The first time I met Clara Soaring Hawk was at a rally against the CPV plant and its infrastructure – the “black snake” of Native American lore. She stood with her ceremonial walking stick and addressed a crowd of 60 as if she’d been doing it all her life. She was, after all, Deer Clan Chief. I did not know then that she’d been chief for only six months. That Clara Soaring Hawk had been until recently Clara Hasbrouck. I didn’t know that she’d lost her youngest daughter in 2013. Nor did I realize that she’d been expecting others from her tribe to be there that day, but no one showed up. When she squatted and drummed softly near the tall grass, I didn’t realize it was to ask Creator what the heck she should do. “I wasn’t gonna run,” she told me later. I didn’t know that Clara Soaring Hawk was a woman in the process of being remade. A year later, we slid into a restaurant booth in Middletown to catch up.

Interview by Becca Tucker

Where were you born?

My mom is 100 percent Japanese. I was born in Japan, eight weeks later my first plane flight was across the Pacific to San Francisco. I have an affinity with the ocean. It’s the only place I can go, besides the mountains now, but there always has to be water around to find that peace.

You’ve lived all over the place – New York City, Germany, Kentucky. But your roots on your dad’s side are here in Orange County, where your ancestors have lived for thousands of years. What brought you back to your father’s tribe?

I’ve lived her almost forever but I’ve travelled forever so I come upon the mountain with this Creator driven drive. Being a Ramapo, and being Deer Clan — my connection is innate. It’s Creator-given, and then my dad helped keep it alive, even through all my years of going to church and professing to be saved as a Christian. There did come that time in my life where Creator showed me that there was so much more, beyond what four walls and a ceiling could teach me. I realized then, that’s when I was starting in my walk on the river. Just like, to stop going to church, then a few years of just getting in touch with my own self. And then the powwow.

Like I said, this is my walk. I claim it, I own it.

In 2011, we went to a powwow, my youngest, Elysia, and my middle daughter Princess. These two were like oil and vinegar. They were exactly like me. They couldn’t walk up the stairs together. Princess is 30, and Elysia would be 24, and they couldn’t walk up the stairs together without [cat fight noises].

And for that, in 2011, they just showed up at a powwow. They were the two that showed up with me. I asked everyone, but that those were the two that showed up was incredible to me, and there was no arguing, there was a total spiritual connection between the three of us. I saw my daughter, I saw Elysia, something happened. She caught a fever – spirititis? Spiritualitis? Cause it was like, that one day everything just came down and filled her.

She would not venture two feet away from me, you know, and I turned around and looked, and I was like where’s Elysia? And I saw her inside the circle, dancing with older women, with some elders. Believe it or not, I met these women last year and they remember dancing with my daughter. The impression that she made was incredible. Both of us went in jeans. I had a flannel shirt on, a hat, jeans, you know, I had on her flannel shirt, she had on my shirt. Even going in the circle, we just felt this pull.

I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew we were being pulled in. I felt it spiritually. That started my walk.

When I came back – well I never really left, but there was a time, no lie, where I literally just laid in bed, totally totally totally destroyed about losing my daughter. Her and I were together all the time. People would say it’s not healthy, we’re co-dependent. At her age, 18, you need to let her go. It was difficult, because I wanted her to be safe but then I had to trust.

That’s life. Try to stay in Creator’s good graces and let his light continue to shine in my path. Continue to hear him calling me, not loudly but gently and softly. I know that it’s him. I don’t get mistaken, make any wrong turns.

Have you always been spiritual?

My walk started many many years ago. To know that you’re different from other people. I don’t mean it in a spooky way – that you have gifts, visions. My dad used to call me vampire girl, I wouldn’t come out in the daytime, ‘cause there was too many people out. I would feel too much.

I used to be afraid to come out. I’d always have to put a hat on. I’d walk by certain people, feel like I’m getting punched in the stomach, feel sick afterwards. But then there’d be certain people I’d just feel so giddy, I’d just want to walk next to them just because it feels so good, you know?

My daughter felt those things.

Let’s get some food. Oh I’m so excited. I haven’t eaten in days.

You’re not much of an eater?

I have coffee in the morning. Maybe around 11 o’clock I might have a protein shake. I was so excited to get out the house, maybe that’s the other thing, you know being in the house. I’m helping my daughter out because she has placenta previa, she’s in her last trimester, she’s gotta be careful about what she lifts. My grandson is like 30 pounds, she’s not supposed to be lifting anything over like 10 pounds. That’s those things that make it harder for me like when I want to be somewhere on time.

You recently became Deer Clan chief. Tell me about that role.

Even to be even to be recognized in the nation is an honor for me. Just to be a member of Ramapo Lenape Nation, to honor my father, his mother, my ancestors, is more than enough for me. I would still do the things that I do for the nation because it’s in my heart and my spirit.

I’m not hung up on any titles. I’ve been grandmother, sister, Deer Clan mother, just Clara, you know. You can call me Francis if you want and I’ll answer as long as you’re respectful.

So I’m not hung up on that even though I know that using certain titles can open the doors to more places. When I realize how powerful that is, that’s when I realize and I take more respect and care and, how do you say it, almost encase it, to only take down to be used at the proper times, the word chief. You know what I mean? ‘Cause you throw it around, throw it around, it means nothing.

I’m curious about the Deer Clan. Where are they located?

Mahwah [NJ], Hillburn [NY]

What was your dad’s story?

My father left when he was 16. He was in the Navy then went in the Army. He spent 22 years, fought in the Korean War. He gave me a gift. When I was six years old he gave me a knife. I didn’t even think it was weird. I didn’t think it was weird at all. To this day – I’ll be surprised if I don’t have it on me. It’s in the car for sure. I always carry it with me.

He took me camping, he taught me to fish. Not that he didn’t teach any of my other seven siblings, those that were willing. Cause everyone’s different, I got five and everyone’s different. That was something that he saw in me, or wanted to see in me or [laughs] was forcing in me.

Both times we’ve met you’ve had your walking stick. Do you take it everywhere?

I take it everywhere it needs to go. I need it now. It has my children, my heart spirit, different things that are important to me, different ceremonies I’ve been through, things I’ve been gifted. I got it from my cousin.

This was an earring of Elysia’s. This [piece of white string] is on there because someone tied it on so I just left it. You know what I mean? If they felt it needed to be there, I left it.

Do you find yourself growing into the role of leader?

I’m very comfortable there. It’s a place that I’ve been all my life. Even in school, you know? I’ve never been the one to sit in the back. I don’t want to be the last one chosen. Let me be the first and get it over with, you know what I’m saying? If I’m setting the standard, I don’t want anyone else setting the standard for me, you know, because I might not meet that standard. [Laughs.] So I’m the first one, always like, pick me pick me!

But that also has that thing that’s shy in me. So I can get it over and no one will think about me again. Then I don’t get angst and anxiety and sitting and waiting and oh my god, my turn’s coming. By the time it’s all over everybody will have forgotten what I said.

Anything and everything I’ve ever done in my life, creator’s the one who gives promotion, who gives increase. Cause every place I’ve ever gone in my whole life I could have started from the bottom mopping floors. In the shortest time possible I’m doing something that everybody says, Why is she up there doing it, you know what I mean?

It’s because I have the capabilities of doing it. And that I do understand. And I don’t take it for granted.

And I’ve never ever ever been one to settle for – my dad has always pushed me for As. It was always, if you can get an A minus why aren’t you getting an A? It you can get an A why not an A+? You brought home a B, you’re grounded for a month.

I kind of thought it was unfair but I understand what it is and it’s made me who I am, because I won’t settle, you know. You know the old saying, if you’re gonna be a broom pusher, be the best damn broom pusher there is. That’s what I’ve learned. Whatever it is that I do, there’s no mediocrity. You’re gonna do it and do it the best that you can by Creator’s leading. And if you’re always allowing Creator to lead you, you’re always going to be on the right path. So I have no fear of standing in a position of authority. I’ve done it with my children, I still do with my children. They expect it and respect it.

Creator blessed me with a gift where I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been blessed with a measure of intelligence. I’m not good at speaking, but I can write my ass off.

I think you’re good at speaking. You’ve been speaking for an hour!

Yeah I talk too much. I’ve always been real quiet all my life. Maybe that’s why I talk so much now.

[Laughs].

I’m serious! Because I’ve always been quiet. People from high school will say, oh she’s always quiet, it’s the quiet ones you gotta watch out for.

Now, literally quiet quiet quiet unless I have something to say, and it’s backed up with fact and I say my piece, you know, I pray that there’s information and learning in what I say, and knowledge and understanding, and then I’m quiet again. It’s the best way to be heard.

I like your haircut.

I don’t give a s***, you know what I mean? I can cut my whole damn hair off my head, I’m 60 years old, I can do what I want.

Tell me about Soaring Hawk, how you got the name.

Soaring Hawk was a name that I was given by Creator. All my life, this is so funny, it starts when I was a child being born in Japan and flying across the Pacific Ocean. All my life I’ve always had this affinity for birds, laying down and looking at clouds, trying to tweet like birds—which I could never do ‘cause I could never whistle. Very, very painful when you want to tweet like a bird and you can’t even whistle.

I used to dream all the time that I was flying. In my dreams, just always flying, always flying, always showing off flying. I don’t like to say that, you know when you’re a kid. I was showing off flying, look what I can do!

Creator whispered that I was Soaring Hawk. Soaring Hawk. It fits me, it fits my personality.

Did you receive the name as a child?

After my daughter passed away. Like I said, I had to make a decision: am I going to keep on living, you know what I mean? Am I going to call it a day, just close my eyes? But Creator let me know that I had too much work to do, too much work to do. Too much love, too much love to give, too many people who love me still.

That was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in my life. The funny thing is, I know that I’m here for a long time. [Breathes deeply.] That bothers me, that I’m going to be here. My great-aunt lived to 111.

I have been gifted by Creator two red tailed hawks, from the road. I was coming back from the Martin Luther King ceremony where I said a prayer. It’s laying in the road right past the McDonald’s – the whole hawk. I don’t like finding ‘em like that, I’d rather find a feather. A feather’s nice. I pulled right over in the corner, grabbed my bag: I always carry tobacco, said the prayer, I couldn’t say the prayer too long on the highway, grabbed it up, put it in my bag.

I been seeing as many eagles as I been seeing hawks lately. I had a dream night before last that the eagles invited me to go fly with them. The eagles asked me if I would fly with them, and I answered yes.

I wish I had dreams like that. So you flew with the eagles?

I answered yes and I went, and it was the most freakin’ awesome experience.