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"My son, the ancient No-ho-zhi-ga have handed down to us in songs,
Wi-gi-e, ceremonial forms, symbols, and many things they learned
of the mysteries that surround us on all sides. All these things
they learned through their power of Wa-thi-gtho,
the power to search with the mind.
They speak of the mysteries of the light of day by which the Earth
They searched, for a long period of time,
-Playful Calf, Osage Early 20th century
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom,
-I Corinthians 2:7
When I was a child, I spake as a child,
-I Corinthians 13:11
"Sing praises to the sky,
-J.C. High Eagle, Osage/Cherokee
"It is for us of the present generation, if possible,
-Thomas McKenney, 1825
"As I think back upon those days, it seems that no
-Wooden Leg, Northern Cheyenne
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Much time has passed since any significant vision quests have been documented. Tracing back through recorded history, several American Indians have followed their ancient rituals in seeking their visions or finding a purpose in their futures.
Quetzalcoatl, a wise and powerful prophet, told the Toltecs of the coming of the men from across the seas. He spoke of the day when his people would once again regain the wisdom and the spirit of their ancestors, in a time when pride would return to their sacred traditions.
Laulewasika, the brother of the famous Indian leader Tecumseh, had a vision which led him to preach a return to purity and the traditional ways. He, too, spoke of unification for his people. Even more famous of these early visions were the Ghost Dance ceremonies of the doctrine produced by visions of the Paiute Indian, Wovoka, in 1888. His visions produced the general concepts of an Indian Messiah to come, which would bring back the vanished game and the dead Indians.
The Oglala Sioux medicine man, Black Elk, had a supernatural vision that the sacred hoop of the nation would be broken and scattered but eventually the hoops of all nations would be made whole and joined as one again.
In the 1976 bicentennial year of the 200th anniversary of the country, where recognition for the American Indian was relatively small or nonexistent, many people neglected to give an awareness or proper respect to the original inhabitants of this land.
Little be known to the nation, an event would be sparked to occur that would repeat the prophecies of unity and peace echoed by several American Indian leaders since the first coming of the white man.
This event ultimately resulted in national recognition as Native American Awareness Week, October 10-16, 1976, which held a special message for the people of this country, as well as the "red man". [Editorial note: This week was the first week of official observance of native peoples in the U.S. history, and ultimately led to the annual Native American Heritage Month celebrated nationally)
As scholarly scientists explore the universe for new knowledge about the origins of creation and the mysteries of nature, some tend to brand American Indian legends, myths and ways of life as silly superstition and quaint bits of native folklore. Some skeptics mildly scoff at notions that life can be influenced in any way by a spiritual realm created and ritualized by ancient ceremonies of an aboriginal people. Yet, many of the scientists' findings about the "known" are still not well-understood.
American Indians have their own way of explaining things that happen to touch their lives. This is an account of one such happening. Certainly, it is unexplainable by any scientific means, and any worthy scholar would be challenged to attempt a plausible explanation.
But ask any traditional American Indian elder, and he'll tell you.
Lately, I had grown restless and discontented with the social and political landscape of the country. My mind was captured by several thoughts and reflections of my own future and that of my people. My concentration was disturbed and I wrestled with their reoccurrences.
The days that turned into restless nights finally ended there on a trail that brought me to the base of Bear Butte, a legendary Sioux and Cheyenne mountain in the Black Hills region near Sturgis, South Dakota. Why had I come so far from my home? What was the purpose of this unknown sabbatical?
Was I in search of an admonition that my ancestors were speaking to me, or a dream to tell me something about myself that I didn't already know? How foolish, why, this was 1976! Yet, there was a power and a purpose beyond that which I could comprehend. As analogous to Moses climbing the mountain, seeking and obeying the hand of his God, so I came searching for the guidance and direction of the Indian Spirit, Wah-kon-tah (the Great Mysteries).
What was to come of this experience, I did not know. It was a good feeling to return to nature, to be close to Mother Earth once again. If a spiritual insight would occur, I was prepared for it. If it didn't happen, then I would be content to commune with nature and replenish my spirit by being close to the greatness of the Earth and sky. How nice it was to be away from the cities' concrete canyons and towering tipis of iron and stone.
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Looking upwards, the early morning Grandfather Sun cast strange shadows among the rocks and inclines. The air was crisp, clear and perfumed by the aroma of wild sage growing along the trails. The only sounds heard were the soft wisps among the tall grasses, stirred by an occasional gust of wind blowing across the buffalo prairie. With eagerness, and without hesitation, I began the long stretch of my journey to the heights of Bear Butte in silent contemplation of the night before that was still fresh in my memory. . .
The previous night, I was camped at Rosebud Indian Reservation, South Dakota, at a festival time known as Rosebud Fair. There were traditional dances, singing and other cultural activities among a carnival type atmosphere with games, rides, and booths of things for sale. Having a little time on my hands in the late afternoon, I decided to follow my curiosity, and made the rounds of the carnival. Strolling casually and carefree along, one particular booth caught my attention. It was attended by a white man who hand two tables of pipes known only to me at the time as “peace pipes”.
I had always wanted to own one, and decided if I found one moderately priced, it would accompany me onward in my journey. Since I had planned to go to Bear Butte the next day, it would be perfect to take with me.
I inspected each pipe silently, my eyes gazing slowly and carefully on their shapes, designs and workmanship. When curious about one of the pipes, I asked the man who had spoken no words, “Sir, how much is this one?”. I was shocked with his curt reply, “Sorry, it is not for sale!” Then, my eyes drifted to another pipe and I asked the same question getting the same reply from the obstinate man. I was really beginning to be angry with him. He is a white man, and I am an Indian! How dare he insult me with such behavior. I asked him with a trembling voice why he had pipes there for sale but refused to sell me one.
“Do you know what a pipe is?” he asked. I was initially hesitant to reply, but finally said, “It is a peace pipe!” “Sorry,’ he continued like a parrot, ‘not for sale”. I knew I had not given the answer he wanted. I refused to give up. “If I buy this pipe, would you teach me what you know?”
Finally, he said he would sell me the pipe only on the condition that I would use it properly and respectfully. Patiently, he told me many things about the pipe, and humbly confessed that he did not know all the lessons of the pipe. But what he knew, he would share with me. He told me I would other lessons of the pipe in time, and that I was to add to the things he knew with greater wisdom. I was embarrassed to be Indian and not to know of my own culture, and especially to be taught by a man who was not of my heritage.
I had just enough money in my pocket to purchase the pipe. He also threw in a small bag of Indian tobacco and smiled with a slight nod of his head as I left his booth. I could only think of heading back to my tent to admire it and understand the lessons he had briefly shared.
The sun now was low in the sky. My stomach could almost tell the time as it was aching for something to eat. Later, after the sun had gone to bed and the stars were aglow under a full moon sky, I wandered with my pipe in the moonlight night to the seclusion of some tall buffalo grasses. Drowning out the sights and sounds of the gaiety surrounding the encampment, I raised the pipe in the air with hands, head and eyes pointing upwards to the black velvet sky.
I smoked the pipe as instructed, and offered a humble prayer, desiring above all to be heard and acknowledged. My Indian spirit sparked within me and a strong presence came over me as I prayed:
Having no specific purpose in my soul searching, I paused frequently for a catch of purifying breaths and to peer on the twisted trail below. It was a butterfly morning as I moved upward, catching a glimpse of the uniqueness of each rock and tree. Although a stranger and a visitor to this place, I had deep feelings of respect for each piece of this shale-sloped mountain. I was careful to step softly in balance upon the narrow trails lest I would disturb the peaceful harmony surrounding me.
The spotting of an occasional ceremonial ribbon tied to a shrub or limb of a low tree branch signaled that others had gone these paths before me. The great Sioux leader, Crazy Horse, had known the way, and determined, I continued across the rock-washed gullies and ceremonial trails. Picking up a rock, I tossed it, following with my eyes as it disappeared below. Breathing deeply, I stopped to rest again. It seemed the rest stops were becoming more frequent. At several places along the way, the trail forked in two directions. Wandering without sense of direction on the divided trails, it became apparent that one could easily become lost or go astray. Arranging sticks and stones along the paths, to help guide me, I moved onward and upward.
"Grandfather Sun is midway in the sky and there is nothing to eat or drink.
Being not so sure of foot and unwise in the ways of trails, I stopped again to bask in the majestic silence and to focus my attention in the direction of a distant eagle plunging and making lazy circles upon the horizon. Working my way up the steep slopes interspersed with dry grass and fragrant sage, I asked myself why this Plains Indian from the prairies and rolling hills of Oklahoma was there among the shadows of such a towering monument to the Indian Spirit. Could a 1976 American Indian still find meaning in the customs of his ancestral brothers, or did they die upon the ceremonial sleds that carried the last dying chiefs to their resting places?
Taking time to settle against the comfort of a rock ledge, the calmness was disturbed by the air which began again to move. The wind rustling through the tall trees made a mystic music which seemed to carry the chants of ancient voices that echoed all about me. The chatter of the red men, feathers-in-their-head men, who once inhabited this sacred mountain seemed to survive in the songs of the pine needles. If only I could translate their great messages!
As the late afternoon sunlight struck the westward rising slope, the little shadows among the mountain's edge changed their forms quickly. The air became cooler as I wound closer to the top and to the answers that awaited me.
I felt so unprepared to seek anything. Shake slow the rattle! The only recent rituals and ceremonies I had practiced and became accustomed to were those of getting up in the morning and charging off for a typical nine-to-five work day at the office.
Only an echo returned.
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Nearing the end of the trail, I could see the top clearly now. Every footstep deserved a faster one and the pace quickened, keeping time with the beating of my heart. At last, I reached the pinnacle just in time to see the Mother Earth's daily ceremony of the setting Grandfather Sun upon the horizon. It was a changing of the heavenly guard by which the Grandfather Sun of the day retired and the moon assumed its watch by night. The last few beams of sunlight were fast fading. The glory of the Earth below was sinking into semidarkness and the buffalo settled in for the evening.
Looking downward, one could see only a hint of patches of civilization. A lighted highway appeared to be a mere thread that someone had let fall to the ground, its form taking the shape of the curves upon which it landed.
The majestic beauty and greatness of what surrounded me had overpowered my ability to find expression in words. I was captured by a heavy feeling of knowing nothing and yet bewildered by an inner sensation that I would soon know all that was to be known that day.
As the twilight sky began gradually darkening, the lights of civilization that peppered the prairies looked as if they were reflections of faint stars sparkling overhead in the blanket of nightfall. Unskilled in my native tongue, I was helpless to call upon the Indian Spirit with the same speech that flowed from the songs of the ancient arrow makers. I chanted aloud,
With the dusk came the clouds and the thoughts of a dancing fire to drive the chill from my bones. Peering from the lofty summit of this famous Indian landmark, my soul yearned to unlock the mysteries of my restless searching.
My mind was twirling and my ears were sharply pierced by howling winds that foretold of some strong force overpowering me, lifting and freeing me from the Earthly bonds. Like a river that could never run empty, my thoughts and inner being flowed upward, yielding to the power as the pine sways to the force of the wind lest it be shaken loose and crashed to the ground for not obeying its command. With a sense of not being alone, excitement kindled within my chest.
Suddenly, I was struck at the appearance of a brightness in the sky and the ominous clouds turned into an eagle [Editorial Note: Was this the premonition of what I was later to become in my development years, or was it the symbol of the Great Spirit in physical form?]. In a level of consciousness midway between a dream and reality, I listened obediently to the oratory of a reverent voice all over the heavens:
"You must do this one thing . . . . you are to let your people know that I have not forgotten them. I have given these lands to My red children to live in balance among all people and all things that grow upon the Earth. This is their home. It will always be theirs. Tell them one day all men will return to the ways of the Great Mysteries, and the Indian will once again become a great leader. His ways will be respected. Those things I honor, he honors. His dignity and pride shall be restored. Tell them a time comes shortly that will announce to all peoples of the Earth that the Indian Spirit is still alive and well. Your people will survive and their day is coming soon. You must tell them to wait patiently and hold fast to the ancient ways they know best for I have not abandoned them nor my other children in the world.
It is difficult to recollect the dimension of time during those eventful moments. Chilled, hungry and shelterless, I was once again aware of the Earth and my feet among the stones. Somewhat confused and puzzled at what my experience had revealed, I left with enough sunset for me to hurriedly make the climb downward. A short time later, the words that filled my mind flowed to the page as I became a human channel to record the Great Message that would transform this experience into a reality.
Through months of determination and facing unformitable odds, I know the vision was more than a dream. The return trail finally ended several months later on October 8, l976, where I met with Indian leaders and President Gerald R. Ford to witness his signing of the historic first national proclamation to officially declare October 10th to 16th, l976, as Native American Awareness Week.
I will never forget the night I was at home and the phone rang nothing unusual. But this time was different. It was a call from the White House inviting me to be present at the signing of the President’s proclamation for Native American Awareness Week. I was so shocked that I was receiving a personal invitation to be with the President at the signing that I could scarcely utter a word. I ask when I was to go to Washington, D.C., so I could make the proper arrangements. The voice on the other end said he was to be in Lawton, Oklahoma, to meet with the agricultural entities as part of his re-election campaign.
My immediate thoughts were to have Mom who lived in Oklahoma City to accompany me. After they agreed, I called Mom to announce the news that we were going to meet the President. “Okay!” she said with a modest level of voice and actually not surprised.
I flew to Oklahoma City, rented a car, and picked up Mom. As I drove along, I began to tell her of my vision at Bear Butte and what was to happen. But what actually took place was beyond description. . .
We were told to go to the local airport to meet the President. By the time we got there, there were hoards of people from every small town in the countryside to see the President. We barely found a place to park and feared we might be late in visiting the Presidential party. As we rushed through the airport, a Secret Service Agent stopped us and asked where we were going. After I told him who we were and why we were there, he called on his two-way radio. The voice responded by saying that we were to go to the President’s hotel, and that the signing of the proclamation was to take place there.
Well, the crowds were already beginning to leave the airport, so we rushed to the parked rental car to head for the hotel. When we arrived out of breath at the car, mom looked at my face in astonishment, “What’s wrong”!” I was horrified! I couldn’t find my car keys, and as I looked through the driver’s window, there they were in the steering wheel column. I had locked both of us out of the car. Mom then asked what we were going to do? Then, she said, “Do you see yourself with the President?”. “Yes, Mom, I do, but don’t know how it is going to happen!”
Just then, a man walked up out of the exiting crowd and asked what was wrong. I told him that I had locked the keys in the car, and that we would be late in meeting the President. He said, “Oh, no problem! I am a locksmith and I am parked behind you. It will only take me a minute to unlock it. Don’t worry, I’ll be just a minute.” He proceeded to his profession, unlocked the car in the time it took to bat an eye, and said, “No charge. Anybody important enough to meet the President has to be on his way. Don’t be late now! Good luck!”
Well, mom said nothing, but the ear-to-ear smile on her face told it all. Spiritually, the Great Spirit was totally with us and was not about to let me screw things up! Just when you think He isn’t around, He shows up with a locksmith just in the nick of time! Thank you, Creator! We were off to the hotel and the consummation of my vision. With a face free from wrinkles planted by the sculptor of wisdom; a face that had not lived quite long enough or suffered enough to be interesting, I was too young to comprehend visions. The smooth, warm textures of my dark skin, still soft and supple, and had not yet been thickened, leathered and forged by the fires of time and experience.
Having not the weather-beaten face typified by an old sage, perhaps I was much too young on outside appearance to deal with visions, but was unmistakably fueled by the furnaces of spiritual fusion on the inside.
This was less of a tale about a national historical event, proclamations, documents, congressional action and the like, but rather a tale of faith in the Great Spirit. Its deep-seated meaning to me was that it demonstrated the power of the individual, and the importance of trusting the Creator’s guidance and support when called to be of spiritual duty and service. Was I ready? No, one can never feel totally prepared in heart to serve the Great Spirit, nor humble enough to answer the call of duty. Little did I know that for me, it was only the beginning.
The first part of my quest had been accomplished and the Message of the Great Spirit carried out. But how could I be certain that these handwritten words which were eventually passed in legislation by the Congress were inspired and guided by the Great Spirit?
Just ask any traditional Native American Indian and he'll tell you! . . . .
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High Eagle (back turned to camera) meeting with President Ford
and other tribal officals to witness the signing of the historic proclamation.