Here is an excerpt from the conversations held round the table, during our Global Conversations on Mondays, held at the Language, Resource and Writing Center (LRWC) here at the Seminary. The LRWC gathers many of our community in a common, sacred space to share ideas and mentoring one another through the sea of papers that we all sail through. It is also a common sacred space for the community to gather to hear insight and share stories about our global community outside our doors. Ben Adams, LSTC alum and Campus Pastor for the South Loop Campus Ministries shares his story about his excursion this summer, with a number of other LSTC students to the Cherokee Nation.
The darkness felt thick and enveloping. All that we could really see from the shore were the beaming lights on the front of the aluminum boat. We were in the Oklahoma back country at a place the locals call the “Blue Hole,” and we were giggin’.
For those of you who may not be familiar, giggin’ is a type of fishing, but instead of a fishing pole, line, hook, and bait, we were using, a boat, bright lights, a long spear, and sheer accuracy, or luck, probably more luck than accuracy for us first timers.
The way that it was taught to us by Bacon (Vance’s cousin) and his son Stetson, was to wait for dark, fire up the generator on the boat, turn on the lights to illuminate the river bottom, then have someone push around the shallow river with an oar as we waited patiently for the boat to pass over a unsuspecting suckerfish. Once our spear was directly over the fish, BAM! We would throw the spear towards the fish with all of our accuracy and might.
Luckily for the fish, we were accurate maybe one out of twenty throws. Luckily for us, we weren’t dependent on what we caught to for our dinner that night. If we had to feed ourselves with what we had caught, we would’ve most certainly gone hungry. But we didn’t go hungry. To the contrary, before the darkness of night fell upon us, we were treated to a feast.
Bacon, his wife Michelle, his son Stetson, and other friends and family had been out at the blue hole long before we arrived that day. They had been graciously preparing for us fried sucker fish, fried okra, fried hot links, fried potatoes, fried onions, and fry bread (notice I didn’t say fried bread, there is no such thing as fried bread in Indian country, only fry bread).
The spread was almost overwhelming, and the hospitality was out of this world. I almost felt guilty eating so much, but I was told it would be more disrespectful if I didn’t go up for seconds, and thirds.
So when we were getting ready to finally start fishing, we were plenty full, and full of excitement to try something new.
Needless to say, we were all new to giggin’ so it absolutely required some extreme patience from Bacon and Stetson. They probably could have speared all the fish we came across, so to watch us hit less than 5% had to have been agonizing, but you would have never known it from their actions. They displayed more patience, support, and positivity than any of us could have expected for our dismal success rate.
I use the giggin’ experience to express my feelings about my immersion trip to Cherokee Nation because it conveys so much about the hospitality, culture, and resilience of the Indian people.
Hospitality was displayed not only through food and lodging accommodations, but through conversation, relationship building, and authentic welcome. Culture was shared through the patient teaching by our friends in Oklahoma. Even when there was tension around the painful and horrific past that American Indians have endured, we were taught to enter into that tension and wrestle with it in order to have more cultural competency when it comes to building lasting relationships with our Native siblings. Finally, giggin’ expresses so much about the resiliency of the Native people because they are a people who continue to face extreme oppression and yet they thrive and survive. You see, one thing I did not mention is that the suckerfish is an undesirable fish not in the same class as “game fish” like bass and crappie. It is a fish that can be gigged by natives without the need of special licenses, but if you ask Bacon and Stetson, it is the best fish in the river.
The people we met were the epitome of resiliency. Although they were given the literal bottom feeders to fish, they cooked ‘em up and the fish was nothing short of gourmet. I will always cherish the memories I made in Cherokee Nation and regard my time there with honor. I hope to continue to honor the relationships I formed with the Cherokee people by continuing to tell the real story of the Indian people. A people who practice hospitality, share culture, and exemplify resiliency far beyond anyone I had ever met before.