The flights from Portland were uneventful, and my daughter Wee-Hey and I are excited to spend time with our Lakota relatives, travel to the Pine Ridge reservation, and witness Sundance.
John reminds us that he’s also French, Osage, Kaw and Winnebago (Ho Chunk).
When his father started school and the teacher asked his name, he said Blue Wing in his native (Ho-Chunk) language: Ah-hoo-cho-ga.
The teacher wrote down Artichoker.
John’s mother was a descendant of French, Osage, Kaw and Lakota people. Her grandfather, Louis Benjamin Lessert, is my great-great-great grandfather.
Most of the Lessert family remained in South Dakota, although one of Louis Benjamin’s daughters, Julia, left the prairie after her husband Edward Herridge died, moving in with Osage relatives and resettling in Oklahoma.
So the Herridges enrolled with the Osage, and we never met our Lakota kin.
John, whom I call Uncle (Indatsay in Osage), offers us his home, where we lounge outside on a vast deck, watching the deer munch on grass. A rabbit hops by while a woodpecker searches for bugs in bark.
John shares stories, reaching for a manuscript he’s writing that recounts family memories, tracing our French and Indian heritage.
He tells one about a memorable lunch.
John and his brother Ben would ride together on a horse to the reservation school when they were little.
One day his mother presented John with a new lunch pail, and she packed a peanut butter sandwich and banana in the metal box, then sent off the boys to school.
The lunch pail smacked against that horse’s flank on the two and one-half mile trek and when noon arrived, John found the sandwich and fruit mashed together in a glob.
Some lunch, he says.