The Indigenous people of Mother Earth have been doing ceremony since the beginning of time. All over the world there are Indigenous people still hosting the life renewing rites known as ceremony. Where would the human race be without the prayers offered by the people who continue to conduct powerful ceremonies?
The 19th and 20th centuries saw countless attacks upon the spirituality and way of life of the Indigenous peoples. This was the era when our Turtle Island was overrun by swarms of human beings from other continents. These initial encounters with unscrupulous people from other areas of the world were not very good for us.
Our ancestors witnessed the murder of their families and the destruction of their homes. We have to remember that our ancestors were probably very trusting people. When they first encountered the newcomers they most likely saw no reason to not trust them. It must have been very painful to realize they had been tricked in more ways than one by the strange, white-skinned humans.
I do not blame my ancestors at all for the choices they made. I am grateful to them because without their ability to look ahead to the coming generations none of us would be here. If our ancestors could see what we have become, they might have taken greater steps to resist the demands of the wasicu.
One option would have been to not surrender at the military posts which were established throughout Indian Country. If that had happened we definitely would not be here today as our people would have starved to death. Some of the east coast tribes disappeared this way. The starvation of our peoples was a master plan of the invaders.
The Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island weren’t supposed to survive. Our ancestors stood bravely against the many violations they suffered. Their spiritual intelligence kept our ceremonial way of life alive during those very dark times.
My grandparents were among the first Indian children sent to boarding schools. They learned how to speak English. They learned to read and write. They were also used as slaves in the missionary schools they attended.
For example, they went to classrooms for half of a day and then they learned a trade for the rest of the school day. This trade was working for the mission by taking care of gardens, tending to animals, working in the fields, building things, sewing clothes, doing laundry, cleaning the buildings and cooking the food.
There was also time in each day which was allocated for going to church and learning either Catholic or Episcopal prayers. My parents were raised Catholic so this is what they taught me. I learned these religions are based on fear.
Our people who attended the mission schools in the beginning were taught that our prayers to Creator were evil. Ceremonies were held to worship deities of the dark, according to the church leaders. This carried over into modern times as we still have preachers on our reservations who believe that Lakota spirituality is akin to demon worship. They seek to instill fear. Some preachers use intimidation by threatening us with an afterlife of never ending pain if we continue to pray in our ceremonies.
The government also continues to work against the ceremonial way of life which Indigenous people have carried on for centuries. For example, there have been stories in the news recently regarding the US Forest Service and how they have stifled ceremonies on both the west coast and in the southwest. Even when tribal people obtain the proper permits to basically pray upon their own land, they are still bothered by government or state employees.
For instance, the Winnemem Wintu tribe in California has been harassed for many years over a Coming of Age ceremony they conduct. Last week, members of the tribe who participated in the ceremony were issued citations by the US Forest Service for supposedly violating the closure of a portion of the river which is included in the ceremony.
Another instance of harassment took place when the US Forest Service extinguished a ceremonial fire on the San Francisco Peaks. I realize that this summer is one of many raging fires in several parts of the country. But a ceremonial fire with experienced keepers should not be viewed as a threat. There are prayers which go into the starting of these sacred ceremonial fires. I suppose it is way too much to expect employees of the US Forest Service to understand this. After all, they are bound by their government rules and regulations which are totally devoid of culture and spirituality.
Recently, my family participated in a Coming of Age ceremony hosted by my Ihanktonwan relatives east of the Missouri River. I cannot comprehend being harassed at ceremony as it is something I have never experienced. Still, I learned that cabinet-level officials employed by the state of South Dakota and others have harassed the Ihanktonwan over the use of the grounds where they hold the summer ceremonies. The harassment by government officials and their employees is a continuation of the genocidal tactics used on our ancestors in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Some of our own people lack the understanding regarding the importance of ceremony. For instance, the Coming of Age ceremony held for young ladies who reach puberty is crucial to their well-being.
In today’s society many of our people do not teach their own children healthy behaviors. Our ceremonies are the only way for us to instill essential teachings into our children. Our Lakota/Dakota/Nakota girls who complete a Coming of Age ceremony have a much greater chance of walking gracefully into womanhood than the girls who do not experience this rite.
Always think of yourself as an ancestor. Stand bravely in these difficult times we face. Please pray for the descendants so they can one day carry on the same ceremonial way of life which you are now living.