I remember one summer when an aunt, who left the reservation at a very young age and never returned, came home to visit. Of course, she spent most of her time talking with relatives in order to catch up on the latest news about family, friends and tribal matters. Since it was summer, the discussion inevitably led to Lakota sun dance as there was one taking place on the Rosebud.
The elder auntie was quite surprised to learn her people still sun danced. She was visibly shocked when told that our people still sacrificed by piercing their skin to make offerings. She had a disgusted look on her face when she stated sun dance should be outlawed.
My first urge was to tell her about how the sun dance and other ceremonies had already been outlawed by the United States government in the 19th century. I wanted to inform her about how we fought for a very long time to have the federal government’s ban on our right to pray in our own way lifted. I also wanted to tell her about how the ceremonies continued underground after they had been outlawed. But I had to bite my tongue and not respond to her ignorance. After all, she was an elder.
Even today it is still very hard to help some of our own Lakota people understand how important ceremony is to our unborn generations and Mother Earth. Some are disconnected from Lakota spirituality. Many of our people who left the reservation during the relocation era never returned. Some Lakota people have no idea that we still pray in our ceremonies on the same land our ancestors did.
There are many contemporary Lakota people who embrace the spirituality and way of life kept alive by our ancestors through the dark times of European encroachment. Today I know many young people who absolutely love Lakota ceremony. I appreciate them, they are our future.
Organized religion is responsible for much of the colonization we see today. We are all colonized in different ways, I believe. Some of us realize this and make the effort to work on decolonizing ourselves and our family members. I am not sure if we will ever get back to the way it was when our ancestors walked Mother Earth before Columbus arrived. Yet, I am encouraged by the interest many of our young people have in living as a Lakota.
The churches worked very hard to convert us through their Christian rituals and boarding school educations. Today a majority of our families are devout Catholics, Episcopalians or are followers of some other religious denomination.
I also see many Christian people praying at Lakota altars. I don’t slight anyone for their choice of religion but I take offense when people try to influence me against how I choose to pray.
Recently, there were several flyers printed up and distributed around the Rapid City area. The online pictures I saw of the posters denounced the Lakota ways of prayer as some sort of dangerous, unhealthy cult. There were many derogatory things printed on these flyers, most of which is too offensive to share. Those of you who actually saw the flyers know how terrible they looked. In my opinion, the posters were created to spread fear through distorted information and paranoid untruths.
I didn’t think it was fair for the person or persons to actually print and distribute ugly flyers condemning our Lakota ceremonies. What is wrong with the people who did this? Their obvious mental illness and fear was openly displayed on those flyers. They tried to spread terrible lies about Lakota ceremony.
Those of us who saw the flyers continue to attend ceremony and pray for those who created the posters. Hopefully, they will one day understand that what they did was very ignorant.
I don’t see any Lakota people printing and distributing flyers about other ways of worship. What would happen if I created a bunch of strangely paranoid posters about a Church and spread them all over South Dakota? The local media would probably be all over something like that.
I could print things like how the organized religions worked hard to demonize our sacred way of life. After all, it was the churches which instilled most of the fear surrounding Lakota ceremony, right? Many leaders in the organized religions still try to spread fear about Lakota spirituality. It is wrong!
As a young adult I once worked as a receptionist for a local religious organization. One of my duties was to announce visitors who came to see the priest in charge.
One time a local medicine man was summoned to come and see the priest. Soon I could hear the priest’s voice get louder and louder in the office next to mine as he scolded the medicine man for having ceremony. I don’t even want to share what the priest said to the medicine man but I will say it was similar to what was printed on those flyers.
Even though he was harshly chastised by the priest for his spirituality, the medicine man came out of the room looking totally unfazed. He smiled at me and calmly left the building. He continued to have ceremonies on the Rosebud Reservation until he passed on several years ago.
The priest tried very hard to scare the medicine man by suggesting that God didn’t approve of Lakota spirituality. This is exactly what the person who created those ridiculous flyers tried to convey. They want people to be afraid of Lakota ceremony. Ceremony is all about prayer. Prayer is not based in fear, it comes from love.
Please remember Iktomi comes in many forms and he/she is all around us. Ignorant tricksters who sow dangerous seeds of fear need our prayers. I will pray for the people who created these flyers to gain some understanding when I sing at sun dance ceremony next month. Stand strong and pray hard relatives!