They sat in a circle, inside the tipi,
around a small fire,
Five of the Elders,
the oldest and wisest of the tribe,
and they passed around a pipe tamped with tobacco,
while the smoke lifted lazily to the small hole
at the top of the tipi,
and I, a lowly no-account woman,
who had no voice in such matters
sat in a small corner,
waiting to do whatever might be bidden
by the sages of our people.
For a while, they spoke little,
content to smoke
and think about
what course our tribe should take;
should we, they pondered,
continue to travel north
to escape the clutches of the white man?
Even though it would be bitter cold
throughout the winter?
and food would be scarce?
Or should we, as one Elder supposed,
stay where we were?
and hope for the best?
“Travel is hard on my weary bones”
said that Elder
“and the snow and cold make me ache”
“True” said another Elder as he inhaled the pipe,
“But the white man encroaches closer and closer
and presents a danger to our people.
“Perhaps they will just go away” said the third,
an optimistic Elder named Red Wing,
“Perhaps” he said wistfully,
“A big wind will come and carry them all off”
“More will come” said the fourth Elder.
“We must make a decision.
Our people are waiting for an answer!”
Stay or go? Go or stay?
My heart beat fast
because I knew
Either decision would spell calamity.
Sandra Lee Smith
Originally posted May 27, 2009
Updated September 1, 2018