“We Kiowa are old, but we dance.” —James Auchiah, “Kiowa Five” artist, Chief Satanta’s grandson.
Gaa, we were just little guys, around a year old, when Kiowas started getting that ahongiah back in ’76, no, maybe in ’77. It was the coalition of Kiowas, Comanches, and Apaches that leased a tract of land to Fort Sill military base for one hundred years. Good thing, too, because us Kiowas divided our share of the money between all tribal members, fifteen hundred a piece. Those of us under the age of eighteen had our money held in trust, growing interest until our day. We were the last in our families to walk through the front doors of those cookie-cutter homes to hear our mothers say, “Your per cap check is on the table.”
My birthday landed two months before yours. On your day, you burst into a laughing fit, but on mine I maintained all the way into the bedroom. But we both tore into those envelopes faster than the last meatpie on a plate—ripped out those stiff government checks, too. Remember the Statue of Liberty imprint in the upper left corner? Remember the line of numbers in the center right? It read something like this: $9,826. 17. The hot-off-the-press scent from that crisp paper hit us like the cool wall of air when we walked into the Bank of Oklahoma.
Might know, the lady behind the counter did the same to you as she did to me. She glanced from the check to our faces and back to the check again, tapping those red, plastic fingernails on the counter. Her eyes barely squinted when she asked us how we managed to get our hands on that kind of money. You told her the tribe wanted us to help neglected bank tellers buy bleach for untreated roots. I had a permanent grin that no one would spoil, so I asked her if she dated Kiowas and she said no, so I asked her if she dated Comanches and she said no, so I asked her if she dated Cherokees and she said no. Gaa, guess I was out of luck because I was out of tribes. We waved at the bank teller as we pushed open the doors—that mabane pretended to not notice; still even, she couldn’t ignore the six thousand in the checking account or the four thousand in our pockets.
Wasn’t it our oldest cousin, Leanne, who put her entire per cap in savings? Or maybe it was her sister, Bessie? They saved the money for books and tuition at the University of Oklahoma. We had been spending that ahongiah for three years, since our boy Black Tail’s older brother, Big Bow, got his per cap. He cruised into the south side of Lawton, our section of the city, The View, in a Cadillac Seville. That Cadillac was new-used, uptown, clean enough to pass for brand-new. Stink, guy, too, as he bumped down 11th street and turned into The Convenience Store on three-wheel motion. Right then, we knew we were not like Leanne and Bessie.
On my day, I bugged uncle Hank to drive us to OKC. It took us an hour—hour and a half—to drive up I-44, and I flashed open the bank envelope a dozen times, showing you and uncle both how the hundreds lined up as smooth as beads down a loom. On your day, I drove you to OKC myself, and we invented this story about turning money into a line of colognes, hundreds, fifties, and twenties bottled and packaged.
Your Monte Carlo sat middle row front at Honest Harry’s dealership. You grabbed my arm so tight I lost circulation, said, “pull over,” six times. That dealer was bullheaded about the three thousand dollar price written on the windshield. What about twenty-five hundred, cash? He took the fresh bills, bulldogged, and signed over the title to your Monte. My Cadillac El Dorado dripped clean from a fresh car wash, gleamed gold with that tan paint job in the bright sunlight; it faced the main office at Classy Cars. The dealer wanted to take it home until I flashed open that bank envelope. He took four thousand, easy, didn’t even have to haggle for my El Dog.
Once back in Lawton, you still had cash in your pocket on your day, but I had to stop by the Bank of Oklahoma. That same teller said I had to wait three days for a check to clear. Why did she give me four thousand the day before? I asked to see the manager. “Oh, it was a government check,” that mabane told me. She flipped her long hair to the other side of her face and pulled two thousand from the drawer.
At Sound Wave, it cost me some serious cash for those twelve-inch speakers, that four hundred watt amp, a noise reducer, and an equalizer. My bass was clean and low, but I only had enough money left over for gas and McDonalds. You liked hard and dirty so you dropped the last of that fifteen hundred for some eighteens inside a plexi-glass box.
Low on funds, we weaved through the back roads of Lawton and returned to the Bank of Oklahoma. Was it on your per cap or mine when we ran to the building one minute before closing? That teller was already locking the doors. She gave us a smirk, spun on her heels, and disappeared into the bank. We cruised away blasting the latest tape by the Zotigh Singers and shook the building with waves of intertribal beats. We hit the back roads, again, crept into the View, and parked on Black Tail’s front lawn. That intertribal wave carried with the same rumble of those artillery shells from the practice rounds at Fort Sill—the ones that shook the entire city of Lawton; proud guys, we danced the way Kiowas danced, and reminisced about per caps gone by.
It was funny how our boy Mike’s older brother, Awthaw, went down to Dallas, Texas, bought an old school T-Bird, and tricked it out with the blue and silver colors of the Dallas Cowboys football team. After partying for a week in a motel, he went to a Cowboys football game adaw, drunk-daw, and lost the last of his per cap in the stands. Uncle Hank had to Western-Union him money so he could get back to Lawton. Everyone teased him that some greasy, big one probably ripped him off.
Even worse, too, was our cousin, Lawrence, from Gotebo. Mr. All-Day-Adaw. He bought that dully-truck, slapped on a new set of mud-bogging tires, and took his little crew up to Tahlequah for Cherokee National Holiday’s rodeo/powwow. On the last day, he woke up in a field face down in a wet cow patty. The first thing he said was, “Buh,” and a clump of patty fell out of his mouth.
On your per cap and mine both, uncle Ears staggered up to the back of our cars, slapped the trunk, and said, “Giddy up!” A can of Schlitz in his hand, he lifted the beer in the air, stumbled with the change of wind. We told him, “Stagger straight, guy.” He dropped his beer, forgot about it by the time it hit the ground, left it, too, and asked, “When’s the per cap party, pobs?”
We called our cousin, Jesse, because he was a Munoz Kiowa, and that Munoz side of the family had all the killer weed hook ups. He said we could get a pound of Mex for five Cs or a half pound of Salmon River for ten, and if we really wanted some ill weed we could put down twelve Cs for a quarter pound of that Purple Cush. He asked us if we wanted a little krank or some coke and maybe a few rocks. We said yes to the krank, maybe to the coke, but we passed on the rocks. “Do you have the loot for all this?” he asked us. Guess who’s got per cap? Since Ears was right there we asked him to buy liquor for us, and he said, “Sure thing, pobs.” We made a list: A fifth of black label JD, a liter of Canadian Mist, a liter of Seagram’s Seven, Sysco and Boones for the ladies, and we could not forget about all that Southern Comfort, four liters, two pints, and one half pint for good luck.
We invited those Ahhaitty girls because they were hardcore and fine as hell. Since you were tight with the Stopps you called them Cherokees from Tahlequah, and those Stopp boys called the Kingfishers and the Phillips and the Shades. I called the Tapptos and the Chasenuhs. We let the Tahsequahs know, so they passed the word to the Burgess family. Ears told all the Quetones and Giemausaddles in Lawton. We ran into a Hokeah walking out of a bookstore in the mall and he rambled about his bag full of someone named Munro, no, Marquez, maybe; you said, “No way, he might bring that bag of books to the party.”
We sat in the parking lot of the bank so early the next morning that we watched the tellers climb out of their cars. Little Miss Mabane didn’t see us as she walked across the parking lot like a constipated chicken in her too-tight skirt and jacket. She opened the doors five minutes late, because we stood waiting outside. You gave her that squint and roll with your eyes. I had that grin and wink. Again, she did the same on your day like she did on mine. As she handed you four thousand, when she handed me two thousand, might know, that mabane acted as if she were wiping dirt off her hands.
It was your per cap when Jesse met us at Black Tail’s house, right? No, wait, it was mine, because I paid out fifteen hundred for a half pound of Salmon River and a few eightballs of krank; he had that supply in his trunk. You wanted a duffle of that ill weed, a taste of krank, and an eightball of coke; he had to track down his supplier so we met him outside that strip club: Sidewinders. You spent thirty-five hundred that day. We both baited Ears to the drive-up liquor store on Cache Road; funny, though, he always called glass bottles in a brown paper bag forty-niner wind chimes.
On two different days, two months apart, but, damn, we did it almost the same way. We paid for two double-rooms at that Motel 6 on Lee Boulevard. You walked through the rooms and had to light a few sticks of incense. I smoked a bowl so the rooms would have that fresh-from-the-field smell. By ten o’clock we had people leaning on the walls, lying on the beds, and sitting on the dressers; those double-rooms were packed like the tobacco at the end of our cigarettes. Quarters bounced into the air and clinked against the edges of shot glasses, cards slid between fingers and across the tops of televisions, while dominoes clacked and scrapped over the wood floors.
At my per cap party, baygaw, I took in too much bud too soon and chilled out too quick, so I snorted a few bumps to pick me up. I shouldn’t have popped a chunk of krank or maybe I shouldn’t have drank SoCo straight from the bottle for an hour. I needed to drain the pipe, but all the bathrooms were full so I went out into the parking lot. That was when I blacked out. First, you found my jeans and shirt next to my El Dog. Then you found my socks and underwear on the sidewalk. The motel manager saw me running down Lee Boulevard naked with my shoes draped around my neck. You found me at the drive-up window outside KFC, trying to trade my shoes for a box of barbeque chicken wings. You, Mike, and Black Tail had to tackle me in the parking lot and drag me into my El Dog. We sped down Lee Boulevard with police sirens somewhere in the distance. You said I was laughing the whole time, too.
But, you, at your per cap party, was monsape. I tried to calm you down, even told you to put away the coke. When you hit that line of krank, gulped the Mist, and screamed so loud everyone in the motel room paused, baygaw, I just knew. You ran up and down the room, yelling about being a killer. Some kind of killer, slipping on spilled liquor and falling headfirst into the corner of the television. Me and Black Tail lifted you off the floor and you had a big bump right in the middle of your forehead. Guess the killer grew a horn. We carried you outside and you passed out in the front seat of your Monte. Next thing, a loud crash came from the parking lot. Everyone rushed through the door or pushed back the curtain on the window. Your Monte had all its windows busted out and all the tires were flat. You had some dude pinned against the trunk of a car, working over his face. Mike and Black Tail pulled you off. I laughed. Turned out, that dude mistook your Monte for someone else’s. He didn’t expect someone to be passed out in the front seat. Your horn grew three inches that night after seeing your Monte all jacked up.
Gaa, we were tearing it for the tribe.
The next day I walked into my house and my head thumped like the lowriders cruising through the View. My mother said that her beading sales were down for the past couple months and she wasn’t sure if she could make the rent-to-own payment on her washer and dryer set. Her car was acting up so she asked me if I could go to the commodity building in Carnegie and get food for the month. “If you have the gas money,” she told me. Your mother sat in a powwow chair in your living room, rubbing her feet because her work shoes had worn out. She told you, “Paying the bills makes your body ache.” After seven years on the government waiting list, you guys finally got your Indian Home. The only thing, though, you were sleeping on pallets of blankets and sitting in powwow chairs for six months.
We took our final trip to the Bank of Oklahoma. This time mabane was happy to hand us the last of our per cap money. She even circled the remaining balance with a red pen. The number was different on your receipt, only by pennies. It read something like this: $6.17. We shoved the last eighteen hundred in our pockets. I kept my receipt in an empty speaker box, with a motel room key, car title, and a signed liquor bottle. You waded up the receipt and rolled it across the counter; it fell to the teller’s feet.
I went to the grocery store and packed two carts with food. I wanted one month without commodities. I paid off my mother’s washer and dryer set; might know, rented-to-own a new television. I bought out the entire stock of size eleven seed beads at Erick’s Indian Store in Apache. She had hanks of beads spread across her beading table and it was the first time she hugged me so tight. I found that huge black-and-white photo of Chief Satanta over in Darko; it was in the gift shop at the Southern Plains Indian Museum. For my mother, I used the last eighty dollars in my pocket.
You paid on the house for that month. You went to a used furniture store and bought three full-sized beds, a couch/love seat set, and a dining table. At Wal-Mart, you found three pairs of your mother’s favorite work shoes. She lined all three pairs next to the front door and kept glancing over, said, “Happy birthday,” every time. You surprised her at that ICOT annual powwow in Tulsa by giving her your last one hundred dollars. She had fresh cans of Pepsi all evening, and she bought two dozen raffle tickets for the fifty-fifty pot and that same huge black-and-white photo of Chief Satanta. She lost the fifty-fifty, but she nearly tripped over herself hurrying into the arena to get that photo.
Our mothers echoed words they had echoed before—this time we listened. “Being Kiowa will forever be about how we dance together.” Seemed like, being sisters, those words were a song that made them family, but, maybe, how that song made all Kiowas dance. Since we were descendents, our mothers framed those photos of Chief Satanta. He sat on the edge of a log, a bow and arrow held across his lap, in a pose that said: I know how to use these weapons. My mother bragged how I had his handsome eyes and soft brow line. Your mother said you had his strong jaw and downward curving lips. Gaa, those same black-and-white photos still hang in the middle of their living room walls, too.