Plains spiritual leaders issue mandate to protect ceremonies

By Brenda Norrell
The Navajo Times
March 20, 2003

EAGLE BUTTE, S. D. | In an effort to protect traditional ceremonies, non-Indians were asked to remain outside the altars of Northern Plains spiritual ceremonies and natives and non-natives directed to halt the sale of ceremonies and sacred pipes, following a gathering of Plains spiritual leaders.

Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, released a directive following the gathering of spiritual leaders of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Nation, Cheyenne Nation and Arapahoe Nation.

" It was decided, from March 9th, 2003 and forward, there will be no non-Natives allowed in our sacred Ho-c'o-ka (our sacred altars) where it involves our Seven Sacred Rites," Looking Horse said.

Discussions at the Protection of Ceremonies gathering, hosted by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe March 8 and 9, centered on the molestation of ceremonies taking place in the United States and around the world.

The abuse and consequences include indecent mockery, mixing of new age beliefs, sale of sacred pipes, use of drugs in and around ceremonies and charging for ceremonies. He said there have been deaths at ceremonies which was never heard of before in ancient history.

Survival of Indian people

Pointing out the importance of this time in history, he said the survival of Indian people depends on the survival of the purity and sanctity of the ceremonies.

"Our purpose for the Sun Dance is for the survival of the future generations to come, first and foremost. If the non-natives truly understand this purpose, they will also understand this decision and know that by their departure from this Ho-c'o-ka (our sacred altar) is their sincere contribution to the survival of our future generations."

Looking Horse said the directives refer to all the Plains tribes, the I-ni-pi (Purification Ceremony), Wi-wanyang-wa-c'i-pi (Sun Dance Ceremony) and Han-ble-c'i-ya (Vision Quest) sacred rites.

"After long discussion and testimonies of the concerns and issues, it was decided that it would be up to me, as the Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe, to make a decision," he said.

Looking Horse said the one protection allowed under federal law states that only enrolled members can carry eagle feathers.

Yet, within all the Seven Sacred Rites there is the understanding that one earns the right to carry an eagle feather. There was also the requirement of an eagle feather while participating in these rites.

"The eagle feather stands for indigenous knowledge and guidance in our spiritual ways," he said.

Pure mind, heart

During the gathering, there was also a discussion of the use of other "medicines," specifically drugs, in and around ceremonies.

"When the White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the Sacred Bundle, she instructed that only those with a pure mind and heart should touch the C'anupa," he said.

The explanation of his decision includes the protocols of the Seven Sacred Rites passed down to Looking Horse when he became the Keeper at the age of 12.

"These protocols are traditional knowledge passed down through our oral history and need to be brought back to strengthen our 'Ho-c'o-ka' (our sacred altars) once again," he said.

Beginning March 9, the only participants allowed in the Wi-wanyang-wa-c'i-pi (Sun Dance Ceremony) will be native people.

"The non-native people need to understand and respect our decision. If there have been any unfinished commitments to the Sun Dance and non-natives have concern for this decision, they must understand that we have been guided through prayer to reach this resolution," he said.

Looking Horse said all the prayers of those outside the arbor are a part of the ceremony.

"Please understand the Wi-wanyang-wa-c'i-pi Ceremony is not only taking place in the center (Ho-c'o-ka) with the dancers," he said. "The ceremonial participation also depends on all the supporters on the outside of the arbor who should be in prayer.

"From the gate, to the cook shack, to the fire keepers, to the supporters around the arbor, to even the moon camp, all people are still a part of this sacred ceremony."

He said there should be a preparation of "Han-ble-c'i-ya" (vision quest) before someone can participate in the Sun Dance.

Proper protocols

"We shall go back into this ceremony with the proper protocols before and during the ceremony itself. Only those that have had the dream or direction through a ceremony, in concern of someone's health, should be dancing."

He said dancers should be secluded from outside participants, as to not be contaminated by other people's energy or thoughts. There should be absolutely no food or water during this four-day ceremony.

If there are health problems, the dancer should choose a person to finish their commitment. He said this ceremony is for those that believe they can fulfill all required four days of the ceremony.

The rite is also for the young men and women that reach the age of 12, he said.

Those who conduct the I-ni-pi (purification ceremony) should be able to communicate with Tun-ca-s'i-la (sacred grandfathers) in their native Plains tongue. They should also have earned this right by completing Han-ble-c'i-ya and the four days and four years of the Wi-wanyang wa-c'i-pi, he said.

The other four sacred rites of the Hun-ka ka-g'a (making of a relative), the Ta-pa kah'-g'o-ya (throwing of the sacred ball), Wi-yan is'-na ti (womanhood
ceremony) and the Na-g'i glu-ha (keeping of the spirit ceremony), should be only handled by legitimate Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Oyate (people,) he said.

Looking Horse said only legitimate Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Oyate medicine bundle keepers should handle any other ceremonies that are connected to the sacred Ho-co-ka, such as the Lo-wa-pi and U-wi-pi ceremonies.

"There should be no price tag allowed to participate in any of our sacred ceremonies," he said. "The only protocol needed for a ceremony is to o-pa-g'i, meaning to offer your C'anupa or offer tobacco that has been prayed with, in which the medicine person accepts or not accept if he is not able to assist.

"Medicine people do need to survive, and if people wish to give a monetary or any other gifts after they receive their help from ceremony, giving it from their hearts, I see no problem with that.

"We have to have faith that the grandfathers will provide for our needs to survive in this modern society; whether the gift is money, blankets, food or anything that represents how much they appreciate the help. Some people can afford big gifts, some people cannot. It all balances out.

"My position is only for the Seven Sacred Rites. I cannot dictate to our medicine people who they allow to attend and support these rites, in reference to non-native people," he said. "I cannot dictate who they choose to doctor in their ceremonies. I cannot dictate where they travel to doctor. I have my own personal feelings on who should be Keepers of our Sacred C'anupa (pipe)."

For sale

Looking Horse said the Sacred C'anupa (pipe) has been sold around the world.

"The C'anupa is very sacred and the Keeper should first be given a dream and be of native descent. This issue should be further discussed in our future meetings. The reason for my feelings is that I am aware the C'anupa has gone out to the international community and has been for sale.

"I know that most non-native people do not understand the important protocols or have had the traditional background to carry this sacred item properly. I am aware of women in their moon and men with blood on their hands (to take one's life intentionally) have been allowed to touch and carry the C'anupa. These serious situations were never to be allowed," Looking Horse said.

Looking Horse thanked the non-native people that have returned the C'anupa to the people after he privately shared concerns with them.

"I acknowledge their true sincerity in assisting our nation to protect the survival of our traditional way of life on behalf of our future generations. They have helped us bring back honor and respect to our sacred Ho-co-ka and C'anupa."

During the gathering, the spiritual leaders shared concerns of whether only Plains tribal members should be allowed to participate in the Ho-co-ka of the Wi-wanyang wa-c'i-pi and the Han-ble c'i-ya ceremonies.

"In the early 70s, Chief Fools Crow and my father, Stanley Looking Horse, decided to allow other native nations to participate in these rites. Their reasons were based on the fact that most nations have lost their ways through assimilation or lack of teachers to teach their indigenous ways," Looking Horse said.

"They honored and understood the unity of the first nations people when different tribes came to the aid of the Wounded Knee occupation.

"I cannot undo their decision out of respect for our chief and elder. It has also been in our history that our ancestors have respectfully shared our ceremonies with other indigenous nations."

Looking Horse said the original teaching was that the pipe carrier should make their C'anupa.

"There was an understanding of the sincere spiritual energy and the traditional values passed down through our bloodlines. All the values of compassion, love, honor, respect and truth are molded into the spiritual life they are creating. I hope that one day the future generations will again pick up this important protocol."

Fall ceremony

Looking Horse extended an invitation to all Lakota, Dakota, Nakota nations to a fall ceremony when he brings out the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Bundle. The date will be announced.

"During this time we will place the 12 honorable compassionate men to assist in taking care of the concerns of the sacred C'anupa. We will also discuss the protocols of the need to have a good mind and good heart to be a member of the societies that will carry out these decisions in a respectful manner."

There will be an upcoming protection of ceremonies meeting to discuss and address these serious issues in the future. This meeting will be sponsored by the Cheyenne Nation, he said.

"In the sacred hoop of life, where there is no ending and no beginning!" Looking Horse concluded.

The meeting was hosted by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and received a financial donation from the Prairie Island Dakota Community to make the gathering possible.

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