Opinion

Vi Waln: Sacred fire burns at Oceti Sakowin camp in North Dakota






Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, is the largest #NoDAPL encampment in North Dakota. Photo from Facebook

Sacred Fire Burns Bright
By Vi Waln
Lakota Country Times Columnist
lakotacountrytimes.com

Our Lakota ancestors had unwavering faith in the Seventh Generation. Their prayers were from the heart. The prayers they offered long ago were intended for those of us here today. As a people whose lives are based in prayer, we understand that once our prayer is made, we ride on the faith that it will manifest.

The unwavering faith we have in our prayer was inherited from our powerful ancestors. Their long-ago prayers were for the Seventh Generation to come back stronger than they were. Their prayer was made knowing they would not see it manifest during their lifetime. They prayed anyway.

The 19th century Lakota had little choice when they were forced into the concentration camps on the land we now call home. There were two options: accept life on the reservation or die. Ever mindful of the children and the unborn, our ancestors reluctantly relinquished their freedom for the confinement of the reservation.

Before we were forced onto the reservation, our people were defined by a central fire that was cared for by a designated individual. This fire was tended around the clock. When the Oceti Sakowin moved to a different area, coals were carefully placed in a buffalo horn and carried to where the new camp was established.

The fire was the heart of our ancestors. The coals signified that life would continue, no matter how far the people moved. Yet, as we all know, the coming of the wasicu changed all of that and the main campfire of our people flickered out at some point. Accounts passed down by Lakota elders say the Oceti Sakowin flame last warmed the camps sometime during the mid-19th century.

When our people were forced onto the reservations, the prayer for the Seventh Generation was always remembered. The intent of the wasicu was to wipe us off the face of the planet, yet the faith of our ancestors’ prayer has carried us into the world we live in today. The ancestral prayer for the Seventh Generation to mend the broken hoop of our nation has always been alive.

On November 5, 2016, a ceremonial fire was lit at the Oceti Sakowin Camp near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. This fire was lit for the seven bands of the Titonwan Lakota, so our children will live. Tipis representing the Oglala, Sicangu, Hunkpapa, Mnicoujou, Sihasapa, Oohenunpa and Itazipco are once again surround the central fire of our ancestors. Our Dakota and Nakota relatives are also represented by this fire.

This fire is very important. It represents the faith that went into all of our ancestor’s prayers. This fire was also lit for all of the Indigenous people of Mother Earth. How fitting that it be rekindled during the fight to protect our Mni Wiconi.

I realize there are many of you who don’t care that the flame of the Oceti Sakowin is burning again. Colonization has taken a great toll among our people. We all have free will and can make our own decision on whether or not to embrace our Lakota heritage.

Today, I hear many Lakota people say “I didn’t grow up that way” or “I wasn’t raised traditionally.” When you utter those phrases, you are embracing your assimilation. Furthermore, you are actually discarding the faith your ancestors put into their prayer for the Seventh Generation.

Still, it’s perfectly okay to embrace assimilation because you do have the free will to make that choice. We only ask that you continue to pray for your Lakota relatives who’ve embraced the faith our ancestors had in the power of the Seventh Generation. The Lakota people who have embraced the spiritual path of our ancestors, offer daily prayers for all to have a better world to live in. So, no matter what faith you are affiliated with, please remember your Lakota relatives in your prayer.


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I was very honored to visit the sacred fire recently to offer cedar and tobacco. I believe the prayers I said at the fire were much like the ones uttered by my ancestors. I want my unborn generations to live healthy in a world where their basic needs are met. I prayed for them to always have enough clean water, food, clothing and shelter.

The fact that the central fire of the Oceti Sakowin is burning at the big camp near the Cannon Ball River gives me hope for our people, humanity and all of our unborn generations. Keep praying.

(Vi Waln is an enrolled citizen of the Sicangu Lakota Nation and is a nationally published journalist.)

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