Most of the battles we fight are unheralded events witnessed by no one, or by a few close observers and most are unsung. Most end in a win, lose, or draw: We learn wisdom or humility or arrogance or something from each encounter. Life is about growing into wisdom and life is filled with refining fires that burn and burnish us until we are golden spirits, shaped by the battles we fought, whatever the outcomes.
All of us have stories too tall to tell and memories that can’t express the experience adequately. So, we remain silent. Sometimes we are content in silence. Sometimes the silence chafes us, looking for release. Usually, we just fight on.
Terra Houska is a brave, a brava, a warrior of the Old School. Daughter of a Lakota man and a Bohemian woman, Terra grew up in the rough and tumble of reservation life. She was a wonderful athlete, fearless, undeterred by obstacles, determined. A few years ago, she starred on the cover of Black Hills Faces for her work in two worlds; for the United States Forest Service as a biologist and for her cultural heritage work on behalf of native peoples and traditions.
I first became aware of her in Forest Service meetings at Spearfish and, later, in Custer. Terra sews her own dance outfits complete with the most complex bead work and traditional costume accoutrement. She would perform in full regalia and spoke eloquently and passionately about her culture and history. Terra introduced many outsiders to the life and spirit of Pine Ridge and Rosebud.
Everyone has a weakness or two. Mine is math. I don’t know why, but I never passed Algebra 1. Failed three times and managed to stuff a four-year college education into five years without ever taking a math class. I passed management statistics in graduate school but only after great suffering. But, that’s a battle story for another time.
Terra could not get a solid grip on organic chemistry. Ranger Steve Kozel finally prevailed on university officials to pass her after three attempts and they did. We needed her in the Forest Service.
She is an artist who makes beautiful bead work that has grown ever more complex with time and practice. She made me a Forest Service shield necklace out of green and yellow beads and bird bone. It is four inches high and wide and quite the most beautiful thing. It sits in a glass case just across from my desk and is my favorite present from my retirement party years ago.
Terra has two boys and a little girl on the way. She also has breast cancer, stage 3C, and just had a mastectomy. Other treatment will have to await the birth of her daughter. Many people have struggled with cancer, lost close friends and family to cancer, watched others struggle with cancer. It is an evil disease, cruel and uncaring, but it’s also just part of life, and life happens.
There will be a benefit for Terra to help pay medical bills and to lend spiritual support and to stand in the presence of a great and valiant soul who is worthy and inspiring. I also know some battle songs should be sung and Terra’s is one of them.
If you’re in the neighborhood of the Labor Temple at 922 East Saint Patrick in Rapid City on March 18 from noon to 4:30 p.m., drop in and see her, meet her little boys and give her a hug. Olive Garden is sponsoring the event and there will be silent auction of wonderful art, much of it from Terra.