In the Oceti Sakowin Seven Council Fires camp, there is a young Cherokee sister duo who are planning on staying the winter. I arrived last minute in the evening needing a place to sleep, and a friend said that there was space in a tipi. As I gladly accepted the offer to stay and a chance to sleep in a tipi for the first time, I had no idea I would meet two new wonderful friends. They were both so generous, offering blankets and pillows to me, the weary traveler. This particular night, they were housing six people, including myself. One of them, “the Swedish guy,” was sick, and four other women were leaving the next day. When I started to talk to them, I immediately realized they were from the South. When I asked where they were from, they both chimed in: “Cherokee, NC,” and the round faces both smiled and laughed. Being a Southern girl myself, we instantly connected!
I was curious to know more about the Cherokee, since I grew up so close to the tribe and know absolutely nothing about them. The sisters, Precise Lossie (pronounced Precious), 25, and Mona Lossiah (pronounced Monet), 27, were born and raised in Cherokee country. They were brought up by their grandmother.
“We were raised very traditionally,” Precise says. “In our culture, the grandmothers are the ones that pass on the traditions and teachings. We lived with her in a small house on the mountain. She didn't trust the water from the pipes, because she thought that the government may put poison in it, so we had to carry water every day from the river. We had buckets and buckets of water in the house.” They both have a deep respect for the water and its value.
Their grandmother only spoke Cherokee, and it was passed on from her grandmother. Precise and her sister are some of the few young people who speak Eastern Band Cherokee, which is getting lost and forgotten. “There are a few books of Cherokee from the Western Band, but many of the words are not what we learned at all, and this is what our children are being taught—it’s different, and the children can’t speak with the Elders,” Precise says with a sense of urgency. Since the grandparents are the ones that pass on the traditions and wisdom, there is a major information-sharing gap in the tribe for the younger generations. Precise is a freelance writer currently working on a fictional memoir, but she hopes to also write down the language that she learned from her grandmother to share with the younger generation.
The girls are very close, and I can’t imagine one without the other. They are practically attached at the hip. It’s a very sweet thing to see: They don't have to speak a word, but are on the same page instantly. They make money on the Powwow Trail, which is basically going on the road as a vendor at Powwow shows selling peyote-stitch rope necklaces that they learned from a friend of the family. Precise also does some art work.
They first came out to the Oceti Sakowin Camp in August for several weeks. When they had to return home, all they could think about was making it back out to camp. “We were beading like crazy almost nonstop for weeks so we could afford to buy a tipi to return for the winter.” Mona says, laughing. She says it was all they could do, and they strongly feel that they need to be here at camp.
“As far as I know, we are the only ones here representing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Nation, so we have to be here. We cannot leave. We have to see this through. We don't know how far capitalism is going to damage the environment and the earth to the point where it collapses in on itself, and we don't want that to happen, so we want to stop it. We can’t let it go any further than it has. I think that is why we are all here,” Mona says.
“Human beings are like 90 percent water. To destroy the river, we destroy the water, we destroy ourselves, we are one in the same, different forms, but we are still water.” Mona has the most innocent voice, and when she says this, I want to start crying, it’s so moving.
The girls plan to stay until the end, and they are working on starting a small kitchen for the campers. “We want to make Cherokee native foods, which are healthier and provide strength for the people going to the front lines.”
The knowledge, intelligence and beauty of spirit that these two girls possess is truly a gift in the Oceti Sakowin Camp. I feel like I have two new little sisters, and I’m praying for their well-being everyday. I can only hope that the Creator keeps them safe as this battle for Earth and future generations continues. Wage peace. Blessings!