I sat in the tipi listening to my friend share stories with us. just minutes before the moment in this painting, she was crying with grief as she shared her experiences in an Indian boarding school. Lest anyone believe that these atrocities are all part of America's past, this mother is younger than I am, and had lived through them. She was removed from her family at such a young age that she only rediscovered as an adult who her family even was. As she cried, she told us about having her braids chopped off, and all connections to her family and heritage severed. And even though I was there to hear her stories, that is not the story of this painting.
As she talked, she turned to her son (on the far right). This young man's braids and buckskins were a contrast to her own life at his age. She smiled and began to speak to the children about the importance of perseverance, tradition, and pride. The impact of these boarding schools and their hostile efforts to eradicate Indigenous ways was ending with her. Those traumas would not touch the next generation of her family.
That is why she is smiling. Beaming, even. Children are hearing her story, and she is seeing them carry forth the values that were nearly lost. The handing down of tradition and culture continues.
This painting is about someone living through adversity, and becoming resilient rather than defeated. This is about the insistence of people on surviving and preserving and care-taking for future generations. This painting is not just a sentimental scene; it is about overcoming.