My beautiful friend Miya died in February. Cancer. She had been diagnosed in December. The end came several months sooner than anyone expected. I was with her in her ancestral home on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota when she died.

Miya gave me an envelope and asked me to wait to open it until after her death and after I returned home to Oregon. Below is what was in the envelope and card she gave me, with a note that she had dictated this letter for her niece Kimimela to write and give to me. I cannot know the energy, concentration, care, effort, and emotion it must have taken Miya to reflect and communicate her words, and for Kimi to be present with her. What this letter and card mean to me and how I feel to have them are indescribable.

Four weeks after Miya died, Kimimela got on a plane from South Dakota to visit me in my home in Portland, Oregon. She was feeling sorrowful and lonesome, so I offered her a change of scenery. We talked about Miya, of course, and found comfort in that. I brought out Miya’s letter and asked Kimi to read it aloud for me. Because I hadn’t recognized a few of the Siouan words, I was glad to have Kimi with me to speak their Native language and translate meanings.

I share Miya’s letter here because her own words reveal who she was better than any of my own. Besides, she asked me to share our memories and stories; this letter is deeply significant among them.

Dear Hunka Cheryl,

I want you to do something else for me please. Just this one more thing. Grab a blanket. Go alone to a favorite quiet place in nature. There is much beauty around you. I remember. Take a walk on a path to a quiet place where wood points to the sky. Go just before dawn. I know you’ll read this and you’ll want to go when grandfather sun is low and grandmother moon is high. That’s your crying time. But this time for me please go just before dawn. Lie down on your mother earth and tell her you love her. You’re alone so if you want to cry you can. Hold her and let unci maka hold you. She gave us everything. She can feel your love and she loves you. Even if it’s only for a few minutes be with her and tell her you love her. She hears everything. Then look up at the sky and watch the sunrise. Watch the sun come up over water, trees, grasses, rocks, the ridge, whatever is around you. Let light and warmth come right to you and into you. Feel the peace of morning sun in your heart. Be grateful. Say thank you to sun for rising this new day. Say thank you for another day of life and all the love you have. I know, Hunka. I want one more day with you too. E-i-i-i. But I am here and I am the light and I will always be here and everywhere. With your good heart, keep living, Hunka.

I love you, cante skuye. Thank you for watching over me. For dealing with all the practical realities I asked you to. Thank you for all good things. All the music, dances, walks, horseback rides, good times, quiet times, sad times. All our feelings. The life circle we share. All the stories and songs, the thousands of words and memories and important things you gave me. And all you gave my family and my people. Without your help, we wouldn’t have been able to get as far as we have. The undying love that my ancestors have for me and your ancestors have for you gave us the gift to be here on mother earth together. Wopila ewichawakiye. Thank you most of all for your love. Chicahnige, Hunka. Kichicahniga.

Now go stretch out on a rock or the grass and let in the sun wherever you are. Come back to the prairie someday, dance backwards, make them laugh and help them remember. Philamayaye. Icuwiskayas.

Yours, Miyaca

Siouan words

Miya’s letter includes a few Siouan words:
  • hunka (hoon-KAH) – relative by choice
  • wood points to the sky – trees
  • unci maka (uen-CHEE mah-KAH) – mother earth
  • cante skuye (chahn-TAY SKUE-yea) – sweetheart
  • wopila ewichawakiye (WOH-pee-LAH ay-CHEE-ah-WAAH-kee-yah) – I am grateful to them
  • chicahnige (CHEE-chah-nee-hah) – I chose you
  • kichicahniga (kee-CHEE-chah-nee-hah) – we chose each other
  • philamayaye (pee-LAH-mah-yah-yea) – thank you
  • icuwiskayas (ee-CHUE-WEE-shkah-yahsh) – indeed thank you
  • Miyaca (mee-YAH-chah) – Miya’s Native name, prairie wolf or coyote