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Arvol's proclamation causing pain and prayer

There is a proclamation going around the world that in some quarters is causing consternation, in others jubilation, and in yet others outright anger. Many people are confused and saddened, although understanding of the motivation behind the need for something like this.

Arvol Looking Horse's proclamation (Vol. 22 Issue 46) needs no explanation for those who know about the Sacred Calf Pipe of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples. Those who understand the tremendous responsibility carried by this young man, the Keeper of the Sacred Calf Pipe, might not understand the full implication of his proclamation but respect that a decision has been made. Now, each individual who wishes to respect that decision has a responsibility to decide for himself or herself whether they will uphold the proclamation or not.

It's not an easy choice but it is reflecting the old ways of the Lakota people. The elders have always said being Lakota was not easy. Discussions about all the aspects of this proclamation were held for years before Arvol was even born. But now the time has come to have to do something, and the unenviable task has fallen on this young man.

Why the need for the proclamation? Because in the more than 100 years of forced assimilation (brainwashing) of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples, our ways of praying and conducting ceremonies have also been desecrated, contaminated, profaned, misused and abused.

There are many parts to the proclamation covering many ways of behavior. If people really knew all the old ways of punishment, they would consider this proclamation too easy. If the old ways of treating punishment were still in place, there would be a lot of people getting ready to join the spirits on the other side, instead of just having to put down a pipe, or learn the Lakota language, or have respect for ceremonies.

Harsh? No. When a way of living means the survival of a nation of people, then is it harsh to ask that some respect be shown to those peoples' lifeways? (I cannot even say "religion" because that concept is too shortsighted and narrow.)

The total destruction of the people's lifeways was the reason for taking away the language, banning the "religion" and stopping the singing of sacred songs, besides destroying the sources of economics. Destroying the total lifeways of a nation of people would destroy those people as a nation. They would no longer be Lakota, Dakota, Nakota but would be ... tahdah: American. That is what happened.

When I was much younger, I heard elders talking about a time when the non-Indians were going to come to indigenous people and say, "Teach us how to pray." And I remember the sadness in their voices as they continued by saying, "They took everything and now they want our way of praying."

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In the sixties, the hippies were among the first in the Southwest to begin appropriating Indian lifeways, as if the Creator told them to do this. Then it spread like wildfire until by the 1990s there were pictures in major international magazines of Sun Dances being held in Germany ? with only white people. The disrespect knew no bounds.

If the very foundation of being a Lakota had been understood, this would never have happened. But the very foundation was not even considered. That foundation was too humble so it was automatically overlooked. That foundation was not even one of the sacred virtues, it was only a humble cornerstone of truly being a Lakota person. That foundation, that cornerstone, that essence of truly being a Lakota person that was, and continues to be so overlooked, was and is ? respect.

Arvol Looking Horse has asked for a return to the old lifeways of Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota peoples with regard to having respect for the Pipe and the ceremonies. It is not so much to ask. It will be painful. But since when is being a Lakota, Dakota or Nakota not painful? It will require great effort from many people. After all, it was a great effort by many people to bring about the desecration that led to this point.

To look at it another way regarding just one aspect, how many children died in boarding schools because they spoke the Lakota language? Yet today, how many adults will die because Arvol has said only Lakota people who can speak the language can pour the water in a sweat lodge? In the Catholic Church how many women are allowed to conduct Mass? In the Jewish synagogue, how many non-Jews are allowed to sing and say the prayers in synagogue?

Just because we are Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples, does that mean there has to be no respect for our ceremonies? Just because we are Lakota, Dakota and Nakota peoples, does that mean that the one chosen by the Creator to care for our sacred ways cannot tell us what we need to do? Do we not believe the spiritual guidance that is sent to him?

Where is the respect?

In this time of turmoil in the world, it is time that respect come back to the Pipe and our lifeways. Arvol's proclamation has caused pain, but more importantly it is causing deep thinking, prayer and meditation.

Only good can come out of this. Only good can come out of having respect for sacred ways.

Charmaine White Face, Zumila Wobaga, is a member of the Oglala Lakota band of the Tetuwin Oceti Sakowin. She is an author and freelance writer residing on the Great Sioux Reservation. E-mail may be sent to