In the Studio


       Doll Story   

In the spring of my 17th year i met Wampanoag Princess Evening Star 
(a/k/a: Gertrude Haynes Aikens - scroll about half way down when the page opens) - 
and what happened during that meeting has stayed with me these many years …
i'd just gained the independence afforded by having a new driver's license,
and one of my very first stops was at Princess Evening Star’s Mashpee teepee gift shop
which as a kid on Cape Cod i’d seen for many years but only in passing 
and always with a longing to stop and go inside -

i knew what was out back of the gift shop: the tribe’s ceremonial grounds -
while the shop was open to everyone, typically the grounds were closed to the public 
except for 2 weeks in the summer when a yearly general invitation appeared in the town newspaper, 
cordially inviting all to a kind of ‘get to know us’ celebration from the Princess …
i don’t know what attendance was ever like at these open invitations …
i just knew that every year i always wanted to go and said so every year.
 but the caretaker family i was with never had the interest.

Nervous that day as i entered the small shop not knowing what i’d find,
i quickly spotted a woman sitting nearly hidden behind a small counter …
brief greetings were exchanged between us, then little conversation ensued …

i wandered the small room stuffed to the rafters with native interpretation
of a Cape Cod gift shop taking smart advantage of the yearly tourist influx  -
behind where the woman sat was a door to i presumed her residence,
while around to the back of the shop, gentle breezes wafted in
through the opened top portion of a dutch door through which i could see 
a covered walkway -
i knew instinctively it led down to the grounds, even though little else could be seen - 

Too curious about what indian ceremonial grounds might look like,
i feigned interest in NDN tchotchkes on the shelves by the dutch door,
but apparently my curiosity about what lay beyond was more evident than my interest in gift items 
because it was then that the Princess spoke again.
“Would you like to go out back?” 

i recognized immediately the incredible honour presented to me …
deeply humbling, and even though i didn't know it at the time,
 the entire experience was my first step as a shaman
(which is a whole ‘nother story) ...
in fact with hindsight perhaps i might even say, it was a spontaneous initiation
by the trees and by the animals i encountered …

It was also the first time i remember feeling Time as a separate dimension altogether
so i can't say for sure how long it was before i finally headed back inside …
the woman still sat behind the counter, beading now though…
when she briefly looked up from her work, i bowed slightly and,
touching my heart, 
thanked her again for ‘letting me go out there’ -
she lightly dismissed my homage, stating matter of factly, “you are indian”
which made me feel that she claimed no right to keep an NDN from holy ground …

... and here’s where youth seeking truth misread the situation so badly
that even still, after all these years, i wish i could have a do over,
my mistake being rooted in the zodiac, that aries sun is nothing if not honest -
so that for the sake of truth and honour,
this aries sun confessed that while my heart sincerely wanted to believe what she said,
that i was indeed NDN,
 but that i had no paper trail to corroborate what my heart knew …

Unfortunately, given the political and social environment of the times**
and not yet having met Black Elk who said,
"
If you have one drop of Indian blood in your veins, then you are Indian,"
it is a deep personal regret that what probably came off as ambivalence
was misread inadvertently as my unwillingness to lay claim to my heritage.

Thenceforth, the whole tone of our conversation changed …

Warlike impatient now, the Princess got up from her seat, came out from behind the counter 
and crossed over to a closed doll case with a small ‘not for sale’ sign on it …
she opened the glass doors and took out one of the dolls. 
“This." she said, shaking it furiously in my face, "this is who you are,”
then she shoved the doll into my hands.
She returned to her seat and her beading.

i was stunned … and as a 'lost one' also very hungry for more information
so in hoping inquisitiveness might reboot easy cordiality,
especially since the doll had no identifying label,
 i asked the Princess, "What nation is she from?"
But misinterpreted honesty had already derailed our exchange, 
and it became clear she wanted to be done with me.
“i dunno,” she said shrugging, adding with a wave of her hand, “southwest somewhere”*
 
 Silence fell once more between us, and i knew it was time to take my leave.
 She vehemently refused money for the doll -
‘she is a gift’ i was told from a whole new layer of now-offended impatience 
that i did not already recognize the gift …
but she did accept payment for the Wampanoag-crafted cranberry cologne, 
my signature fragrance at the time. 
(it's a uniquely delectable light and airy floral ... i don’t know if it’s even still available)

In the months that followed, being unable to shake the feeling of utter dissatisfaction
with how the whole exchange between the Princess and myself went down --
that my honesty had been so completely misunderstood,
and that i had been seen by her as denying those with whom i longed to be --
 i returned to the teepee gift shop with hopes of explaining myself -
instead, from the stranger who opened the locked gift shop door,
i learned that inside, the Princess
 was dying 


i’ve carried Princess Evening Star in my heart since that day,
and i’ve often wondered if perhaps she was my ‘shadow teacher’ -
like 'shadow totems' that teach by way of challenges

Recently i was moved to honour this teacher -
so i decided to re-create in crochet the doll she had given me …
too lazy to unpack my NDN doll collection 
with which the original doll has been packed for nigh on 20 years,
i worked entirely from only memory to crochet her doppelganger  --
the original doll is of a child,
which i definitely was with regards to knowing my origins when i met the Princess -
before that meeting i’d been told from well-intentioned adults
that i was everything from mexican indian to indian of india,
but never was i told, american indian ...

However unwittingly, the Princess was the first one to steer me in the right direction -  

I wanted the crochet doll to reflect time's passage,
from that day of my meeting with Princess Evening Star
to now in my own sixth decade …
hence, the grey-white hair with streaks of shimmering silver threads -
when the doppelganger was completed, the way she held her arms begged for a shawl,
and the way she held her head said "dancer" 
so i made her a shawl dancer using the Navajo colours in her shawl

It was only after i finished crocheting her that i got curious
about how well i’d remembered her predecessor,
so i finally unpacked my indian doll collection to find her …
and here they are … how’d i do?

                                  
          Princess Evening Star's gift - sans a long lost drum                          ...  the doppelganger (excuse the juice glass
                                                                                                                                she's standing in - we have no doll stands yet hehe)

*during my travels many years later, in a southwestern roadside gift shop. i would find a replica of my doll in a display partnered with a male companion who had a label that read "Navajo Brave" - so it was most exciting, as can be imagined. when i further discovered that my mother's maiden name in the local telephone books was as common as Smith is in England, seemingly validating the 'southwestern connection' that the Princess had referenced.

**
the Princess was a local and vocal activist and at the time of our meeting had been long embroiled in a fight to save an old burial ground from developers -- a couple years later from carpenter friends of my fiancé, i would learn that while the Wampanoags may have lost their bid, they had the final say over their land  ... as the story goes apparently the developers of the strip mall could never get the electricity to work right, that it seemed to have a mind of its own, turning on and off sporadically and without cause, so that the electrical didn't pass inspection, meaning that the job had never been formally, fully signed off by the powers that Be - 

click here
to read more about the impact of this meeting with Princess Evening Star

Scroll the gallery for close-up shots...
--NHT
©2018