Our summer ceremonies are now in full swing. This is the time of the year when Lakota people are sacrificing themselves to pray for humanity, as well as Mother Earth and all the living beings of the universe. You will likely find a ceremony to attend most every weekend in the homelands of the Oglala and Sicangu. This is a good thing.
Our ancestors used to gather for one Wiwang Waci. The Oceti Sakowin made their pilgrimage to this large ceremony every summer. Back then, it was said that one person from each Tiospaye was designated to sacrifice under the Tree of Life to pray for all.
Today, there are many sacred circles held across this Turtle Island. Some are closed, while others are open. The closed ceremonies are those where only tribal citizens are allowed to participate. Some of those closed ceremonies have tight security and you must be able to prove tribal affiliation to even be under the arbor. Other closed ceremonies allow non-Indians to support under the arbor, but they can’t dance in the circle.
The open ceremonies generally allow people of all races to take part in the circle. There continues to be controversy surrounding many open circles. Yet, how the ceremony is conducted is completely up to the spiritual intercessor. Whether they are open or closed, each circle is different.
Consequently, there are non-Indians who come to the Lakota homelands to learn and participate in the open circles. This is a good thing if those people have integrity. Everyone should be allowed to pray. However, many of these people learn the ways and then believe they can conduct a ceremony far away from the open circle they first participated in. This isn’t a good thing.
Many of these off-reservation, out-of-state ceremonies were established by disgruntled non-Indians. For example, many non-Indians have had conflict with spiritual intercessors and were asked to leave a Lakota ceremony. These guys are arrogant enough to actually believe they know enough to conduct their own ceremony. Some of them even recruit Lakota men, or men from other tribes, to attend in order to help their circle appear authentic.
Those of us living in Indian Country are aware of how small our world really is. Chances are you are going to eventually see someone you know no matter where you travel on this Turtle Island. Word gets back to us about those ceremonies run by non-Indians. There might also be some bad-mouthing of Lakota medicine people happening in those circles. Be careful what you say because it almost always gets back to the people you are talking about.
When you hear a Lakota medicine man being badmouthed by a non-Indian, you have to realize there are underlying reasons for that person spouting awful words about our holy men. Those people who are saying ugly things about our spiritual people likely messed up somehow while they were here. The negative experiences they bring upon themselves enables their ego to believe they have a right to speak untruths about our spiritual leaders. This is an example of disrespect aimed at all Lakota people.
We also have Lakota people living right here in our homelands who regularly condemn their own medicine people and ceremonies. You will recognize them by the things they say. Many of these local people have never attended a ceremony in their life, yet somehow think they have to condemn those of us who pray in the Lakota way. The negativity they spread about their own people likely stems from the colonization efforts we all suffered at the hands of the missionaries.
There used to be a lot of Catholic priests and nuns living on my reservation. When there were a lot of them here, you generally saw a lot of people attending mass regularly at the Catholic churches. Today, there are 1 or 2 priests on my reservation. Only a handful of Lakota people regularly attend mass on Sunday. It’s interesting to note that the number of Lakota people attending ceremonies increased after the departure of the priests and nuns.
Still, many of the Lakota people who were successfully converted to Christianity continue to believe the ceremonies passed down by our ancestors are not the way to salvation. They believe quite the opposite. This is a fear-based concept introduced in the boarding school era and perpetuated by the missionaries who still reside on our homelands. However, nothing could be further from the truth for those of us who pray at Wiwang Waci. We have experienced firsthand the healing power that comes with Lakota ceremonies, such as Yuwipi, Lowanpi and Wiwang Waci.
I encourage our local Lakota people to attend a Wiwang Waci this summer. Like it or not, you do have an inherent responsibility to your unborn descendants to embrace the way of life our ancestors left for us. I encourage you to clear your mind of all the skewed propaganda preached by the local churches. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about ceremonial protocol. Don’t be afraid to come pray with your Lakota relatives. These are your ceremonies.
Regardless of who attends or what is said about our medicine people, those of us who go to Wiwang Waci, Yuwipi, Lowanpi, Inikaga and other ceremonies will continue to pray for all. We forgive the arrogant non-Indians who badmouth our medicine men. We also forgive our own people who make the choice to fear and condemn their own way of life.
Lakota prayer does not discriminate. Those who need guidance and forgiveness are remembered by all of us at ceremony. Mitakuye Oyasin.