This is becoming an unhappy, burdensome task -- this writing about friends and acquaintences who are passing away back on the Rosebud Reservation. I realize I do not have to do it, but I also feel readers should know more than just the standard information in an obituary or news story.
We were not close friends, but Doris Leader Charge always remembered me and greeted me with a big smile and friendly “hello” each time we crossed each other’s path.
Indirectly, Doris was the reason I wound up moving to the Rosebud Indian Reservation to live and work at the Sicangu Sun Times for a while in the early 90s.
I was planning to write a feature story on Doris and her role as language coach for “Dances With Wolves” for the Cherokee One Feather. I called Sinte Gleska University in Mission, SD and inquired as to how to contact Doris for the interview. It was during Christmas, 1990, and Albert White Hat, who answered the phone at SGU, told me the college had shut down for Christmas break and Doris had left the reservation for the holidays.
Even though Albert had also worked as a language coach on the film, he told me there was another person on the rez that was in the movie and that I might consider interviewing Nathan Chasing His Horse who portrayed Smiles A Lot.
White Hat helped me contact Nathan and I wrote the feature story about him. I didn’t encounter Doris until after I had move to the rez and recognized her one day at the Sinte Gleska library. I introduced myself and told her about not being able to write my feature story on her. I was surprised to see she had short, curly hair. She wore a wig in the movie. But the smile and voice were unmistakable.
In 1995, I was back in North Carolina and heard that Doris was going to be speaking on Lakota culture as the guest of a women’s organization in Winston-Salem. I attended the presentation and Doris was surprised to see me there. I explained that I lived about an hour and a half away and wanted hear her presentation. She said, “Oh, I’m just going to talk about what it’s like for a girl or woman to grow up on the rez.”
Troy, NC, November, 1997 –- I attended the Town Creek Indian Mound kick-off powwow for Native American Heritage Month. While waiting for the powwow to begin on Sunday, I look up and saw Doris walk in the building with Lynwood Watson, a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. Lynwood was singing with the host drum that day.
I walked over to Doris and said hello. Again, she was surprised to see me. “Sit with me and let’s talk,” she said. “I don’t know anyone here except Lynwood and he has to sing all afternoon.”
So Doris and I sat and discussed who we mutually knew back on the Rosebud and what was going on with them. She said she was a guest speaker at UNC on Monday and Lynwood had invited her to come to the powwow so that she wouldn’t have to spend the day in her motel room.
Later, at the powwow, Doris was introduced to the audience and participants and she sang prayer song in Lakota. We continued our visit during the afternoon. She talked about her recently taking in two granddaughters to raise. Before she left, I suggested that she stock up on several cartons of Marlboro Lights to take back to Parmelee with her. I explained that cigarettes cost much less in North Carolina because of lower taxes placed on them. She thanked me for the tip and said she would get Lynwood or someone to take her to a store before she left Chapel Hill.
I saw Doris once or twice after that when I went to Rosebud to visit other friends. I’m glad our paths crossed more than once.
I asked my friend PR in Rosebud about Doris’ passing. He said he “pictured Doris' face in my mind, her impish grin, her sparkling eyes, her way of laughing out loud; a distinctive laugh that you could hear across a crowded room.”
PR said he heard the funeral had been held the day before, “a day when the scent of snow was on the wintry air -- or was that the day after? We are slowly losing pieces of our past, neh? Many old friends have passed over in recent years, each becoming a memory of another time and place.”
Editor, NC Native News