Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Homeless in Shawnee, OK: Frank

Photography by Al Griffin

I found Frank in a small park near the Library in Shawnee, Oklahoma on a warm summer morning. Several men were on benches under a large tree smoking and talking.

Frank said he had been on the street for a few years. He told a familiar story about unemployment and health issues. Frank said the Free Clinic at the Tribal Complex provided his medical care. Then I asked the right question: What is your tribe?

Frank’s face lit up, and he showed a pride in who he was and what he was. We all have it: a spark, an inner fire that brings out a different person. For Frank, it was his Native American and tribal heritage.

Frank is a member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Removed from their original lands in the Northeast U.S. during the 19th century, they were brought to Kansas. A group absented themselves from the reservation, thus their name. This group ended up in Indian Territory and thus became part of Oklahoma. The tribal headquarters is near Shawnee, Oklahoma.

Frank lamented the loss of language and customs because the young people see no value in the old ways. He thinks the tribe is weakened as the collective memory loses touch with cultural heritage and tradition.

Frank sees himself as a proud warrior with a rich tradition stretching back in time to his ancestral roots. I prefer to see him the same way. No matter what the circumstances of his current situation, he is not defined by them. This may be where he is; it is not who he is.