Winter 2017: “Your Sacred Place” Powerful Voice Winner Ella Vonada

Read Ella's essay, "Noni's House," about the scratchy records and soft chairs in her favorite house—where she'll always have someone to catch her if she falls down.

Ella Vonada, a student of Eva McGough at Lake Washington Girls Middle School in Seattle, WA, read and responded to the online YES! Magazine article, “Why the Founder of Standing Rock Sioux Camp Can’t Forget the Whitestone Massacre.”

In this story, founder and director of Sacred Stone Camp, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard describes how her identity, history and survival are intrinsically connected to the land—and water—that is being threatened by the Dakota Access Pipeline. To protect this place, Allard says they have no choice but to stand up.

Writing Prompt: Describe how you would feel if a place that defines you was threatened to be destroyed or taken away. What would you do? Would you fight to save it?

Noni’s House

Every day, people walk past this old, blue, wooden house. If you’re lucky enough, you can place your small cold hands on the brass doorknob and enter the warmth of Noni’s house. A child has infinite needs growing up: security, love, family, safety. When I was growing up, all I needed was my Noni’s house.

When I was five, I’d come through her front door, into the entryway that always smelled of her perfume. The hint of flowers wafted off her coat collars, filling my cold, red nose with warmth. I’d turn left, into a room with a wall completely covered with a mirror. The mirror was carved by a man four generations ago—my great-great-grandfather. Turning right from the entrance, was my Noni’s den where two worn, yellow leather chairs sat. Settling into Noni’s yellow chairs was like sitting on a cloud, floating above all danger, because when I snuggled up close to her, I felt protected.

Have you ever been so deeply in love with a place, so fully attached, that it became a part of your being? Have you ever felt so strongly about a place that you would protect it as you would your own child? I have. My grandmother’s home is the small blue one, one house from the corner. I’m lucky to know that when I enter Noni’s house, I’ll always be warm.

A sacred place is a place that I love and cherish—a place that makes me feel safe. Losing something like that can’t be replaced. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. When I was one day old, I woke up to my birth mother being gone. Then I was taken in by another family. A year later I lost them. One year old and I lost yet another family, yet another home. And then I was adopted at age one and brought here. I thought the rug was going to be pulled out from under me again. I thought I would be abandoned by another family. I constantly worry about that.

It’s only when I’m at my Noni’s that, I can forget about that. I’m able to tune out everything but the scratchy record playing The Sound of Music. I’m able to run around her big backyard without worrying I’m going to trip— if I trip, I have people to pick me up. Taking that house away would be devastating. the rug being pulled out from under me. It would be the feeling of an unexpected shock, and then before you know it, you’re on your face again. I love that house. I love the memories it has. I love the people in it. I love how I call that house my sacred place.

The loss of my sacred place would make me want to fight for it. I would want to protect it like it protected me. There are many ways for one to do this. Like Rosa Parks I can start a boycott and sit at the front of the bus because we are all equal. I can walk out of school and join my city to protest against our president, Donald Trump. I can make a speech like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and make my cause be heard with the power of speech.

If Noni’s house were to be destroyed, I would use my voice as its protector. a guard. I would speak to my school, my church, my family, my city—everyone who would listen, I would tell. Destroying a sacred place isn’t only wrong, it’s cruel and disrespectful. Everyone I could gather would begin the talk. We would begin to share, and we, as one voice, one body, one cause, would take action and use the power of public speech to save my sacred place.

Standing Rock is the Sioux Tribes’s “Noni’s House”. It’s their safe place, the place that shouldn’t be pulled out from under them. Year after year, place after place, we have taken land, culture, and language from Native Americans. We’ve taken their home over and over again, ruining their ability to feel secure. We can’t keep doing that. We’ve knocked them down dozens of times, but they will still stand, like a rock that can’t be moved.

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