Delvin Cree: Memories of helping my great grandmother Selina

Reprinted with permission of the Six Star Observer, a new and independent newspaper on the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation in North Dakota. The story appeared in Vol. I, Issue 14, published on March 30, 2015. All content © Six Star Observer.

Delvin Cree

Remembering time spent with my Great Grandmother
By Delvin Cree

Cold weather seems to come and go these past few weeks. Heck, one day it would be a warm, sunny day, and the next one would be a cold, wintery one. But that's North Dakota weather. It's pretty unpredictable, and we have accustomed ourselves to the many changes. 

The recent cold weather has brought back some old memories. This memory thing happens to me often. I smile when I have those moments - of course, these are life's events that I will cherish and will never forget.

As I sat down one recent morning and sipped on some strong coffee, I would remember a time when I would help one of my elders. At a young age we were taught to respect our elders, to help them when we could, and go the extra mile to make them happy. At a young age we also knew our elders’ days on Mother Earth were numbered, and they had a short life ahead of them.

Selina Allery Cree. Photo courtesy Delvin Cree

 As a young teenager, I often would go and visit my great grandmother, Selina Allery Cree. My trek to her small cabin meant I had to go through a mile of deep snow, and blowing winds would make the hike a little difficult, but as a young, adventurous man I would accept the challenge. At the time I felt it was important to visit my elder grandmother. She was almost a hundred years old.

I made the one-mile journey a few times after I returned home from school. I figured my grandmother would need a little help around her little small cabin when the weather was extremely cold. I enjoyed going to her place. Her small cabin would have the aroma of wood burning, rabbit stew, and a fresh bread on her cast iron stove.

 I would split a few logs and haul them into her cabin. I made a pile of wood for her that would last her for more than a day. After I did some chores for her, she would sit me down and pour me a bowl of rabbit stew. The stew she made had oatmeal in it and some diced potatoes. The soup was delicious, especially after getting a good workout out in the cold weather. I also was given some of that piping hot bread. Some people call it “Gabubu bread.” Others called it “camp fire bread.” I guess “cowboy bread” is another name, but I knew it as “iron skillet bread.” She would serve me some of that hot bread with some butter on top. Everything was was the fresh tea that she made.

While I ate, she would be working on her small Indian dolls. She was a well-known artist. She made small Indian dolls and was very creative when putting them together. She had talent, and she added a little humor to the regalia of some of her dolls. I remember a chipmunk tail on one of her dolls. The tail would be some kind of head dress of a male doll. She made some small moccasins, added fringes to the pants, and then put beadwork on the doll in the final stages of completing it. She was also well known for her traditional willow basketry. When she was getting older, her vision would be blurry, but she would still weave a basket despite being partially blind.

After I ate dinner, she would pull out this small coin purse. She would pull out a quarter and a dime. "Here," she would say. "Buy something with this money!" she would tell me.

"You sure grandma?" I would ask her.

"Yes! You work hard for me. I pay you little, but you have earned something," she would tell me.

"Thank you, Grandma," I would tell her. "I will make good use of this hard earned money," I said with a smile.

The author as as teen. Photo courtesy Delvin Cree

She smiled back and said I’d better head back home before it gets dark outside. It was already dark, and the stars were sparkling in the clear sky above me, but I didn't mind making the journey back home. I enjoyed the time with my great grandmother; that's all I could think about. The time spent was of value to me. I'm sure she felt the same.

My great grandmother passed away at 100 years old. Some relatives say she was older than that. I remember the funeral. Of course, as a young man, I took her death pretty hard. I was sad; I would remember our little chats, conversations, and most of all, I would remember the things I did for her. I could picture her today...and back then, walking around her one-room log cabin, dragging her feet on her warm dirt floor. Once in a while she would giggle as she showed me some of her completed dolls. I would laugh also. Like I said, she had talent and was very creative.

I visit her gravesite often and say a prayer with sage and tobacco. I go to the other relatives at the gravesite and do the same. When it gets warmer out, I'm going to visit her again....and the others, to reconnect with them while burning my sage, sweet grass, and tobacco. It'll be an enjoyable time for me. I do this kind of thing often.

Later in life, as I got older, I was given one of my great grandmother's traditional baskets. How this came about is that my younger sister was given a couple baskets from a family who had had a couple of my grandmother's baskets for many years. The baskets where purchased from my grandmother when she was very young. A child herself, she would sell this family her baskets at a young age. I'm glad to have one of her willow baskets. I have the basket in a safe place.

In recent years I was given a couple of my great grandmother's small Indian dolls. The lady who gave them to me stated that they were the last ones my grandmother made. She had them for years, and she decided she needed to give them back to the family and/or a family member. She thought it was appropriate to give the dolls to me. A few tears rolled down my cheeks when I was handed the dolls. I thanked the lady for saving them and passing them on to me. When I hold the dolls, there's some kind of warmth that goes through my body. I know my grandmother is there at the moment. I know she's smiling and probably giggling, but most importantly, she may be happy I have the dolls she made before her passing...and a basket she made when she was a child. 

I have to say I been gifted with many things in life. One of the best gifts in life was knowing my great grandmother, spending time with her at a young age, and I'll have memories of her that I'll cherish a lifetime. As I finish my story here, I'm going to have a cup of coffee. I'm craving some Indian bread; heck I'm wishing for some soup bones and soup...we'll see what happens. Cooking some good rez meals also brings back some old memories. Enjoy life folks! Later.

Delvin Cree, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, resides in New Town, North Dakota. He can be reached at

The Six Star Observer can be reached at PO Box 1447 New Town, ND 58763, via email at, or via phone at 701-627-2555 or at 701-421-9751.

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