Wambli Ho News: Special Eyewitness Report:
Bear Butte Protection of Ceremonies Meeting
by Stephanie M. Schwartz, Volunteer Editor and Correspondent,
Assisted by Gary Christensen, Jim Beard, and Paula Gruentzel, Volunteer Media/Audio Specialists
Wambli Ho, Voice of the Eagles
Lakota Leaders Rebuff Cheyenne Declaration
Saturday, May 10, 2003: Bear Butte, South Dakota:
Through the days of cold, driving rain the Lakota arrived at Bear Butte, South Dakota as best they could for the important fourth and final Protection of Ceremonies Meeting, this one hosted by the Cheyenne Nation and scheduled for May 10-11, 2003. Many Lakota Leaders who had planned to attend failed in their efforts on Saturday, stuck fast in the mud of South Dakota. Meanwhile, the scheduled sweatlodge ceremonies, breakfast meetings, and outdoor womens' circles didn't exist, leaving the people who managed to get there to drive back and forth across the area, looking to connect with others.
And while they wandered and wondered, about 30 Lakota Spiritual Leaders, Sundance Chiefs, and other interested persons met with Chief Arvol Looking Horse in mid-morning at the Bear Butte Lodge, the large log cabin off Coyote Lane owned by the Sicangu of the Rosebud. Amidst coffee and discussion, the words centered primarily around the proposed Declaration and Request to the U.S. Government which would be presented later that day to the Lakota by the Northern Cheyenne's Chief and High Priest, Bernard Red Cherries.
Clearly each person present was concerned that the Traditional spiritual ceremonies be protected yet most seemed to carry differing ideas as to the best way to implement that protection. But, in a rare moment of unity, the Lakota Leaders all spoke of their strong reluctance and disapproval of empowering the Federal Government to intrude or control or enforce spiritual matters in any ways other than those which already exist. They saw no need to change the existing 1978 American Indian Freedom of Religion Act. Despite the fact that Looking Horse was in favor of the Cheyenne Declaration, there was no question that the majority of those Lakota present were not.
[editor's note: To read a copy of the proposed Cheyenne Declaration and Request, go to
Finally everyone moved to the Bear Butte Center on the other side of the hill. Filing in through sheets of downpouring rain, past the bronze bust of the late beloved Lakota Ceremonial Chief Frank Fools Crow, the Elder women and women of all ages were allowed to enter and listen (but not speak). Eventually, over 150 people entered that building, all in a peaceful manner, all seriously intent on hearing the words of the Spiritual Leaders.
There were numerous speakers.... Floyd [Looks For Buffalo] Hand, representing a group of Oglala Spiritual Leaders, spoke in favor of the Looking Horse Statement of March, 2003 yet also of the need to let each reservation handle their own spiritual matters and enforcement. Ponca Indian Activist Carter Camp warned that Traditional ways are tribal specific and in danger of disappearing if not restricted to the people to whom they were given. Southern Ute Sundance Leader Kenny Frost spoke of the need to protect and safeguard the Traditional ways for the future generations.
Bernard Red Cherries, Northern Cheyenne Chief, Sacred Arrow High Priest, and Elk Scraper Society Headsman from Portland, Oregon, talked of his loaded Pipe which lay in front of the Leaders and of the incredibly heavy burden he had shouldered for the last year as he carried his Pipe on this specific mission. His words described how he had loaded his Pipe a year ago with the commitment and obligation to bring awareness and help for the People to "stand tall again..... because without their [Traditional] Ways, they are nothing." He stated his belief that his Declaration and Request to the United States Government was the means through which this would happen and that it was the "obligation of the Leaders to stand up for the People in this manner."
Bernard Red Cherries, also known as Frank Reynolds and Robert Coltte, continued to relate that it is the "duty of the People to care for their Sacred Bundle Keepers who are holy." He related how the Northern Cheyenne Warrior Societies take care of every need of the Cheyenne Sacred Arrow Keeper and the Sacred Medicine Hat Keeper from chopping wood, repairing roofs, and providing food to anything else the Keepers might need. He seemed baffled and incredulous that the Lakota did not do the same.
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf C'anunpa Bundle of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Nation prayed and spoke of the need to stop the abuses and the exploitation of sacred ceremony which is reaching epidemic proportions. Still standing by all the points of his controversial Statement from March, Looking Horse pointed out that he believes the Grandfathers might leave the Lakota People if their Traditional Ceremonial Ways are not restricted and protected. He stated his intent was not meant to be racist.
Oglala Spiritual Advisor and Medicine Bundle Keeper David Swallow, Jr., prayed and pointedly spoke of the need to honor the Sacred C'anunpa and the Traditional Ways of the Sacred C'anunpa which demand truth and honesty and which will turn on any who do wrong by it or who speak lies on it. In stirring words, he spoke that "the C'anunpa is not a pipe.... that the word, pipe, is an English word which can mean many things. But a Sacred C'anunpa is very different. The Sacred C'anunpa is the Blood of the Ancestors and the Tree of Life, and it has its own laws by which a person must live. To apogi a C'anunpa [to load a C'anunpa], a person must not kill, must not have blood on their hands, a person must not have hate or jealousy in their hearts or actions, and a person must not ever lie or fool the People or else the C'anunpa will turn around on that person."
Then Swallow turned and asked the Leaders if they were "opposed to the White Nation or to the System." He spoke of how the System had raided his Sundance a few years ago with guns and helicopters in a failed attempt to stop it and how, even last year, the BIA charged him $2000 simply to hold his Sundance on his own land in Porcupine, South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Swallow was emphatic that he does not hate the white people but he "refuses to personally receive anything from the U.S. Government System: not money, not housing, not food, not anything." And even though everyone (including the Lakota) must live in this modern world, not in the old ways, he still absolutely would not choose to live under even more of the Government System and he will not approve this proposed Cheyenne Declaration and Request.
Swallow stated his "Grandfather and Great-Grandfather never signed a Treaty and if the decision here to go under the U.S. Government, the Long Knives, was approved that he would not do it. Not ever."
As the day wore on, more Leaders and concerned Lakota spoke. By mid-afternoon it was clear that the Lakota Leaders were not going to approve the Cheyenne Declaration and Request to the U.S. Government. As a result, and much to everyone's surprise, Bernard Red Cherries chose to end the meeting and smoke his C'anunpa with the other Leaders amidst the sound of pounding rain and hail outside.
No further discussion was held on the Protection (and Restriction) of Ceremonies issues.
Red Cherries stated that he was host of this meeting and his sole purpose was to seek approval and support from the Lakota Leaders for his Declaration and Request to the U.S. Government. Since that wasn't going to be obtained, Red Cherries saw no further use to continue the meeting. He promised to continue trying to convince the Lakota in the future. Calling it a "sad day for the Lakota," he stated that he would leave the building to join the Northern Cheyenne, Southern Cheyenne, Northern Arapahoe, and Southern Arapahoe Leaders who would all be signing the Declaration and Request document.
On Sunday morning, as baffled Lakota and other Native Americans continued to arrive at Bear Butte to attend the Protection of Ceremonies Meeting which was now ended, the sun finally came out.
Editor's Note: Exclusive Wambli Ho Interviews with Chief Arvol Looking Horse and Chief Bernard Red Cherries held immediately after the close of the Bear Butte Meeting will be published by May 18, 2003 and further Updates on the Protection of Ceremonies issues will continue to be published at the Wambli Ho, Voice of the Eagles website as they arrive. www.wambliho.homestead.com
Subj: The Cheyenne Declaration regarding the Protection of Sacred Ceremonies
Date:5/5/2003 8:57:17 PM Pacific Daylight Time
The Cheyenne Nation will seek support of the Plains Sundance Nations for the following Declaration on May 10, 2003 at Bear Butte, South Dakota. This Declaration was authored by the Cheyenne Nation through its Elk Society's Headsman, Bernard Red Cherries, Jr.
UNIFIED DECLARATION REQUESTING CEREMONIAL AND CULTURAL INTEGRITIES PROTECTION
REQUEST CHANGES TO THE AMERICAN INDIAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT, RELEVANT FOR THE PROTECTION OF OUR CEREMONIAL SUNDANCE, SWEAT-LODGE AND SACRED HEALING CEREMONIALS.
October 9, 2002
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH - UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
VICE-PRESIDENT RICHARD CHENEY - UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
DISTINGUISHED MEMBERS OF SENATE AND CONGRESS
COMMITTEE ON INDIAN AFFAIRS-UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:
WE hereby state and declare that we were given the Sacred Sundance as a way of offering and sacrifice by the Creator through his Prophets and spirits, and that the Sacred Sundance Ceremony is exclusive of the Plains tribes of which we descend. Our aforementioned Tribes practice and maintain the Sacred Sundance, sweat lodge and continue to heal our people in our ceremonial traditional Native healing ways. And that we reserve the right to protect, and ensure its preservation of these very sacred ceremonials for our People and our future generations. These aforementioned ceremonials are exclusive of our native peoples in our inherent right to offer sacrifice and worship not always understood by society at large. We the aforementioned Nations have come together in an unprecedented unified effort to seek remedy to protect and to preserve for our future generations our sacred Sundance, sweat lodge, and related Native American Indian healing ceremonials. We move and state that the following be considered:
1. THAT RELEVANT CHANGES BE MADE IN THE AMERICAN INDIAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT.
We understand that this law was created for the purpose of ensuring the reservation of our Ceremonial and Cultural integrities of our most sacred ceremonial prayer ways. These ways have been left for us as a way of life and prayer expression by our Grandfathers, since time immemorial. We were born into this way of life and ceremonial prayer way and do not practice any other Nations ways of prayer or expression, choosing to respect their ways that was left for them by their Grandfathers, be it Christian, Muslim, Hinduism, etc.,..
2. WE UNDERSTAND THE IMPORTANCE OF OUR INHERANT RIGHT TO WORSHIP AS OUR GRANDFATHERS BEFORE US IN THE WAYS OF THIER GRANDFATHERS AND TO KEEP THESE WAYS SACRED AS IT WAS IN THE TIME OF OUR GRANDFATHERS, FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN AND FUTURE GENERATIONS:
As the UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT has recognized this ever important factor in the Creation of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in its induction into our system of laws, that was provided for the benefit of our people, Native Americans. This law however has been, we feel, manipulated and protected non-natives and those who have no Traditional or biological connection to the peoples it was intended to benefit, NATIVE AMERICANS.
These very people are the very ones who continue to sell and profit from our Sacred Ceremonials and ways of life, and do not represent us but for their own motives and interests. We the undersigned Traditional, Validated, Legitimate Spiritual Leadership of our respective Tribes do come together in unison to request for these relevant changes after consulting with each other and respecting each others customs, and more importantly understanding together the abuses, and exploitation of our most Sacred Ceremonials, and its already devastating impacts on our Native American Peoples.
And requesting this help as it was this UNITED STATES OF AMERICA through their Representatives in SENATE and CONGRESS assembled, that under sec.2. of the American Indian Religious Freedom act states,
THE PRESIDENT SHALL DIRECT THE VARIOUS FEDERAL DEPARTMENTS, AGENCIES, AND OTHER INSTRUMENTALITIES RESPONSIBLE FOR ADMINISTERING RELEVANT LAWS TO EVALUATE THEIR POLICIES AND PROCEDURES IN CONSULTATION WITH NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS IN ORDER TO DETERMINE APPROPRIATE CHANGES NECESSARY TO PROTECT AND PRESERVE NATIVE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS CULTURAL RIGHTS AND PRACTICES.
We as Traditional Spiritual Leaders and Keepers of our Traditional and Ceremonial ways of life humbly come before you now in a unified Tribal effort. We feel that because of the blatant abuse of our Sacred prayer ways by those who do not know better, nor are neither Ceremonially qualified to give guidance continue to bring harm physically, spiritually and emotionally to those who innocently seek their guidance for spiritual enlightenment, sometimes resulting in grave danger or even death, as was the case in a "Solstice sweat lodge ritual", which is not of our culture, but imitated as such.
This supposed "Native ceremony" neither was under the guidance of a Traditionally recognized spiritual leader or "Medicineman". And as a result two (2) people of non-native descent died in El Dorado County, California., as was reported in the Sacramento Bee Journal, dated June 22nd, 2002. The following unfortunate incident is a direct result of what happens because of the illusion of seeking "Native American ceremonial experiences" without the proper guidance of QUALIFIED Spiritual Leaders, and combination of Laws protecting the innocent, and the Intended protectee, The Native Americans and their cultural & ceremonial integrities. We hope that these unfortunate incidents can altogether be avoided with the proper relevant changes to the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, making it impossible for those non-natives to lead these sacred ceremonials, taking into account the element of our "Native language" which is our key component in summoning the Powers and Sacred Elements in prayer and song and which is exclusive of the Native Americans in our Inherent right to worship in the ways of our Grandfathers and theirs before them.
Each Tribe has their own Traditional laws that govern their ways of life and ceremonials, each provides for the traditional laws relevant for our protection and safety and guidance. These laws cannot exist and do the most benefit for the preservation of our sacred ways and for the protection of those non-natives who seek native traditional spirituality without the coordination of the UNITED STATES SENATE AND CONGRESS, through their representatives. All across this land and overseas as well, our Native Traditional ceremonials are being exploited in a fad like fashion, without regard to the impact it's effects will have on our Children and future generations, already we hold on desperately to what we have left, we are the Leadership entrusted by our customary traditional laws to uphold and to preserve our most Sacred Ways. We also feel that because of the blatant abuses and exploitations of our most Sacred Ceremonials, that this Earth and its inhabitants are out of balance and would rather resist this endeavor than to favor a stand on preserving our most Sacred Ways. We also at this time humbly and respectfully request of our white brothers and sisters to cease leadership, authoritarian and interpretive roles in our traditional ceremonies.
We request this as we need to restore balance and harmony to our traditional ceremonies and spiritual ways of life.
Moreover this document does not address the participation of non-natives in these ceremonies as actual participants, this is at the discretion of each tribe who have in place already existing traditional laws that address this issue. Each tribe since time immemorial have customary laws that address concerns relevant to this protection endeavor, and respects these traditional laws of each Nation as it pertains to their tribal customs. Our foremost concern is for the leadership and interpretations of our Sacred ceremonials and to maintain and stabilize our ceremonial and cultural integrities of the aforementioned spiritual ways.
We also have made it very clear that this is not a document of hatred or dissention of which its contents efforts have been mistakenly identified, but a very simple plea for the preservation of our most Sacred Ceremonial integrities, which are priceless and irreplaceable. We also understand that some Tribes make concessions allowing for the participation of other Tribes and non natives into their sacred ceremonials, however keeping for their own the cultural and ceremonial integrities, preserved in song and language.
We have also identified and all agreed that our key component in communicating with the Creator, Earth, Sacred beings, Stars, Moons, Seasons, Animals, Sacred Grandfathers and Grandmothers is our Native Language and songs which are priceless and irreplaceable and cannot be duplicated or fully rationalized by non natives. We believe that the guidance and interpretations of our Sacred Ceremonials belongs to the Traditional Leadership, made possible because of their Spiritual and physical participation in their Tribes Sacred Ceremonials earning this right and having been customarily taught the contents of these aforementioned Ceremonials, thus making it possible to offer the Sacred Ceremonials at the customary required and much needed times.
We come to you seeking remedy and consultation as it is this UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN SENATE AND CONGRESS ASSEMBLED that guaranteed the protection through it's creation of the AMERICAN INDIAN RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACT.
"WE THE FOLLOWING NATIONS HAVING MET IN TRADITIONAL COUNCIL UNANIMOUSLY CONCUR THAT THE EXISTANCE OF OUR PEOPLE AND SACRED WAYS DEPENDS ON THE DEPTH OF OUR AWARENESS ABOUT THE EXPLOITATION OF OUR CULTURE. OUR CONCERN FOR THE FUTURE GENERATIONS AND OUR SUPPORT FOR ONE ANOTHER CAN BE BENIFICIAL TO ALL OUR PEOPLES BY HOW WELL WE SUPPORT ONE OTHER"
WE CONCUR ON THIS ENDEAVER TO PROTECT AND PRESERVE OUR CEREMONIAL AND CULTURAL INTEGRETIES AND THE WAYS OF OUR GRANDFATHERS FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN AND FUTURE GENERATIONS.
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is distributed without profit or payment for non-profit research, archival, news, and educational purposes only.