The Art of Wa-teca
Many of our celebrations and ceremonies around here end with a feast. It’s a time a family comes together through food to celebrate different things in life. Wa-teca is the food that is leftover and shared with all who attended.
I was born and raised on the reservation, right in Pine Ridge.
I grew up learning to bead and hustle the beadwork, grew up going to pow wows, grew up taking part in ceremonies, eating fry bread, going to memorials, graduation dinners, wakes, birthdays, and everything in life that should have prepared me for the “Art of Wa-teca.”
But being away for 16 years failed to prepare me for what I experienced last June at a family gathering. I won’t name the family because they might be ready for me this year. But I had a whole year to prepare and I will be ready for them.
This is what happened.
It was a ceremony that we went to in the morning. It lasted all day. By later in the afternoon everyone started putting the food out and it was announced that kids get in line first, then women, and then everyone else and singers would eat last. I was so hungry, I was thinking I could take my daughter up, make her plate with extra food, then share it with her. Then my dad hollered at me to get in line and help serve. My job was wojapi and pasta salad. So with my stomach growling I passed out food until the singers were in line, then I realized other people were in line for seconds.
It was then my grandma said, “That’s it, they have to serve themselves. We need to eat.”
So I piled my plate high with friend chicken, potato salad, fry bread, wojapi, kidney, and a bowl of taniga. Literally, five minutes later I was full.
I smoked a cigarette with cousins to catch up on what is going on in our lives, even though I don’t smoke anymore. It was a beautiful day. I watched my daughter run around with other little girls in the family that she just met, and they all acted like they knew each other forever. It was all peace, love, and harmony.
My dad told me to make sure to take some wa-teca home.
I was still in this peaceful, zen-like mood when I realized that as soon as the word wa-teca was mentioned, people started sneaking around all stealth-like.
Nobody was laughing and talking to each other anymore.
It was then I realized I had nothing to take wa-teca home with. I hit a slight panic mode. I was not experienced in the “Art of Wa-teca” but it couldn’t be that hard.
I looked at the huge aluminum pans that the chicken and salad was in and saw a family member who is usually very sweet in nature, glare at those around her as she folded the pans up like envelopes and walk to her car with them.
I remembered seeing my Grandpa Sid that morning as I helped him chop veggies for the soup stash these empty bulk sized cans behind the table we chopped at. I ran back towards the fire only to see him walking away with the cans towards the food on a mission.
I ran back to the shade and remembered there was the plastic bags the paper plates came in. I went to grab the bag when somebody swooped in and got to it before me.
Finally I saw the forks. I poured them out and was able to snag that bag for bread.
I looked around and saw people pulling Tupperware, Ziplocs and plastic shopping bags out of nowhere.
I gave my grandma a panicked look and she let me have her can of soup, she felt sorry for me.
So I did walk away with some wa-teca, but I walked away a wiser woman in the ways of wa-teca. I will admit I was eyeing my brother’s hubcaps out.
So needless to say, this year will be a different story. I will be armed and ready this time. Just try me.