STEVE INSKEEP, host:
You know, many people have called in to our series The Hidden World of Girls with their own stories about rites of passage. The Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, followed up on a call about the Brave Heart Women's Society in South Dakota, and they bring us a story about the Isnati coming of age ritual.
Ms. BROOKS SPOTTED EAGLE (Member, Brave Heart Women's Society): Hi, my name is Brook Spotted Eagle. I belong to a women's society on my reservation in South Dakota, The Brave Heart Women's Society. My mother is one of the founding grandmothers who's brought it back to life. I saw The Hidden World of Girls and think this would be an amazing opportunity to share with other Native woman a Isnati coming of age ceremony for our girls.
(Soundbite of thunder)
Ms. MARISSA JOSEPH (Member, Brave Heart Women's Society): Childhood was really rough, lost and floating and drifting and just trying to survive; didnt feel like I had a place on Earth. My name is Marissa Joseph. Im 21. I live in Ihanktonwan Territory in South Dakota.
I was adopted as a newborn. A large part of my life, I was kind of just bouncing between family members. I was a pretty strong alcoholic in my early teens and just in a really bad path. I didnt know who I was and what I was looking for and what I needed, and had really wanted to not live anymore.
In the summer of my 14th year I went through Isnati and I felt like I was found.
Ms. FAITH SPOTTED EAGLE (Founding Member, Brave Heart Women's Society): In the Brave Heart Society, a long time ago, the women would retrieve the dead from battlefield and do what they could to help the family. In a way, we're doing the same thing, bringing back our people from emotional death.
My name is Faith Spotted Eagle. We're in Lake Andes on the Ihanktonwan Homeland near the Missouri River.
It was in 1994, we went around three or four states and we interviewed grandmas. We asked them what they remembered of Isanti coming of age. In the old days, as soon as a girl got her first moon, her first menses, the family would take them immediately and you would isolate yourself from the rest of the camp, and they would begin teaching you.
So we symbolically set up one camp a year and we have the girls come in for four days.
Unidentified Woman #1: One over, to the north.
Unidentified Woman #2: Bring it back, one over to the north. Yeah.
Unidentified Woman #3: Yeah.
Ms. JOSEPH: From the very beginning, you need to put up your own teepee, your own lodge. You need to have that strength to house yourself.
Unidentified Woman #4: Where is your door at?
Unidentified Woman #5: On the girls' teepee, you have to have 13 poles.
Ms. JUDY DRAPEAU (Member, Brave Heart Women's Society): We use 13 poles because we have 13 moons in a year. That's why we call it a moon camp because it's a special time for women to learn about themselves.
(Soundbite of overlapping conversations)
Unidentified Woman #3: Quickly, the rain is coming.
(Soundbite of thunder and rain)
Ms. JOSEPH: These four days, it's their sacred time. The girls can't feed themselves. They can't touch food. They can't drink water themselves.
Unidentified Woman #6: The mother or the auntie, or whoever they bring with them have to do it for them.
Ms. KIARI WORLD TURNER (Initiate, Brave Heart Women's Society): I was like, oh my God; I don't want to do this. Your mom has to feed you and give you water. And I just didn't like my mom.
Unidentified Woman #6: These four days, it's treating them like a baby one last time before they become young women.
Ms. MARLA BULL BEAR (Member, Brave Heart Women's Society): The feeding, it became kind of a little heartbreak, that bittersweet feeling, because no longer will she be my little girl to feed anymore. You really begin to start the foundation of what that adult relationship is with a mother and daughter.
(Soundbite of banjo music)
Ms. TERESA HEART (Member, Brave Heart Women's Society): Im Teresa Heart. I didn't have this, you know, when I became of age. Growing up at a boarding school, they came from the BIA and took us and I must have been five. And I didn't see my mom and my grandma and grandpa for nine years. They assigned us a little first-grader, and we had to teach her English. I'd braid her hair and take care of her. Then they'd switch everybody all around again and I'd get another little girl. And they wouldn't let us get close to each other.
Ms. JOSEPH: Every year, I try and teach what I know. Bring that back to recreate that feeling I felt. This year, I taught them how to make ceremonial food. The bapa, which is dried buffalo meat. Then they pick buffalo berries.
Ms. F. SPOTTED EAGLE: So we gather sage and over here, wahinechita(ph), the woman's medicine.
Ms. JOSEPH: Men can't go to the girls' camp. Little boys can, like Baby Jay who is still pretty young goes in the morning and sings to them and wakes them up.
Ms. OYATTAYISHKAPI(ph): My Lakota name is Oyattayishkapi. That means the people are happy to see him. This is like my second year watching the fire.
(Soundbite of singing)
Ms. JOSEPH: That love and acceptance song, we worked hard on that. We were like singing it at night, laying in the tepee. You just have to start singing it over and over again till you get it stuck in your head.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Child #2: I just dont know where the hey-hey part, so...
Unidentified Group: (Singing) Hey, hey, heyah, heyah, oh-ho...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Child #3: Hey. Hey. Hey.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. B. SPOTTED EAGLE: We talk to them about modesty and courtship, pregnancy and suicide, and not being afraid of doctors and having to get a checkup. Sexual abuse and incest can pose a huge problem within families. And we're always talking about this concept of a camp circle. We can't be attacking each other and doing this mean girl stuff.
Unidentified Woman #7: (Singing) Come on, everyone. Get up and dance. Dont be shy. Do not. Quit standing by the door. Hit the floor, young and old girls. Hey-oh, hey-oh...
MADONNA THUNDERHAWK (Member, Brave Heart Women's Society): My name is Madonna Thunderhawk. I was a grandmother. I just wanted to come and spend a few hours. This is part of what I need to do. At one time, all of this was underground. We only got the American Indian Freedom of Religion Act in the late '70s. Up until that time, it was federal law that Indian people couldnt practice their - some dances and ceremony. So we had to stand our ground to have these things out in the open again.
Ms. JOSEPH: When I went through Isnati, my grandmother gave me the name Hamdihotdoween(ph). It means Gray Eagle Woman. My sister has a really awesome name and it's Stand Strong Woman. She's the baby girl, and she's lived a hard life, as well. And she's been able to stand strong. It only seems to be fitting that you would change your name with where you are in your life.
The Brave Heart Society, these grandmothers, this connection with these girls that I have made. This is my sixth year into it. It's like Im a six-year-old trying to live a new life, so I'm still pretty new to a lot of things.
INSKEEP: The Hidden World of Girls is produced by the Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jim McKee. You can see a slideshow from the Isnati ritual and the Brave Heart Women at NPR.org.
And you can also tell us your story by calling 202-408-9576.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.