Notes from Indian Country
A father heard his daughter’s prayerIt was still dark outside and there was a light snowfall as I took a table by the window at Vesta’s Café in Martin, South Dakota, on Christmas Eve in 1984. As expected my good friend and mentor Enos Poor Bear took his place at my table. I had already ordered his coffee and a doughnut because that was our usual fare and habit these early winter mornings. Enos was a tribal elder and had served as the tribal council representative from Wanbli, Eagle Nest, for a couple of terms and then was elected President of the Oglala Sioux Tribe after that. It was on his watch as president that the proud flag of the Oglala Lakota Nation was designed and unfurled for the first time. It had become our habit to meet for coffee in the morning and kick around happenings on the reservation. My newspaper office was right next door to Vesta’s and Enos always had his hand on the pulse of Lakota history and of the current news. Enos was also quite popular across the reservation for the wonderful eulogies he was called upon to present at the wakes and funerals of the people of Pine Ridge. He would often begin his morning conversation with me by saying, “Today I have to eulogize (so and so) from Kyle.” This Christmas Eve he was going to “eulogize” one of his old friends from Wakpamni. Enos always told me little stories about the people he was about to “eulogize.” He took his coffee cup in both hands, as is the custom of the Lakota elders, took a sip and then began his story. “It was on Christmas Eve about 30 years ago and my friend and his wife were sitting at the kitchen table with a bottle of vodka. He noticed his 10-year-old daughter standing by the kitchen door watching them. She turned abruptly and went into her room. He got up from the table and went to her room to say good night and when he got to the room he noticed his daughter kneeling on the floor by her bed with her head in her hands and she was praying.” Enos took another sip of coffee, cleared his throat and continued, “He heard his daughter ask God for only one present. She said, ‘Please God, help my mom and dad to stop drinking.’” He told Enos that it made him really sad to hear this and he walked outside for a minute to clear his head. He said, “I stood there in the falling snow and it was cold and dark and just then the sky seemed to light up and I don’t know what it was but a bright light seemed to cover me.” He told Enos that he went back into the kitchen and told his wife what had just happened. He took his glass of alcohol and poured it into the sink. His wife handed him her glass and he poured it into the sink and then he took the bottle and emptied it into the sink.
From that day forward neither of them ever touched a drop of alcohol. Enos’ friend went on to serve on the tribal council and his wife went to work for the Indian Health Service hospital at Pine Ridge. His little 10-year-old daughter graduated from high school and went on to the University of South Dakota where she earned a degree in nursing and came back to the reservation to take care of her elderly parents. The snow was still falling as we finished our coffee and sat quietly watching the blinking Christmas lights on the store windows across the street. Enos had a tear in his eye as he put on his heavy winter coat to leave and he said, “And now I am going to Wakpamni to eulogize my friend.”
Tim Giago, an Oglala Lakota born, raised and educated on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is the founder of the Native American Journalists Association. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard with the Class of 1991. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Content copyright © Tim Giago
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