Many tribal nations are suffering from outsiders who come in and appropriate spirituality and customs, and sometimes ceremony is sold by tribal members who should know better. According to Oglala Lakota Headsman and Spiritual Elder Floyd Looks for Buffalo Hand, there is a right way and a wrong way to learn from the Lakota, and he explains it here.
At 75 years old, Hand is looking hard at the past, present, and future of Lakota culture. So much has changed in the last century, and Hand asks all people to honor the traditions that kept ceremonies sacred for thousands of years.
Born in 1939, Hand began learning Lakota teachings in the 1940s, and have continued since. As a descendant of the original signers of the 1868 Laramie Treaty, he is a member of the Oglala Lakota Black Hills Treaty Council, where recently a General Counsel meeting was attended by Lakota language speakers. Hand said, “Everyone who came spoke the language, and everybody sang.”
The meeting, held at the Mother Butler Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, was attended by at least 70 people with at least one member of the tribal council, Jacqueline “Jackie” Siers, in attendance. The treaty council delegates looked at Oglala Lakota Resolutions written in 1971, 1978, and 1982, which stated that only Oglala Sioux Teton Lakota Oyate could participate in the Sundance or handle eagle feathers in accordance with federal law.
Members discussed passing another resolution that would prohibit non-Natives from running ceremonies or holding sacred objects such as eagle feathers and eagle bone whistles. “We have to be trained by a spiritual leader and earn the rights to carry a sacred pipe. That sacred pipe does not speak the language of English,” Hand said.
As the spokesman for the meeting, Hand reported that even some tribal members are not familiar with leading ceremonies, and some people are bringing peyote into the Sundance. “That’s two separate ways of praying, they are not done at the same time,” Hand said. He added that some Native people are “going ‘round making chiefs, allowing Christian non-Natives to be chiefs and carry a pipe.”
Members of tribes from Arizona, Montana and North Dakota have expressed similar concerns. Marvin Young Dog, Oglala Lakota who lives in Arizona and returned for the meeting, said, “We went to express our opinion, and at the meeting a lot of things came out. There are a lot of rumors and a lot of facts that white people are holding eagle feathers, and some are paying a lot of money for them. We are curious about what is going on,” he said.
“At that meeting, they all concluded that anyone who runs a ceremony, Sundance or sweat lodge has to do it in the language of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Woman,” Hand said.
Looking towards the future, Hand wonders who he will pass his knowledge, language, and history of the Lakota Oyate to. “It is really hard for any young man to dedicate themselves to our way of life because of this modern technology and that is what is hurting all our young people throughout North America.”
Hand said, even in immersion schools on the reservation, assimilation has affected the old ways of thinking, “and I don’t think I am wrong to say the European world does not have our custom values of life,” Hand said.
The Seven Lakota Values, given by the White Buffalo Calf Woman, have also suffered through the loss of language and today’s fast paced, technological lifestyle. The values include Praying, Respect, Caring and Compassion, Honesty and Truth, Generosity and Caring, Humility, and Wisdom.
“The White Buffalo Calf Woman did not bring the pipe in the English language, but she never taught to exclude anybody,” Hand said, adding that all people are welcome to come and pray, but only Lakota speakers can lead the ceremonies. For outsiders who come to the reservations, learning the values may be an alternative to practicing ceremonial traditions that take a lifetime to learn.
“There is a protocol,” Hand said. “Take your time. When I was chosen to be a buffalo chief, the first journey I made was nine years. The next journey was five years, the third was eight years, and the last journey was three [years]. I have taught non-Indians the simple language of praying. In my lifetime, I have witnessed two of them who walk with us and speak fluently, pray fluently, and respect themselves. They are giving people, they are helping people—they help the elders. They do everything that is required under the law of mystery.”
Non-Native veterans who come to pray with Hand receive instructions that take years to learn. “The third year we let them pray by themselves to find out who they are, where they are, and what their journey is about,” Hand said.
“These are the ways; but the New Age concept, they want to do everything one, two, three. It’s not like that when you follow the sacred way of the circle—it’s a lifetime. It is the supreme law of the circle of the universe brought by the three ladies: Mother Earth, Mother Moon, and Mother Sun,” Hand said.
“Our purpose is to educate, not to offend. I encourage all non-Indians to do their family tree. Who is their mother and father, and who was their mother and father? Find out where you come [from] and when you do that, you are going to feel a lot better about yourself. You’re going to be able to say, ‘I am a human being. I am part of the earth and the sun, and the water and the air, the four-legged and the winged,’ and you can say that because you know who you are,” Hand said. “If you are of Irish descent, or German, or Hispanic, learn the language and culture instead of coming to the Oglala Sioux and desecrating what is sacred to us. People are passing it around and charging money to run ceremonies—charging individuals $1,000 to dance. This is happening!” he said.
“There are no mistakes. Everything is equal on the journey, and what will happen in your path will happen. You will learn from it,” Hand said. “I cherish the language that was given to me from the spirit world and I will always stand by it. In your lifetime, you must give yourself to the people and if you look in any direction, at each color of skin, if you put all those colors into one, as my grandfather said, that is the color of blood. Black, red, yellow, white, we are all one blood; and we are all related.”
To hear more from Hand, watch this video:
This story was originally posted on October 3, 2014.