Spotlight on Elders with Stella Long
Oklahoma City, Okla. - Let’s start with her Choctaw name, Fichik. The word for “star” in the Choctaw language. Appropriate, since Stella Long emodies all the characteristics of a star: a celestial body that generates light and other radiant energy. A long time storyteller, Stella carries on the tradition of Native storytelling, creating a web of stories connecting our present to our past and introducing the stories of our ancestors to our children.
She was born in the Choctaw Nation in eastern Oklahoma near a small community called Kanema.
“They called it Kanema but in Choctaw it’s Kanima, which means somewhere in Choctaw,” she said. “So I had a lot of fun with that word when I was a little girl. People would ask me where I was born and I would answer ‘Somewhere,’ of course.”
She attended grade school for a short time in Kanema. Then her family moved to Chilocco Indian School, an agricultural school for Native Americans in Newkirk. It closed permanently in 1980.
“When my father was living we went to Chilocco. We were living at Chilocco Indian School because my father and my mother had met and married there.
“After that, we moved back near Stigler and there was a lot of hardship there. We lived off the land and my brothers chopped wood to sell.”
After her father died when she was 10, she was separated from her brothers and sent to Goodland Indian Orphanage, southeast of Hugo. She didn’t see them again for a very long time.
Her life was lived at the orphanage from 7th grade until she was a senior in high school. But she did get to go home every year for Christmas.
“My mother later married and had three children, one died and two are still living.”
Before her father died and her world was turned upside down, she would wander the woods around her home. And that’s where she learned she had an innate connection to nature and to the animals that lived around her. She said she came to realize that the spirits of our ancestors speak to us through the animals.
“I loved going up into the mountains, up into the rocks and I would see many birds, many types of birds. I saw flying squirrels jumping through the trees. I met a wolf there one time. He was up on the ridge looking back at me, and he walked forward for a little while still looking at me with piercing eyes. And because I respected animals I got down on my knees.
“This was a great king wolf that we Indian people respected. And I talked to the animal and he slowly went up the hill. He turned back around to look at me but I didn’t follow him. And I thought to myself, ‘He probably thought that little girl has a lot to learn.’”
Even with all the other animals she’s encountered, she still thinks of the wolf as her spirit animal.
“Three medicine men have told me I was part of a wolf clan after I told them I did not know what clan I belonged to,” she says. “Among the Choctaws, there are not many animal clans that are heard of. You see, the Choctaws became what you might call civilized long before the other tribes did because the Choctaws wanted the education the white people seemed to be getting.” Stella thinks that may be when we started losing our connection to nature.
In order to acclimate to the white man’s way of thinking “we had to change a lot of things, a lot of the ways we behaved when we lived off the land.”
“In fact,” she remembers, “I read in history books the first clothing we ever had was all leather, deer leather. And it had only one strap down toward the waistline with one breast showing. With leathers hanging down as a skirt.”
She still goes to Indian doctors, as well, claiming she’s learned quite a bit from them.
“I’ve been to a Cherokee medicine man. There are a number of John Ross family members who are in medicine. And he was a part of that family. He lives in Vian near a stomp ground, by the Dwight Mission in a log cabin.”
During one of her visits she said, “He placed me on a cot but he did not touch me. Soon I felt a warmth moving over my leg even though nothing was touching me.
‘I’m going to baptize you in the old way, he said. This is a special water.’ So, she explained, he dipped water from a little washpan then he stood behind her and trickled the water over her head.
“Even though there was a cold wind outside,” she said “all I felt was a comfortable warmth.”
She also visited an elderly Kiowa medicine man who helped her with a vision.
“There was a hurricane that had moved through the east. So I was worried about my children who I had not heard from.”
According to Stella, “He called out to the ancestors. It was dark in the cabin. He started playing the flute and singing in his language. Suddenly a bright light, red bright lights, then balls of red light started flying around him.”
Then she said he announced the presence of the ancestors.
“I looked around, smiled, and welcomed them,” she said. The medicine man told her the eagle that had accompanied the ancestors told them her children were safe. Then she said she felt peace because she knew they were OK.
Stella continues to represent the Nation in the most favorable light. She’ll be telling her stories of animals and ancestors during Choctaw Days at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. October 2 and 3.