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"Returning Home" Reflection

by Roger Amerman

For several days I have anxiously awaited my trip to join friends and relatives for traditional ceremony, feasting, gifting, humor, and memorable times at the Long Tent. In my mind the Long Tent is the grandest symbol and iconic architecture that speaks of sustainable Plateau human establishment and connections to the Inland Northwest for over 16,000 years, or since the last Ice Ages of North America. Miles before I even get to the Long Tent location, in "my mind's eye" I can remember the beauty, majesty, and uniqueness of this anciently designed structure silhouetted like a perfectly shaped linear plateau in the evening sky, with it's extensive framework of numerous very long tipi poles rhythmically pointing in several directions toward an infinite array of stars in the night sky.  

My 100-year-old maternal great-grandfather bestowed me with an Indian name that connects me to the land and a special name was given to me that the Long Tent recognizes and approves of. It is important that I feel like I belong, because the mere spectacular sight, grand presence, and deep sounds coming from the Long Tent can be intimidating to the unfamiliar visitor.

Before locating the southern entrance of this east-west oriented Long Tent structure, I slowly scan the breadth of the entire community dwelling to acknowledge the care and detail my friends and family invested to construct it to the standard the traditional elders would have insisted on maintaining for a ceremonial "home". At the southern entrance I see my friend, the "doorman," who disciplines himself to keep a subtle and friendly presence at the south door entrance, but he has the crucial responsibility of controlling movement of people around the Long Tent during ceremony and making sure they are helped, yet insisting they respect the unwritten rules of Long Tent protocols. The doorman finds the opportune and appropriate time for my family to enter the Long Tent, and he points us in a counter-clockwise direction so we will make our way around the periphery of the Long Tent interior to greet established and seated folks. 

When in ceremonial use, leadership encourages the males to sit on the west side of the Long Tent and the females to sit on the east side of the dwelling. This feels right because at the climax of the long ceremony both genders will simultaneously face in the holy East direction to sing and pray for family, community, the land, and the World.

When we have a break during the extended ceremony, my kids get the special non-verbal approval and nod from the doorman that it is ok to go outside and stretch and conduct chores for a few minutes. His investment in instructing the youth is key because casually, nosily, or thoughtlessly entering such a handsome space like the Long Tent would be rude, embarrassing, and socially awkward. Good manners go a long way in Native American lifeways.

Despite a few rules, protocols, and observances for "holding yourself" in the Long Tent, at the cellular level you can recognize that you are "home."

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