Recent Sun Dance prayers in the Black Hills gathered the good minds of
strong dancers, both men and women, to concentrate on the wish for less
violence and less war - in our homes and in the world at large.
Lakota, Mohawk and allies - in ceremonies correspondent to World Peace
Prayer Day and as signaled by Arvol Looking Horse, Keeper of the Sacred
White Buffalo Calf Woman Pipe - rose up at twilight of the Summer Solstice
on June 21 for songs of spiritual renewal, offerings of thanksgiving and
appreciation to the women. The day and cycle of creation opened and closed
in its moment.
A Sun Dance pipe, loaded along with the original pipe at Green Grass, was
smoked by elders and Sun dancers in the Black Hills while Looking Horse
gathered many other circles of people in the Plains, at Piedmont, S.D.
Other years, he has prayed in Japan and the Middle East.
A ceremony of the Oyate (the people) led by the men's societies, the Sun
Dance of the Plains - and in particular this one, hosted by Oglala-Lakota
tiospayes once again this year in the Black Hills - often flows from the
authority and the certain knowledge of the grandmothers.
In the Black Hills this June, the matriarch of a group of Oglala families -
tiospayes of the Afraid Of Bear, American Horse and Red Cloud lineages of
chiefs - called her sons and daughters, nephews, nieces, in-laws and all
her relatives to pray and dance. Beatrice Weasel Bear, 79, danced again in
the grueling sacrifice under the open sky, even though she had meant to
retire from active dancing this year. In her moment of prayer, in a season
of much close grief, she, too, intoned for world peace, for peace in the
mind and hearts of men.
Among her honors, Beatrice is a member of the International Council of 13
Indigenous Grandmothers, which gathers annually to make prayers for the
Midwife, public health nurse, traditional herbalist and healer, ceremonial
leader and grandmother of many great-grandchildren, Beatrice led the women
in the four days of rounds of many hours of dancing under a searing,
generous sun. Beatrice's Sun Dance intercessor, Oglala elder Basil Brave
Heart, aided by dance leaders and helpers, officiated the week-long event
and its intense four-day ceremony.
It is the season of the Sun Dance in the northern and southern Plains. Many
extended families, bands and villages will hold ceremonies of thanksgiving
and appreciation this summer. Many will dance with the sun and hear the
ancient songs of praise for the cosmic family of Sun and Earth and Moon,
and all the circle of life, all the relations and the healing: peace and
hope and good prayers so needed by the people in these violent times.
We assert this reality - and it is worth asserting the reality of American
Indian tribal spiritual contemplation because it is visible to relatively
few people in North America, yet it must be respected and recognized along
with all the real and pressing traditions of spiritual observance among
The summer Sun Dance is a major expression in the cycle of many such
American indigenous expressions: respectful of creation and clearly imbued
with all the values of good behavior and good will for human beings on the
Earth, as enumerated by all major religious traditions.
On the summer solstice, in the Black Hills of the Northern Great Plains, on
a plateau high above the Cheyenne River, across from Hell's Canyon - a
place where prayers have been made for hundreds and thousands of years - a
ceremony was held by Indians, for Indians and their allies.
Beatrice and the Oglala elders leading the Sun Dance upheld the vision of
her brothers and brothers in law - Larue Afraid Of Bear most prominently
among them - who had persisted over decades that Sun dancing again in the
Black Hills was the proper way to re-secure their sacred lands into the
Lakota spiritual fold. Larue and several of his brothers, including Ernest
Afraid Of Bear, and also elders and leaders among the American Horse and
Red Cloud clan, pondered Larue's vision and backed him as he searched the
hills for the desired place to hold their tiospaye Sun Dance.
Larue found his place 12 years ago, in a canyon and wild horse sanctuary
saved from rapacious developers by an old cowboy author, Dayton Hyde, who
immediately connected with the Indian request and opened the land and sites
to the families. After four years of cleansing and hundreds of sweat lodge
ceremonies, the annual cycle of dances began eight years ago. The first two
four-year cycles closed with this summer's dance.
The Slim Buttes people of this westernmost area of the Pine Ridge
Reservation put up singers, cooks, dancers, peace guardians and other
assistance for the eighth year of Beatrice's families' annual dance.
Relatives and friends from the four directions, as always, came to share
the prayers; families provided fire-keepers, cedar-men and runners. Indian
veterans' organizations from several posts put up flags for four ancestor
veterans killed in action. Empty chairs draped in star quilts with photos
of the honored warriors were set up at the base of each pole. Dozens of
Lakota relatives and allies put up two whole camps: the dancers' camp and
the "downstairs" or relatives' camp. As always, the arbor was rebuilt, and
cooking and feeding tents were put up. Tipis and campers situated here and
there inside and outside the perimeter were erected and secured.
For four and more days, a regimen is followed. Many individual prayers are
made for healing and for the protection of family and other loved ones. But
the active search for peace, in the heart and the mind, is the
consciousness carried most in common by participants who each endure their
own measure of pain to uphold the ancient call to ceremony made by the
sponsoring families. "No more war," says the prayer, "no more war."
Like the pope in Rome, the high priest in Jerusalem or Billy Graham in
Washington, D.C., these prayers, held here and there in Indian country,
have serious intent. The high content and grassroots - thus genuine -
Indian spiritual traditions of the sacred pipe of the Lakota, presently
articulated by Looking Horse and many elders of these ways - including the
much appreciated grandmother, Beatrice and her united tiospayes (which
proudly planted 492 family gardens this spring) - deserve great respect.
The efforts of such elders merit all the upholding that the Indian peoples
can possibly give. In this case they are allied with Billy Mills' program
of Running Strong for American Indian Youth.
The independent, distinctive and profoundly natural American Indian
spiritual traditions are one major foundation of Indian identity - a center
post and pillar of tribal sovereignty. Honor always the elders and their
ideas, for how else can these ancient ways be regenerated for the healthy
re-empowerment of all the people?