First Girl: A Story by Peggy Illeen

First Girl: A Story by Peggy Illeen

One of our wonderful volunteers, Peggy Illeen, who is a fabulous photographer, is also a gifted author. This is one of her short stories, called “First Girl.” It is told from the perspective of a Native girl in the West. It brings a personal quality to the first peoples narrative, which can help the children imagine life as a Kalapuya in the Willamette Valley.

replica longhouse interior kalapuya western indians
Replica longhouse interior

First Girl

The morning sounds begin. I can hear the others stretching and starting to stir. I am never the first one up.The only reason I ever open my eyes is to see the color of the sky….will it be red or yellow or pink?

It is so rarely blue, the air is so dry and dusty. My body hurts from the dry and dirt. Mother says we will find enough water to wash soon. Sometimes we wander looking for water, sometimes we are too weak. When we go, the brush tears at our bodies. My hands hurt the most.

I open my eyes and see my mother starting the day. I have not seen my mother smile for a long time.  This life is hard. Today we will stay and we will work scraping the hides to be ready for the cold time. I have been taught to use an arrow, make fire, cook…I have done everything we do.  I am a young girl now but soon I will be middle aged.

Our happy time, what we work for all day, is the fire at night.  My father tells stories.  He makes faces in the firelight and makes us laugh.  Always his stories are about the hunts. The women do not go so it is curious to us. I do not like to hear about the animals dying, but the meat is good. Grandmother tells stories of places and people I do not know.  She is the only grandmother in our grouping.  She teaches that the people who came before us are important to remember.  She says the meaning of life is the energy you add to the future.  I am wanting a story of meaning to share at the fire.

Every day, as we work, someone raises their hands to beg the sky for rain. We all follow and raise our hands too. Today my tiny sister started it. It made us laugh. And then with more purpose we raised our hands and asked for help. This feels like meaning,  but still I search for words. When it is time to sleep I look at the sky one more time. Sometimes the stars come so close they frighten me.  It seems they will come for us. I see a light streak in the sky and hide my face.

My father and others keep the fire going and watch. The night animals would love to eat us. This has been my life for eleven years.

I drift off to sleep.  I dream of walking into water.