Now the old Lakota holy man sits by himself. The ashes from the ceremonial fire are cold and everyone has gone home. Once a powerful Thunder Dreamer (Heyoka), the old holy man was much sought after by his people as a Defender and Prophet. Now it seems in this modern day world, he is almost forgotten by all but a few. Another day’s sun is setting upon his life. I feel it is a gift to sit quietly in his presence.
I watch as the old Holy man struggles to stand. Now steady on his feet, he turns to the West, the direction of his vision and looks up to the sky. With open hands raised, he offers a mystical prayer, “Wakan Tanka, Great Mystery, have pity on your humble servant. You gave me a great vision but now I am fading. My life has been nothing but hardship for my people. Now I ask you to help me find those young warriors who will keep our sacred ancestral fires burning during this long dark night so my people shall live to see another sunrise.”
As this old Holy man is praying, I think about my Red People and I query, “What will it take to rekindle these sacred ancestral fires and to bring back our Red Indigenous Pride?”
Today tribal sovereignty and the Red Man’s body are much like our great eagle who is being plucked bald. With each passing generation, more feathers are lost until the eagle is nearly stricken and unable to rise again. For the Red Man, bloodless cultural genocide is a foe, whose children are assimilation and the loss of culture, which drain and weaken him. As a Lakota, I am keenly aware that tribal sovereignty is so closely intertwined with our identity as Red People that we cannot survive without it. Tribal sovereignty, our lifeblood, is a gift from Wakan Tanka that is taken for granted.
Our history reminds us that just as the great eagle has been hunted, shot and poisoned, almost to the point of extinction, so too have our Red People suffered. Only today, our People face cultural extinction, which is as deadly as any holocaust, but is unnoted, for no blood has been shed. It is in essence, centuries of forced acculturation. Let us not forget that this country was founded upon mass graves of the bones and hopes of our ancestors who still cry out for justice. The legal system and laws which exist today, subtract and take away from tribal sovereignty instead of protecting it.
We, the original Land Lords of this country, have become a dispossessed people within our own continent. In its early infancy, the United States, fearful of the tribes, entered into over 400 treaties with our people. Yet after treaties were signed and our people thought they were safe, they learned that greed never sleeps. Remember that our Red People were the last to be granted U.S. citizenship and could not vote until 1924.
Ask, where were our Red Ancestors when the Bills of Rights was drafted? Were even the ghosts of our ancestors present in 1823 when Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Marshal, boldly called our Red People “fierce savages” in Johnson v. McIntosh and ruthlessly used the discovery doctrine to justify the government’s taking of our lands by giving it exclusive rights to extinguish Indian title by either purchase or conquest? According to Vine Deloria, Jr., a Lakota lawyer, the U.S. neither purchased nor conquered our people. Instead, the U.S. acquired our lands (2 billion acres) through a “sophisticated technique, the trusteeship process.” Today it seems our Red People’s inheritance is defined by the likes of Cobell and her greedy lawyers. We do not have to accept this as our legacy for Wakan Tanka, the Great Mystery, gave us willpower and a Red Warriors heart to change things.
Let us look beyond our past failures and resolve to change the course and structure of the legal system which has denied us input since the founding of this country. Federal Indian law and other laws are not designed to promote or protect tribal sovereignty. We cannot ignore that the defeat of one small unknown tribe in court may set legal precedent which negatively affects the legal rights of all tribes. We must set aside our petty rivalries and old grudges for the essence of tribal sovereignty lies within each one of us,
I call upon our dreamers, our youth, the “Ikciya Wicasas” (the common man), the poets, intellectuals, the scholars, the elders, the spiritual men and women, and our friends who are eager to join with me in rekindling the sacred fire of tribal sovereignty so our language, culture, values and sacred ceremonies will be carried on through the long dark night. Let us re-establish our Red Identity and voice before they are lost to the winds of time.
We are united by our Brotherhood of Red Skin, independently sovereign, yet bound by our resolve to change the course of history. In the past, we failed to recognize the power we hold with our individual votes, which collectively and united, can be a significant power which is the key to change and a better future for our people. Who amongst our people will carry our banner of tribal sovereignty through the long dark night? Not so long ago our Red People etched their identity into history as proud Red Warriors.
I call upon you to join with me to build a Great Council Fire to rekindle these sacred ancestral fires and bring back our Red Indigenous Pride for the seasons have come upon us and autumn is before us. Let us not be as leaves scattered upon the earth but in the wisdom of our brother the bear, prepare a stronghold in which to winter.
Wambli Sina Win (Eagle Shawl Woman) is currently an Associate Professor and
Director of the Bacone College Criminal Justice Studies Department in Muskogee,
Her grandfather was John Fire, Chief Lame Deer Tahca Uste, a well
known Lakota Holy Man from the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
One of her sons is also a medicine man.
She has served as a Tribal Judge for
the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, a Tribal Attorney
and as a legal Instructor for the U.S. Indian Police Academy at Artesia, N.M.
You may contact Wambli Sina Win, J.D. at email@example.com She can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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