Of all the holidays we Natives have to contend with in the U.S, Valentine's Day can be the most confusing for those of us looking to tradition for guidance in the ways of the heart. Native stories are big on themes like bravery, sacrifice, compassion and leadership, but when it comes to romance—not so much.
Native Nations have traditional stories of courtship and specific songs of love. I’ve come across some in books but the more interesting ones come by way of explanation by a storyteller or singer. I once met a Plains Native guy out in the Bay area and in the course of our conversation, he mentioned he was a singer. I asked him if he knew any Warrior songs and he busted one out. It was just us two and I gave him the bro handshake for sharing it.
A short while later, some women came up and the singer said he wanted to share a love song from his people and went into a long reflection on the uniqueness of women and their strength in keeping our nations together. Finally, he started his song and it was the same one he had earlier described as a warrior song. The exact same one.
Along with songs, Natives have tribal and family stories of courtship. For example, there are stories of men traveling by canoes or traveling over land for many miles to win the hand of a woman from another village or camp. In many of these stories, they have to overcome obstacles along the way and then are initially rebuffed once they arrive at their destination. Perseverance is the lesson as these men stick it out and prove themselves worthy. Such a person from our past is viewed with a certain amount of reverence. If someone were to do this today, they’d most likely be viewed as a stalker.
Maybe courtship would be easier if we could go back to the days of presenting horses to the father of our prospective bride. We wouldn’t have to steal them and could probably get some good deals on the net these days. Or maybe we could return to the days of presenting a freshly killed deer at the family doorstep as a sign of devotion, much like a cat dropping a dead mouse at the feet of its owner. On second thought, that might be a bad idea because a loss of subsistence living makes bad hunters out of so many of us. Perhaps we’d be end up like the poor guy in Little Big Man who was beaten over the head with a scrawny duck by his unimpressed wife. One Duck!
Still, isn’t a scrawny duck more thoughtful than a purchased Valentine's Day card? The card can be seen as a symbol of passion but more often than not, it is purchased out of a sense of obligation and the desire it represents is the desire to avoid an argument. It’s big business though. Last year an estimated $15-17 billion was spent on Valentine's Day goods and services.
The origins of Valentine's Day as a day to mark romance are somewhat obscure. There is the tie to Saints but history is fuzzy in providing a link between these Saints and the idea of love. Some trace the first mention to verses written by Chaucer and Shakespeare.
Since this tradition is traced back to verse, I thought I’d mark this Valentine's Day by creating my own verse and maybe cashing in on that lucrative Valentine Card Market.
Though Valentines comes once a year
Always remember we mark each day
Dreaming and hoping for the time
When we drive the oppressors away
Wait, that won’t work.
When you first came into my life
my loneliness and isolation were fractured,
But I refuse to buy you roses,
Cause like Chomsky said, our perceptions are manufactured
Okay, scratch that one. Maybe I can look to movies for inspiration. Last of the Mohicans was a romance so why not start there?
Your touch awakened my long buried passion
and this was truly the start
of you consuming my world
like Magua eating the Grey Wolf’s Heart.
Oh, never mind.
Robert Chanate is a member of the Kiowa Nation and can be reached at email@example.com and twitter.com/rckiowa. He is from Carnegie, OK and currently lives in Denver, CO.