John stumbled backward, and a stunned look in his eyes. "Mrs. Ford, " he began slowly, "haven't you heard? The stream is too polluted now. We will have to use our bathtubs for going to water, this year, and possibly for a long, long time." "What", I asked, "I don't understand!" John put a hand on my old shoulder. "Mrs. Ford", he said, "that company that came onto the res a few months ago left chemicals in our water. If we dunk our heads in and accidentally swallowed a bit of it, we could get sick and die."
I couldn't believe it. I refused to believe it. But finally it did sink in. I took John almost roughly by the hand, and pulled him along with me into my cabin. As I sat down in my rocking chair and motioned to him to take a seat, I broke down. In between tears I said to him, "I'm 93 years old! I have seen our people suffer so much. I went through the boarding schools John. I was there with other Cherokees, and with other tribes. They used to beat me frequently until my backside was purple. Some of my friends were taken advantage of by Mr. Moore, the schoolmaster. Anyway, first we're massacred, then we're pushed onto this reservation, then our children are kidnapped and forced into the whitening schools, and now, just when they finally make it legal for us to practice our religion, we cannot do it in it's purity because we cannot use Great Spirit's beautiful water because we will get sick. Who would think that in 1981, we would still have this problem? I should have known." And then I broke down again.
I excused the tall, gangly teenager and said goodbye, but not without a teary kiss on the cheek.
The I walked back out to the stream and sobbed. Another thing lost, and another thing gone from my heritage, from our circle of life, from my pride. I felt as though I'd been stripped and beaten again. But it was too late now. I turned around, walked inside, and pretended everything was fine, just as I done all those years before.