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My Life in an Indian Town

July 8, 2010

Peaches growing in back of the ART HOUSE

Lately, I’ve been giving some thought to living my life in an Indian town.  As I’ve said before, I spent much of my early childhood in Ada where my grandparents lived.  Ada is also the setting for my novel, Miko Kings: An Indian Baseball Story.

According to Oklahoma’s Number Crunchers, the population of Ada hovers between 16,729 and 18,000 people depending on the time of year. Ada’s small university, East Central University with an enrollment of 8,000 students, may account for the population flux.  While those same stats claim that only 25 percent of the population is American Indian, I believe it’s much higher, maybe even as high as 50 percent since so many Natives have moved into town during the last 5 years.  Other residents have moved away, or passed away in recent years.  Certainly the population has grown and changed, since the last census.  Natives have come back to to the area to start their own businesses, or work for the Chickasaw Nation, headquartered in Ada.   The nation employs around 10,000 people.

Another reason why I think the population figures are skewed is because many Natives living in Ada, such as myself, are never counted and that means their livelihoods are unaccounted for.  While I’m able to live here four months out of the year, this is where I vote (absentee) and where I pay property taxes.

The town is strategically located in the south central Oklahoma which makes it a crossroads of Native transnationalism,  a very old Native practice that continues today.  In other words, native merchants, farmers, and marketeers travel the region, crisscrossing tribal and township boundaries to sell their produce and other goods.  For example, I buy cantaloupes from the “cantaloupe-man” parked at the edge of town (a native) from the Durant area.  He grows them in that region.  Same with the Okra-man parked along Highway 59 just outside of Stratford, Oklahoma.  These Native growers travel from site to site selling their produce.  They do it much the same way as their ancestors did in the Lower Mississippi Valley some 600 years ago when they were traveling to and from mound sites.  These mound sites were Native North America’s early shopping malls and recreational sites for ball play and other games.   Yes, yes, I know the mound sites throughout the southeast had sacred and ceremonial functions, but they also served as sites of commodity trading among tribal transnationals.  Beans.  Flint.  Copper.  Corn.  Amaranth.  All these products were most traded among Natives as well as intangibles such as stories, art of all kinds, song, dances, and knowledge.

Back to Ada’s markets:

So how do potential customers know where to find these traveling merchants? Just like the old days, (oh crap, I’m gonna have to say it) we use the oral tradition.  For you Metrosexuals or Urbanites who don’t do irony, that means, talking to someone in person.  If you rely on Google maps, you’ll forever be wanting  — just like the early eighteenth French explorers that missed Chock-Chick Country entirely.  There are no signs, no advertisements, no fliers to show you how to reach these “sacred sites.” It’s best to ask another intrepid foodie such as myself.  Not all Indians will know, especially not the ones standing in line ordering a chicken strips’  meal at the local KFC .

Of course, every Wednesday and Saturday you can also shop at the Ada Farmer’s Market.  Local farmers sell corn, beans, squash, peppers, new potatoes, and my favorite –  green tomatoes.  Green tomatoes are in season now and ready for slicing, rolling in cornmeal, and frying.  But for me, tracking down the vegetable stands along the side of the road is a great adventure.   Sometimes it’s a bust because they’re sold out by the time I get there.  Did I mention that the Stratford peach stands are open?  Stratford peaches are the best locally-grown fresh peaches in the region. Maybe the world, unless you grow your own.

My life in an Indian town also means that I will trade with the egg lady,(non-Indian),  the free range turkey and chicken grower, Amish.  The carrot lady (non-Indian) who brings her produce to the Farmer’s Market.  Each fresh carrot is no larger around than the size of my index finger, carrot tops included. Oh yes, on Saturdays there’s a local grower that brings cold, freshly squeezed tomato juice to the Farmer’s Market, a must for the perfect Bloody Mary.

The point is that not everyone I trade with is Native.  Because life in an Indian town means diversity.  Not everyone has to be of the same to make it an Indian town.  What I’m talking about is lifeways.   Natives have  always been inclusive and so were the markets they created.  Just take a look at our history with foods, propagating everything from corn, beans, squash, potatoes, peppers, peanuts, etc.  Today, 70 percent of the world’s food production come from plants propagated in the New World by — Indians:  Indigenous peoples, Natives, First Nations people, etc.

Hummingbird food: the pink blossoms

The local stores open late in Ada, and close early.  On the days before and after July 4, the local businesses always close.  At first this seemingly patriotic practice bugged me.  But as I began to ponder the practice more carefully, the holiday culture in Ada is meant as a push back against corporate America.  In an Indian town, the idea of working 24/7  is laughable.  Since Ada still boosts its fair share of locally owned restaurants and businesses, people set their own schedules and operate on: (oh crapola, I’m gonna have to say it)  “Indian time.”  Even the non-Indians run on Indian time.

Yesterday, as is my custom on Wednesday, I spent part of my day visiting with local merchants. I visited the Chickasaw Nation’s chocolate candy store and bought chocolate turtles; stopped by the boot and saddle shop and left another pair of high heels to be repaired; dropped off a book at our local library; ate tabouli and hummus at the “Greek” restaurant owned and operated by two Jordanians; I dropped by the Serbian/Italian deli and bought a fresh baked loaf of Sourdough (baked daily);  and then headed home to weed my garden. This year I have garlic, basil, peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes.  We’ve already harvested all the apricots.  But there are two peach trees, an apple tree, pear tree, and a fig tree that will soon be ready for harvesting. They are all hanging heavy with fruit this year.  I’ll probably call on some friends to help me.  That’s what you do when you live in an Indian town.  We trade, share, move produce along.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Sandy permalink
    July 8, 2010 3:55 pm

    Oh, yay for summer markets and the homegrown produce you can smell a block away. Yay for Indian time when everything does not have to be done right this dang minute. Yay for Okies, even those not in jail. Yay for this blog, your stories, your lifejoy that you sprinkle so generously over everybody. Oh, thanks be for okra, summer peaches and homemade ice cream.

  2. Phil Morgan permalink
    July 8, 2010 3:58 pm

    Hi, LeAnne. There’s a nice crop of wild Chickasaw plums (also called sand plums) coming ripe right now. The blackberry harvest just ended, was a record-breaker. I still have one small piece left of blackberry pie.
    –achukma, Phil

  3. LeAnne Howe permalink
    July 8, 2010 7:20 pm

    Thanks Phil and Sandy. What about another reading event somewhere this summer so we can have more blackberry pie and more fresh peaches and ice cream! Let’s think on that. hugs all around!

  4. TVA permalink
    September 28, 2010 10:49 pm

    Thanks for a little dash of summer as the days turn squat and grey.

  5. Phil Morgan permalink
    October 1, 2010 9:37 am

    Achukma, Leanne. I enjoyed reading again this crisp fall morning your essay on the Indian town. It is a great joy for me to drive the curvy rolling and lush backroads between our allotment farm in the NW to Ada in the central Chikcasaw Nation. I roll down the windows, tune in Brian Brashier’s great programming on KCNP, and joke with myself about never crossing the Canadian River; staying in the Territory. It’s provincial life, with an attitude.
    Enjoyed very much the 5 Tribes Story Conference in Muskogee, exploring the intersections of oral and literary storytelling; made lots of new friendships and renewed old ones. Picked some beautiful big pears near Checotah. Will see Jim and Alyssa get some.
    aiena hullo, pcm

  6. September 12, 2012 11:23 pm

    Hi there to every single one, it’s in fact a pleasant for me to pay a quick visit this site, it includes precious Information.

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