Vi Waln: Remembering all the veterans in Indian Country

The end of May traditionally marks the completion of another year of school and the beginning of summer vacation for most students. It is also graduation season. Congratulations to all college, high school, eighth grade, kindergarten and Head start graduates all across Indian Country. You are our future.

This is also the time of year when we remember those who have made their journey to the spirit world. Thousands of flags decorated our cemeteries this week to especially remember the Akicita, our soldiers, who fought and died for this country. Thank you to all the Veterans in Indian Country who spent their Memorial Day visiting cemeteries to remember and honor their comrades.

Many of our Akicita are descendants of the Warrior Societies of the 19th century which are still known throughout the world. In fact, we still sing Lakota victory songs to honor our Akicita for the 1876 defeat of the 7th Calvary at the Little Big Horn. Our warriors captured and still carry the 7th Calvary’s guidon flags.

The courage of our ancestors was carried on into the 20th century. The late Chauncey Eagle Horn was a Sicangu Lakota who enlisted in the military service during World War I. He was the first Lakota Akicita to sacrifice his life in that war. The first American Legion Post organized on the Rosebud Reservation was named in honor of him. He is buried in Okreek, SD. The post bearing his namesake is widely known for their continuing efforts in acknowledging our veterans, both living and deceased.

I want to say thank you to my Uncle Eugene Iron Shell, Sr. of the Chauncey Eagle Horn Post #125 of Rosebud, SD. Also, I want to acknowledge Chris Bordeaux, Duane White Thunder and Cousin Eugene Iron Shell, Jr. These Veterans devoted their entire Memorial Day to traveling across the Rosebud Reservation. They visited several cemeteries to acknowledging their deceased comrades with a prayer and rifle salute.

Memorial Day weekend also saw many of the cemeteries in Indian Country filled with families visiting the graves of loved ones. Some families only made a brief stop to leave flowers while others spent an entire day at gravesites. It was a time to remember our relatives who are no longer with us.

I have come to the understanding that our relatives who have made their journey to the spirit world are very happy there. There is no more of the physical existence of living as a human being. I believe they now dwell in a realm where they are pure spirit. They are no longer bound by the physical needs of a human body.

I also believe our relatives in the spirit world do not want us to be sad for them. Many Indian people mourn their deceased loved ones with an annual ceremony for up to four years before they release the spirit of their relative. I want to say thank you to my Native American Church relatives for the good prayers they take care of on behalf of all the Indigenous people, both living and deceased. May God bless you all during the difficult days, weeks, months and years of grieving for the relatives who have passed into the spirit world.

It is necessary to have a mourning period but then we must let their spirit go so they can move on. I have heard people say that to cry too much is not good. But I believe we need to cry as much as necessary in order to move through our grief. If the Creator God did not want us to cry we would not have been given the ability to shed tears.

Clinging to the pain of grief for an entire lifetime is not healthy. Still, it can take a very long time for us to move through the stages of grief when we lose someone close to us. And when we have lost a beloved child or grandchild the pain might never completely go away.

I believe when we find the strength to let go of our grief for relatives who have made their journey we free ourselves to devote more time to the family members who are still alive and walking on this earth. It takes great effort to keep going after the death of someone very dear. But do not be so locked into your mourning that you neglect family members who are still alive. Remember that your beloved one will always be alive in the memories you hold close to your heart.

Many families spent the entire Memorial Day at gravesites of loved ones. Some families feed the veterans and other visitors at the cemetery. Other families hand out plates of snacks or treats. This is one of the Lakota ways of honoring our people who are still alive.

The inflation we are all experiencing has driven up the price of most everything, including food. To share a meal or food with someone else is the ultimate act of generosity among the Indigenous people across Indian Country. Food is sacred and sharing it with others is one virtue we still engage in on a daily basis. Inflation has not affected our generosity. This was apparent to me as I watched many of you offer food to the visitors at the cemetery this week.

I am proud to be Lakota. My people are some of the most generous people on Mother Earth. Wopila to all of you for remembering your loved ones who are in the spirit world by sharing your food with those of us who are still alive!

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota and an enrolled member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Her columns were awarded first place in the South Dakota Newspaper Association 2010 contest. She is Editor of the Lakota Country Times and can be reached through email at

Related Stories:
Vi Waln: Lakota philosophy prepares us to face everything (5/23)
Vi Waln: Bullies can be any age, even on our reservations (5/16)
Vi Waln: Indian people survived terrorism for centuries in US (5/9)
Vi Waln: Respect, love and help your mother while you can (5/2)
Vi Waln: Take time to remember Mother Earth with prayer (4/25)
Vi Waln: Educator Myrl Smith fell in love with his students (4/18)
Vi Waln: Protecting Indian women and children from violence (4/11)
Vi Waln: Exclude yourself from the Cobell trust fund settlement (4/4)
Vi Waln: Internet Indians perpetuate the victimhood mentality (3/28)
Vi Waln: It's starting to feel like spring at Rosebud Reservation (3/21)
Vi Waln: Tribes should trade daylight saving time for Indian Time (3/14)
Vi Waln: Yankton Sioux Tribe fights state to protect reservation (3/7)
Vi Waln: Questions remain about $3.4B Indian trust settlement (2/28)
Vi Waln: Native Americans still dealing with media insensitivity (2/21)
Vi Waln: Settlement in Indian trust fund case benefits just handful (2/7)
Vi Waln: Women form the backbone of Lakota society and culture (1/31)
Vi Waln: Holding Indian Health Service accountable to its patients (1/24)
Vi Waln: Ignorance rears its head with posting about 'ugly' prayer (1/17)
Vi Waln: Don't believe everything in the media about reservation (1/10)
Vi Waln: Tribal identification cards deserve recognition everywhere (1/3)
Vi Waln: December a difficult month for tribes in the Great Plains (12/21)
Vi Waln: Mexico's Indigenous people aim to protect sacred sites (12/13)
Vi Waln: Indian Country must look within to address youth suicide (12/6)
Vi Waln: Lakota people encounter threats to their water source (11/29)
Vi Waln: Lakota of South Dakota remain invisible in many ways (11/24)

Join the Conversation