The Gazebo

By Adrian Roman


My name is Chieftain and I’m a 9-year-old Choctaw Indian and the oldest of ten siblings. My 2nd grade teacher gave me the name and I though I was special. Little did I know the same racist name was given to thousands of Indian boys in the 40’s and 50’s? We were the only Indian family living in a small town in Oklahoma. The summer of 1951 the local grocery stores would give you a numbered ticket when you purchased food. A matching number was placed in a basket to be drawn on the last Saturday morning of the month in the town square. Father, out of town working, mother too busy tending to my brothers and sisters, she sent me to the square with our tickets. 

I remember most vividly this defining moment of my life. The drawing was to be held at the town square in an open lot beside Jackson Drug Store. I was lost in the small crowd as we gathered around at a picturesque gazebo located in the center of the lot. I had brought along my little Radio Flyer red wagon in case I won. I was small, nevertheless the gazebo was elevated so I could see the High Sheriff Penn Richardson as he and the mayor turned the basket to mix up the numbered tickets. The prize for having the winning ticket was several baskets of food from the local grocery store.  One of my classmates was chosen to reach in and select a ticket. The number was announced and I could not believe my young ears; I had the winning ticket. I was so happy you’d have thought I had just won a hundred dollars. I didn’t know what a millions dollars was.  Compared to the US Government food commodity our family received once a month, the basket of store-bought food was going to be a treat.

As I ascended the stairs of the town square’s gazebo – my heart was dancing with joy. I presented the winning ticket to the High Sheriff but suddenly the requirement changed.  He acknowledged I had the winning number, but quickly told me I wasn’t old enough to claim the prize. 

The Sheriff had shot and killed a young boy that was running away from him a month earlier, so I was scared of him.  Shocked and frighten, I wanted to challenge him but he was the authority figure. As I turned away I couldn’t help but look into the sea of white faces. I was searching for a friendly set of blue eyes, hoping someone would come to my rescue.  Each and every one of them knew that my family needed the food more than anyone else there. Standing there I felt so alone. I knew they didn’t want me to win. A sense of panic set in as I searched the crowd for a friendly ally, but all I saw were heads bowed and eyes looking away. The Sheriff quickly proceeded to call a second number. I realized then that no one cared, for who was I… just a little Indian boy.

As I descended those stairs, tears began to well in my eyes and I grew up a little bit.  If only I had the courage to challenge the sheriff, I would have asked him, “Why, only last month, did a girl younger than me win the basket of food for her family?”  I learned then that life had dealt me a different set of rules, because she was white and I was an Indian boy. The memory of a sign, at the outskirts city limits of Kiowa, Ok flashed through my mind: “Nigger don’t let the sun set on your back.” Little did I know, I was experiencing prejudice and racism against my people. I suddenly felt that I didn’t belong here – my hometown, my country, and Indian country. What little acceptance I eventually got, was due to the athletic prowess I displayed on the basketball court, baseball diamond and in the boxing ring. This was the defining moment in my life and it has taken decades to work through the pain and the confusion it caused. My identity was clouded for many years but today I know who I am and I like me…..Adrian Roman, Choctaw.

We live in an ever-changing world, yet deep rooted philosophy of entitlement, white supremacy and greed are still embedded in our DNA. Thru the years our personal vessel morph into nothing like our beginnings. However deep rooted needs and selfish values remain the same. What if this is our time to grow into an entity worthy of moving to the next level in the grand scheme of the Universe. If you are stagnant or unwilling to grow, perhaps Earth is your hell. 

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