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Choka (Grandfather) Melvin

This drawing is my tribute to the man who let me call him Choka (grandfather) especially the eyes; I remember his eyes. He looked at the world in such a way that his eyes revealed the sadness he carried. Sometimes he would talk about everything that he tried to build and later lost. A life of repression and invalidation by a country that stole everything from him, took advantage of his bravery and then once the nation’s peril was over cast him aside. Still his eyes could laugh at himself, me and the comedy of life. I have benefited greatly from this lesson and I have plenty about which I can laugh at myself. He would sing us silly songs that made us giggle when we were young and seemed always willing to spend his time with us.

There were many times when the pain was too much, more than he could bear. At those times he would find a friend and some coins and buy some wine. I remember his eyes then as well: when he was drinking. They no longer looked like his eyes but of someone with no pain and few cares. He loved a woman or two, and raised many children some of whom were not his own. Later in life he did the same with those of us who loved him and called him Choka.


I remember his eyes in ceremony having taken the holy medicine. His eyes looked happiest then consumed with the connection to the Creator and feeling the love. He was a great singer of sacred songs and skilled drummer frequently chosen to drum for others when they would sing in ceremony.


I gave him two eagle feathers to honor his bravery as a combat veteran of WW II. I have him wearing them down as a reflection of his genuine humility and efforts never to draw attention to himself. Similarly the choker has no ornament, typically a shell or stone, another tribute to his humility and simple way of life. The shirt and vest are how I remember him when he would dress nicely for ceremony. He often would button the top button of a shirt which I found uncomfortable. I gave him long hair because he is finally free; he never felt free, or free even to wear his hair long wanting to assimilate and again never draw attention to himself. The emptiness of the landscape reflects what was left to him in his life after everything was stolen. The mountains and horizon are a division between the bleak world of the living and the world of the spirit. I learned the importance of horizon from my Professor George Morrison whose works have a strong horizon line. I am truly blessed to have learned from him.


The circle represents the divine: he was always reminding me to remember the Creator. The small circle in the form of an earring is my tribute to his sacred and holiness that lived within his spirit despite the harshness of his life—he held on to it. I miss you Choka.



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