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This morning I had a hard time opening my eyes. The early hour ruckus of insects and birds barely tempted me out from under the sheets. Songs in chirps and cricks called out to me, but I could barely hear them through the haze in my mind and the beating of drums in my head. Hungover from the intoxication of stimuli overload. If I am this tired, how must the dancers of the Inter-tribal Gathering feel?

My camera card was full of images of yesterday, my mind was full too. I am visually and mentally exhausted.DSCN3580

I have attended this annual event in past years. This is it’s 16th Gathering: Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Navaho, Cherokee, Seneca, full-bloods, and mixes of indigenous nations.

In the years past, I have heard the drums pounding, the singers voices chant, rhythms vibrating across the grounds and echoing through the air.DSCN3464

This time, it was different. I listened. I felt. I sensed. I became aware. My senses overloaded with the prayers of loss, grief, sorrow, joys, new life, celebration.

The hint of summer air not only carried their voices of song;  it tasted of memory, old memories. Tribal memories. The Inter-tribal Gathering came to celebrate their ancestry, their heritage and their vision. Families. Clans. Tribes. Maternal guardians. Warriors. Shamans. Metals of honor that are not measured in weight of gold, but in the passage of time. Their Indigenous connection to earth, wind, fire and rain; to the heavens, the afterlife, and their stories.

It was five hours of brilliant colors swirling, metal bugle-beads jingling, men’s feather bustles fanned out in display like a bird strutting, and always the drums beating; The deep voices chanting.
Ribbons braided into the locks of long black or brown or blond hair.
Porcupine quills of brilliant dyes and tiny glass beads threaded by the hundreds, thousands and more all intricately woven into turtles or circles or patterns of sacred geometry to cover assorted accessories.

Shalls were open wide like butterfly wings that danced in rhythm to the drums, the fringe twisting forward and back.

My eyes took in as much as I could, my camera lens saw more. Smiles, Spirits, Seekers.  Stories. Pride. The artistry and story telling of the dance. Celebration. Survival. Tradition.
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Beneath the Ponderosa-covered shade area I crouched low to shoot the dancers. I breathed in the salty sweet taste of Indian tacos from the local concession, yet a heady scent of sage and pine swirled around me. I was intoxicated by sound, scent, color. texture. Transfixed in time, and yet time drummed forward. Nearly five hours had passed since I first arrived on the grounds already blessed by the Inter-tribal leaders the day before. No alcohol. No drugs. But intoxication non-the-less. Intoxication from the memories of ancestors, elders and natives of this land.

Discovering we are all indigenous to this planet.