Wambli Ho News: Special Report:
Interview with Northern Cheyenne Chief and High Priest, Bernard Red Cherries Following the Bear Butte Protection of Ceremonies Meeting on May 10, 2003
by Stephanie M. Schwartz, Volunteer Editor and Correspondent,
Assisted by Gary Christensen, Jim Beard, and Paula Gruentzel, Volunteer Media/Audio Specialists
May 10, 2003,
Wambli Ho, Voice of the Eagles
Editor's Note: This interview was held Immediately following the Protection of Ceremony Meeting at Bear Butte, South Dakota. Wambli Ho News questions are indicated by WHN. Some questions and statements in this interview were interjected by a Lakota Tokala who had attended the Meeting. As such, they are labeled, Tokala.
WHN: Bernard, how did you feel about this meeting?
BRC: We expected the Lakota Nation to take the position that they have. We already knew that, but it was a formality. They requested four meetings and we had honored their request. We're not shaken by their decision nor are we upset. But we had to get them to understand that they need to respect our decision as well whatever the outcome, whatever course of action we choose to take and within the realm of the legal system. And that's where all the Arapahoe and Cheyenne contingency went now. They're waiting for me down South.
WHN: Southern Cheyenne as well?
BRC: Southern Cheyenne, Northern Cheyenne, Southern Arapahoe, and Northern Arapahoe. We're going to go down and proceed with the signing of the declaration.
WHN: Now, when you sign the declaration, if that is approved by the government, wouldn't that Impact every Native American nation in the country?
BRC: No. We have legal advice. We've met with Indian Affairs attorneys in D.C. If you read the declaration word for word.
WHN: I have read it.
BRC: It's not. people are reading more into it than it really is. All it is, is a simple request for accountability. And we know how the government works and we know that we need to leave a paper trail. Okay. So that's nothing more than a technicality. So we're ready to take the next step which is within our traditional laws. We'll have to meet with the other Traditionals. So I guess if that answers your question?
WHN: In a way, thank you. Do you see forming a coalition of Northern Plains Nations or do you see that as maybe not as viable now?
BRC: Well here's the deal. We want to, however we know that there's only our brothers that are confused. I don't know that they are, but that's the impression that we've gotten.
WHN: Your Lakota brothers?
BRC: Yeah. Because of the meeting in Rosebud that was called by Crow Dog and Robert Running. You know, and again, I was sorry that it took off one way because again if you read the Declaration it even states on there that this declaration doesn't address the issue of non-native participation. Because each tribe already has customary laws that, you know, would take care of that. And the Cheyenne, like I stated earlier, our customary laws are just that.
WHN: And you feel comfortable that the government would be a good enforcement in what you want to achieve in a good way, in a fair way?
BRC: Okay, let me put it this way, Frank Fools Crow was instrumental in getting Indian Freedom of Religion Act passed. Okay. Frank Fools Crow. He's a Lakota.
BRC: Spiritual leader.
BRC: Okay, he saw a need for it. Okay. So it's ironic today that his relatives are unsure of this very law.
WHN: At that time , they were being punished for practicing their religion.
BRC: And so today all we're asking for is accountability. Okay, in a law like I stated previously when I was up here talking, I'm the result of that 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act. I am the result of that very law. Okay?
WHN: But does accountability require an amendment to the law?
BRC: No. No. What we learned was that, had the government been accountable to begin with, okay, they would have been. There's a trickle-down effect, you know. Crap rolls downhill. Okay, so from the President's Office to the Indian Affairs to the Interior down to the Federal Government level at Bureau, you know it's got to go all the way down. states, counties.
Okay, as it stands today, the fire departments of every state jurisdiction do not have any law, any standards set, by which to enforce. So if Joe Blow wants to go and get a sweatlodge permit, you know without ever having been indoctrinated or taught or trained or given the right, he can just run in there, chuck down 5 bucks, get a permit and go build his sweatlodge. And so this was a concern that we had in California. The Sacramento Bee Journal reported last June where the 2 white folks died in the sweatlodge. And they had proposed it to be a native sweatlodge.
WHN: I'm familiar with that
BRC: And so, you know, I was just shocked at the outcry of our concerns.
WHN: Right. Are you aware of some of the state efforts towards working on that specific issue? LIke that group in Colorado, Rocky Rodriguez's group, that met with the State Governor's Office on the Sacred Fire ban. The Peta Awiyenke Sacred Fire Conference. They were working with the State on the local level to address some of those issues on fires.
BRC: Well see, where the state governments fall short at is consultation, okay? And today, you know, I walked into Portland, Oregon City Council Chambers and I put my hand up and I said I'd like to talk, right during a council meeting. And they said who are you? I said I'm a Northern Cheyenne Medicine Man and the Elk Society Headsman and a Sundance Leader of my people. I would like to address an issue here and they said how do we know who you are? But at the same time they were allowing Jane Doe who was a supposed Traditional Leader 5 minutes [to speak]. And they shut me out.
So the irony of the whole thing is that it's creating a cloud, an illusion. The state governments, because of that inability to hold council with the tribes, the Traditional leaders, that has never ever taken place. So how do they know what laws to change to better protect our way of life?
WHN: Well, if you say that it doesn't need an amendment, that it needs accountability, you don't need an amendment to get accountability. Can't that be addressed through various court procedures and legal means rather than trying to change a Federal law or an Amendment to the law?
BRC: Well again we're not asking for an Amendment. They just need to fulfill the contents, they just need to be accountable for their law. Okay. Now if they can be accountable for that law, the nature of that will decipher it's own course. And yes, I've been attacked. And people saying well I'm a Native, 16 generations back, that's effecting me. No, it's not. Because the issue at hand is a Plains Indian Religion. Okay. That's only one side of 528 different, you know?
WHN: You're very active in the west coast and Seattle. How do you see that as an extension of your work as a medicine man? Do you live in Seattle?
[Editor's Note: Bernard Red Cherries was one of the founders of the Native American Coalition, a labor union activist organization in Seattle, Washington.]
BRC: I worked in Portland. I worked with the unions. I don't, I encourage those who come to me and say hey I'm this and I'm that and I'm lost. And I help them or I direct them to people because I don't think it's very amusing to take somebody and say follow me, this is the only way. See? And that seems to be the case out there.
I guess what really got me, the straw that broke the camel's back you might say, was a white guy that took an Indian stage name and kept me from a sweatlodge. And said he was gonna have his boys check me out. This is what got me here. And I don't feel bad for doing what I'm doing because it was a result of a vision. You know?
WHN: This was supposed to be a 2-day meeting. Is there a reason that it's been closed early?
BRC: Yes. Primarily this issue was specific. It wasn't open to the general public to begin with, okay? Because it's a Cheyenne-led effort, we were applying our Traditional Laws and by our customary Traditional Law, we deal with Spiritual Leader to Spiritual Leader. Okay, not the general public at large, because the Spiritual Leaders are trusted with authority. And when you get a whole room of people.
WHN: Do you have the authority to make decisions for the Tribe?
BRC: The spiritual leaders? Yes. Yes. And I guess I kind of double-clutch that with being a Chief. And I have ceremonial authority, spiritual authority.
WHN: So is your Chief title a ceremonial title or is it a political title?
BRC: There are no political titles in my tribe. It's all Traditional.
WHN: But I mean, is it a leadership role or a ceremonial role?
BRC: I'm both. And that gets people sometimes because they see me at a ceremonial function, leading ceremony, and then they see me at a traditional function leading traditional ceremonies.
Tokala: Some here head Tokala Sobriety Societies that are open to all people. It was noticed that nobody mentioned alcohol or drugs here as a role that has played in the devastation of the tribes. How is this going to affect these Societies because they have many white brothers and sisters that are entrusted into the societies as members?
BRC: I don't think it's gonna play, I don't think it's gonna impact you at all. You don't have anything to worry about if you feel you're doing the right thing and coordinating with Arvol because Arvol is the Keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe from where your Societies originated.
And people cannot just continue to just overlook Arvol. Like our Sacred Arrow Keeper, our Sacred Hat Keeper, it's like the Pope to us.
We take care of him. And he doesn't need to go travel. And that's the difference between him and Arvol. He stays right there and when he needs something in the society, the military warrior societies hear about it, word goes out and they get it without him even asking. We take it to him. We go chop wood for him. We go get coal and fix his roof if it needs it. And our warrior societies, I think one of the things that I think is so unique is that we were instituted here at Bear Butte. And our Bundles are still in existence.
BRC: I guess one of the things that I see happening a lot, and no offense to anybody but.... When the white brothers are recruited to be Tokalas or society brothers what do you do when you hear they're getting' out of hand?
Tokala: Feathers are taken.
BRC: And one of our concerns here is Traditional Dog Soldiers, we were presented with documentation and we don't know it to be true but we're following up on it, about Dog Soldier recruitment on the internet.
Tokala: This is Cheyilla, this isn't Lakota. But he's been told and now he knows. Now he knows.
BRC: Well we were trying to address this with him on a level man-to-man.
Tokala: xxxx [name withheld]. Yes, we know about this person.
Tokala: This is Cheyenne business, this isn't Lakota. But he was told and his C'anunpa was taken.and you see, that's what happens. Now he knows.
BRC: Well we were trying to address this with him on a level man-to-man but it just turned ugly so we just won't contact him and we're going to try to make our way down there.
Tokala: Dave Swallow, Jr. actually went out to shut him down and took his C'anunpa.
BRC: Wow. That's good. For the record, I have a lot of respect for Dave [Swallow]. I don't, ah, you know I thought that some of the stuff that he may have said was out of line today, but I still have respect for him and it shouldn't be played out in any other way. I still have respect for him.
WHN: How did you think he was out of line?
BRC: How did I think he was out of line? I guess he was talking in terms of, you know he addressed the pipe at quite a length. If a man carries a pipe vowing to protect this way for an entire year, you know, almost, not going one way or the other but you know, just straight, focused, you know, I've put 300,000 [miles] on one truck, 300,000 on another, and I'm on my 3rd car. And this is all out of my pocket.
WHN: David Swallow has the same problems, actually.
WHN: It's a way of life for him. For him it's more than a year.
BRC: Well, I mean, I'm talking about taking care of this way, going out and standing up and saying, "Hey this ain't right." You know what I mean? And you know I've just been steadily focused, 2 weeks at a time, work here and then go to the next meeting, meet the next people. And you know I thought some of the things that he [David Swallow, Jr] was talking about today was kind of way out there and I had to get up and straighten, address what I thought was maybe one side of the track too far. Because.
WHN: I guess I'm naïve. I didn't pick up on that.
BRC: Well because this isn't an issue about hating white people. People need to understand that.
WHN: Unfortunately that's how it originally translated
WHN: It's gotten a lot of people where they're not hearing anything else.
BRC: Well you see "reporter" [name withheld], alright, she took Arvol's first story, first Statement from Eagle Butte and, for the sake of getting a paycheck, threw a headline on there that said "Whites Banned From Lakota Sundance." That was wrong of her.
WHN: I think David's question of, "Are we speaking about the White Nation or are we speaking about the System?", I think that was a very valid question.
BRC: Oh yeah. I think he was right on and I think it's a little of both. Okay, because there are irresponsible white people. You gotta admit that.
WHN: There's irresponsible all kinds of people, Indian people too.
BRC: and Indian people
WHN: There's irresponsible Lakota people.
BRC: and Cheyennes, exactly.
BRC: And you know, we had ways to police ourselves. And I think this is something that I would like to see the Lakota Nation tap on and then expand.
WHN: So they need to do a better job policing themselves?
BRC: Well I don't want to say a better way because guys like this Tokala here probably works overtime trying to.
Tokala: Yeah we've been dealing with one fellow which Arvol was talking about actually now for the last 5 or 6 years. He was saying he has manipulated himself into a position. And we were hoping that this might be able to help us in some way to put him back in his place. He manipulated himself into a position, increased his powers about his spiritual leadership and now they have the Sundance. See we've all dealt with these things. But there are people who are true allies of the C'anunpa and the spiritual ways that's what I am saying, with all due respect, they come and they pray with us, allies to the C'anunpa, without race, color, creed, gender. It should be understood that there are good people of all races and if they come to pray in a good way, they should be
BRC: allowed to
Tokala: allowed to
BRC: I believe that too. And you know, it's people like these bad ones [names withheld] that I can mention on just one hand. We got a guy up in Portland, a Lakota sister, an elder woman, told me. Okay, a guy joined the Lakota Oyate Club, he was in Oregon State Penitentiary, a white guy. Okay he gets out and adopts a stage name "One Road" last name. Now he got to the Elder woman's sweat and he intimidated the Pacific Northwest Spiritual Leader, got him out of there, right? Then he gets in there and he's pouring water under the guise of blessing from Arvol, under the guise of blessing from Leonard Crow Dog. These are big names for him. And I know these guys. I knew them years ago. Carter, I even knew Peltier. And so I know all these guys so it's not as if they can sneak behind my back and tell me, well I know this guy. I got his blessing. Cause I'll call right now. That's the kinda guy I am. And he's over there. And see, it's people like that.
WHN: that need to be?
BRC: that need to be, if anything, at least just talked to. But this guy won't talk to us.
Tokala: Yeah that's just it. They know that they're wrong
BRC: But I hope through this interview and Arvol's interview and the meeting today that people at your organization, people that you come across, I hope that this whole issue can be better explained. And it's not one of hatred.
Tokala: And I think, essentially too, it's like we were saying, we're gonna continue to pray with the wasicu brothers and sisters
BRC: oh yeah
Tokala: our sapa (black) brothers and sisters, brothers and sisters of other native nations, and brothers and sisters of asian nations. But like I said there will be accountability. I understand that that's actually all you're trying to say, is that we should have to be accountable for each and every one of those people that come under us because of these same issues which are instant, plastic medicine men. They come and are raping and pillaging the native traditions spiritually.
BRC: Yeah. You see this guy here, Chester White Man, is a Southern Dog Soldier Chief and I'm with the Northern Dog Soldier Band. So we network. We know each other. And before I became an Elk Society Chief, I was a Dog Soldier. And these ways are given paternal. The Cheyenne tribe is paternal. And these things were passed down since the beginning of time. And so when we tried to address this in a good way, we just couldn't understand why this guy just came off real ugly, just point blank "I don't wanna talk to you. This is my way, this is my society." And okay, this ain't gonna go nowhere, we're just gonna leave it at that. But it's people like that.
BRC: Yeah, and the lady that was giving me the information I come to find out later was his I don't know, they met on the internet, they were some kind of couple or something. And you know, I don't play into that kind of stuff. Forget it. You know, don't contact me.
WHN: We understand.
BRC: I'm gonna have to get going 'cause we're going to go down and sign that Declaration. They're waiting for me right now.
BRC: But yeah, we respect the Lakota stance. Like we told one of the Lakota brothers who encouraged me to continue praying and not be angry. Well I'm not angry, I'm passionate. I grew up this way and my grandfather was killed at Sand Creek and I have pictures in here when I brought his body out.
BRC: Alright you guys, see you again.
WHN: Bernard, thank you very much for your time.
BRC: Hopefully your story will get out.