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Olivia StandingBear is the 2011-2012 English teaching assistant at the Official School of Languagaes in Fuengirola, Spain. She is from the Osage Indian reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, has a degree in anthropology and Italian from the University of Kansas, and has spent her last few years in Spain teaching English to a wide range of students.

Living on an Indian reservation can be like living in a third-world country. Sometimes you have to walk miles to get fresh water, people use the barter system to pay instead of money, and old customs are not forgotten. Really, it’s more like living in a small town. Mine, the town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, has a small Western town feel when you first arrive. There is one stop light, one main street, one pharmacy, one grocery store and 3,500 citizens. Once you spend more than a day in town, you realize that Pawhuska has much more to offer.
Everyone knows each other in Pawhuska. When I was a teenager, if I didn’t have money when I got to the store, the clerk usually knew my parents and said, “That’s okay. I’ll ask your parents for the money when they come in.” And they keep a written tab at the checkout counter. Everywhere you go, you meet someone who has heard of Pawhuska or has been there. Somehow someone knows a friend of a friend that lives there or is from there. And when I was in Paris last November, I met a woman from my tribe, the Osage tribe. She didn’t know who my family was at first but after a few minutes of describing my sister and parents, she knew.
If you’re not Osage and you live in Pawhuska, you will quickly learn about the culture. StandingBear is not an unusual last name. In fact, there are many other native names such as: Spotted Bear, RedCorn, RedEagle, Lookout, Yellowfish, etc. We are a nation within a nation (the U.S.) and we have our own tribal court, laws and free health clinic. We are the only group of Americans that receive free health care. This was set up in a treaty when land was taken by the colonists. There are free clinics for Native Americans across the U.S. and you only need to show your tribal membership identification and you can be seen by a doctor or nurse. Our tribal court is almost identical to a regular American court but always looks out for the interest of its tribal members. For example, if a couple is getting a divorce and one parent is not Osage, the court will try to ensure the children will be brought up in the Osage culture, whether it be they see their tribal parent more or get placed in a tribal education program. We have our own police in town as well as the regular city police. The only difference is that the tribal police can trespass on private, tribal territory that is marked private. There is also the BIA, (Bureau of Indian Affairs). It works like the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) but looks more specifically into the treatment and interaction between the U.S. government and members of a Native American tribe.
Our ceremonies have been passed down for thousands of years, but of course have changed over time. The ceremonies we practice today have not changed much in the last few hundred years. We celebrate weddings, graduations, birthdays, like everyone else, we just celebrate them in a different way, such as a hand game. A hand game is a party where someone plays a drum, keeping a beat for games. We put objects in our hands and dance and others have to guess which hand it is in. We also dance with a potato (a native food of North America) between our foreheads and sometimes we eat a lot of crackers and try to whistle. It may not sound entertaining on today’s standards but when you take modern technology out of the equation and get your friends and family together, you can enjoy some simple pleasure of life. Our biggest ceremony is called Ilonska. It is a 4-day long dancing ceremony. We eat together, dance together, keeping a spiritual mind and presence. Each day is different from the next in its activities and songs. It’s different from a pow wow in that it is only for our tribe. A pow wow is more commercial and is advertised and open to the public. Pow wows are good ways for anyone to see traditional dancing and interesting for me as well as I can meet other natives from different tribes and see how they dance and compare their beliefs to mine, etc.
More or less, I lived what I thought was a pretty normal life. I went to meetings in our tribal church as well as mass in the Catholic Church. I saw buffalo, deer, eagles, and hawks around me all the time. It was only when I went to college that I realized how unique my name was and the culture. Many Americans don’t even know that Native Americans are still living and practicing their traditions. We also have our own language, which I don’t speak but can understand more or less during ceremonies. It is like Latin, not used in everyday speech. Even if you hear an elderly person speaking in Osage, he or she will insert many English words because when the language was still being spoken in everyday life, modern things didn’t exist so there was no name for them. Even though I am half white American, I was raised in the ways of the tribe and I identify myself more with other natives and other American minorities before I do white Americans. I don’t refuse my mother’s heritage either. She is Croatian and Irish and I take pride in that and try to learn as much as possible about those cultures.

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