Loans Arrow:
Don’t come near me, I’m unclean. I killed a man. That’s me. And everybody was crying. She wanted to hug her mother and her dad and her little sisters, but she can’t because she had killed that man.

Music:
Joanne Shenandoah, Lawrence Laughing
Deer Dance [Garter Dance 2] Orenda
Silver Wave Records

Roberts:
Her people respected her story of survival and courage, set up a sweat lodge and prepared her for isolation. The holy men came to pray for her and the women helped her feel clean again.

Loans Arrow:
They washed her up with sage and water and that steam, you know. Then they put a black mark on her chin and on her forehead meaning that she killed.

Roberts:
It was determined that she should spend four days in isolation.

Loans Arrow:
The day that she was supposed to be turned loose why, they gave her a good sweat and they gave her a feather to wear because she was a brave woman. Then they took her back to the camp and they had a rejoicing time. They had a feast and a dance and they named her a brave woman.

Roberts:
And so, this was the story of a woman’s journey from desperation to triumph. A story that Grandma Zona will pass down through the generations and offer as evidence that extraordinary focus and a strong will can beat the odds and get you home. For Wisdom of the Elders, I’m Barbara Roberts.

Neskahi:
No one knew her exact age, but Tawokonze Wakan Win lived to be well over 100. And during the 1930’s she helped to raise her great granddaughter, Zona, instilling in her as a young girl the courage and bravery as well as skills of tanning hides, making moccasins and gathering medicines. This highly respected woman still practices these traditions to this day on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota as an example to younger generations.

I’m Arlie Neskahi. You’re listening to Wisdom of the Elders.