DARRELL ROBES KIPP’S FUNERAL MASS

A REBLOG FROM PRAIRIEMARY.BLOGSPOT.COM November 25, 2013

The day dawned clear and golden with dry highways. On the way to Browning a coyote crossed the road, searching the willow brush along Two Med creek. A golden eagle — I am not making this up — flew along with me for a few miles at Antenna Hill and, just before I got to Browning, a raven was lingering along the way. In Browning the dog-people — all of them variations on huskies and shepherds if not wolves — rushed out to challenge my little pickiup and then finally a Newfoundland the same size as the vehicle. The rest of the animal life was the same old groups of cows and horses.

Near Cuts Wood School, where Darrell’s body had been through Sunday, cars were everywhere, some of them probably parked overnight after the Nanamska (Bundle Keepers) ceremonies on Sunday that GG Kipp guided. The Catholic mass was scheduled for eleven AM but people were taking seats by ten AM. The basement held a megascreen relay for the overflow.

I sat in my usual place: the back pew. On one side was Sandra Watts, tribal attorney who got her law education in Oregon with my cousins’ husbands, and on the other was an extremely ancient woman who explained that her name was “Bubbles” by pantomiming the juggling of balloon-sized bubbles. In front of me was Dorothy Still Smoking, who teamed with Darrell to create the Piegan Institute, even kept Darrell moving through some tough times. (He was not the only one with ideas.) And on the other hand, Donna Douglas (I don’t know her married name), the cheerful and competent granddaughter of Vina Chattin for whom one of the elementary schools is named. Donna’s hair is white now, but she does not dye it fire-engine red as her grandmother did.

King Kuka’s Roualt-style chunked-stained-glass Stations of the Cross glowed dramatically in the bright sun, tinting the people primary colors. We were startled to realize that one young woman with green hair that we assumed was stained by colored light, really DID have green hair! Most of the people were adults. Maybe the babies were downstairs.

Many boys, some pre-teens, all dignified, scrubbed, braided and attentive, were standing to spare more seats for older folks. A few of them were drummers for an honor song. I suspect they all had close ties to Cuts Wood School, all devoted to Darrell Kipp if not related. (Darrell always joked Kipps were numerous as tin cans on the landscape.) They acted as orderlies in the ceremony, bringing forward the wine and communion wafers.

Father Ed had an emotionally tough job because over the past years Darrell and his wife, Roberta, had become more and more closely dedicated to church matters, a support to this priest who once lamented, “I came here hoping to lead the people to renewal and instead all I do is bury teenagers.” Today he commemorated a 69-year-old man who had cut trail for decades, renewal after renewal. At many points in Darrell’s life he barely squeaked through, but very few people had much awareness of that. He used a quiet network of people he thought of as educated and aware, as well as several circles of people who were great jokers, sometimes in rough ways.

Charlie Farmer, for instance, visited Darrell in hospital during the last days, pretending to ask to inherit his pickup. When Darrell improved a few days later, Charlie pretended to be disappointed that he would have to give the pickup back. Darrell used Charlie as a kind of lieutenant and co-conspirator, giving him various titles and responsibilities. There was a swimming pool they could see from the original Moccasin Flats school but it was full of blown-in dirt and a couple of dead dogs. Charlie nagged to re-activate it until finally they hired a backhoe, gave the dogs proper burial (since all Browning dogs are enrolled in the tribe), and brought in a squad of boys with borrowed shovels to shift the dirt out from corners. In their practical nepotistic way, they hired a couple of Kipps who could swim to be lifeguards and called a plumber to see about water. (Alas, no Kipp is a plumber.)

The water treatment shed turned out to have been used to store 200 pounds of “Cap’n Crunch” breakfast food that had been donated by the company because the boxes were mislabeled. (One of Darrell’s peeves was the practice of giving aged-out, broken, useless things in “charity.” Another of the stories about him was that once when he went to Blackfeet Community College to teach, he found most of the desks damaged — they had been that way for months — and simply pitched them all out the door.) Charlie finally gave the Cap’n Crunch to Vic Connelly and the rumor was that he used it to wean his calves. They act as though they’re on a sugar high anyway. Charlie talked a long time, telling one story after another.

The second speaker was a man from the Flathead whom I didn’t know. He was a fine speaker and part of the global academic context. Hawaiian indigenous language speakers were deeply involved with Piegan Institute. Over and over they reassured Cuts Wood teachers faced with crisis that they had confronted the same thing and told them what would work. One of the recurrent problems was people who tried to exploit the school for their own uses and even poisoned relationships. The Hawaiians said, “Be tough. Throw ’em out!” So they did. Jim Thorpe’s daughter was an advisor. The Canadian Blackfoot people were vital, esp. Shirlee Crow Shoe.

Darrell’s father was a hard worker on the railroad who in advanced age sat by the window all day looking at the Rockies. Darrell wrote a poem about it. When he was a soldier in Korea, he used his free time to learn Korean and startled a South Korean trade group that came to visit the rez by greeting them in their language. Words were his weapons. Make that “tools.”

Mothers, esp. ones mindful of massacre and world war, tend to spoil their sons in order to keep them close and safe. Darrell broke away early, but then in late adulthood came back to help his parents. He promised he would never put his mother in a nursing home and he didn’t. Roberta and he talked for a long time to understand what they were doing, which was one of the secrets of their success as a relationship. Both took care of their parents right up to death. Darrell never made a secret of his three brothers who died of alcoholism and violence. Donald remains, the lone brother. Geraldine, his quiet conscientious sister, was the office manager at Cuts Wood. There was never a pretense that Piegan Institute was federal or tribal, neither in terms of funding or of control.

Darren is following that pattern. He has all the legal control and training experience he needs to keep the school operating. The restraint and equanimity may be a little harder to come by for a young man who succeeded in keeping himself separate from a powerful father by becoming a videographer in his own right. Roberta is relatively young, still beautiful, and has a strong support group she earned as her own when she formed a study circle focused on earning distance-learning master’s degrees. They’ll be okay.

At one time Darrell had a commune-style fantasy about all his beloved friends and family living in an old-time village where they could visit each other in the classic sit-by-the-fire way to smoke and drink a little. This picture didn’t include movie stars or Montana big shots and I didn’t spot any at the Mass. We don’t need them.

The thing of it is, Darrell just doesn’t feel dead. I found myself talking to him as I drove back across the dun fields. The railroad was pausing for some reason — first a string of coal cars, then a string of oil tankers, and finally a line of Christmas presents from China. The frozen sloughs along the road show extra-tall muskrat midden-houses. The waterfowl have gone on ahead. It will be years, if ever, for those who knew Darrell to stop turning, expecting to see him right alongside.

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Mary Strachan Scriver

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.