The culture, traditions and stories of Native Americans were highlighted at a program at the Bassett Historical Center.
The center serves Patrick County as well as other areas.
Renae Wagoner, of Spencer, the descendant of a Native American, showcased a dress made of buckskin. She explained the tassels “are more than just decoration. They are my drying apparatus. Everything on regalia (clothing) means something. This is not a costume. When I wear this, I am just wearing my native dress.”
She cautioned against taking photos of anyone in Native dress unless first obtaining permission. Otherwise, “you’ve taken a piece of me,” she said.
Also, do not touch regalia. “You can tell them it’s beautiful but it’s disrespectful if you touch it,” Wagoner said.
Native Americans do not worship animals or mountains; they respect them. They worship the Creator, which is what they call God, Wagoner said.
Smudging is done before the Native Americans enter a circle at a gathering. Burning sage in smudging because it is said to cleanse and make people presentable to Mother Earth, she said.
The circle is important because there is no beginning and no end, she said. The circle is respectful to Mother Earth and something is left, such as tobacco, before leaving it as a way to give back to Mother Earth and respect her.
Wagoner said that when an animal was killed, Native Americans never let any of it go to waste. Animal bones were used to fashion tools to help dig in the ground or even use as a weapon. Rabbit skins could be used as paper. Buffalo horns were used to make spoons and forks.
The eagle is important because it is the “messenger,” according to Wagoner, who added it also flies higher than any other bird. Native Americans believe that when someone prays, the prayers go on the wings of eagles to the creator.
Wagoner shared a few stories that are important to Native Americans.
The first was about the opossum and why it has a naked tail. She said the opossum originally didn’t have a naked tail. He was very conceited, always talked about how beautiful his tail was and told others not to touch it. He spent hours grooming and talking about how beautiful it was. The other animals were tired of hearing about his tail. Rabbit had an idea and told the opossum the animals wanted him to come to the council meeting. The opossum thought it was because of his tail. Rabbit told him to bring his beautiful tail so they could all admire it. Rabbit gave opossum some cream and snake skin to put on and told him not to take it off until the meeting.
Opossum arrived at the council meeting and unwrapped his tail as he spoke. As he unwrapped, the hair came off. As soon as he saw it, he took three steps and fell over. The other animals thought he was dead. He had a horrible look on his face. The other animals kept trying to wake him up. They felt badly and went home. When they left, the opossum looked up with a grimace look on his face. When you see him today, he will have the same grimacing and no hair on his tail, she said.
A second story was about skunks and how they originally were solid white. Another conceited animal, the skunk had soft, pretty fur. He bragged about how pretty he was and told the others not to touch him because it would make him dirty, she said. He went to creeks and streams just to look at his reflection.
One day he came across some baby owls. He told them that he couldn’t eat them because of how ugly they were. The baby owls started crying. But the skunk said if he ate the babies, his fur probably would look like them. He went down the tree and walked away. Mama owl went to the babies and they told her that the skunk told them how ugly they were. Mama owl picked up the skunk with her talons and asked him what he did to upset her babies. The skunk said he was sorry and that he didn’t eat them. The mama owl kept flying and told him she would let him down where there was a forest fire. She flew back and she could hear the skunk apologizing and begging her to get him out of the fire. She got him out and the skunk realized his fur was burned, leaving a black stripe.
Both the opossum and skunk learned a lesson – don’t hurt other people without expecting some kind of retaliation. Don’t brag about yourself. You can pat yourself on the back if you’ve done a good deed, but don’t brag about what you did, she said.
“Treat everybody like you want to be treated, including yourself,” Wagoner said. “Treat yourself the way you want someone to treat you. If you don’t like you, you are in trouble. Don’t cheat yourself.”
The Bassett Historical Center has many books on Native Americans and medicine which may be read on-site but not checked out. It also has some masks on display.