Wambli Sina Win: Sharing the last moments of Lakota Heyoka

Lightning strikes often but the thunder’s echoes are seldom heard. As much as a Lakota can be gifted, my life is a perfect example. Upon humble dirt floors, as a child I often pondered without worry or hate, my silent prayer for the future of the Lakota people. Insignificant and unimportant to white society, but my grandmother’s prayers for my future struck throughout my life like thunder. My voice has been an echo within the storm of my grandmother’s hopes, wishes and dreams.

The powerful thunder echoed just as my grandfather’s words many times throughout his life. I was born in 1953 during the Termination Era, an undesired half breed, embraced by neither the Lakota nor white society. Yet my grandparents and the Great Mystery favored me. Without the support of an Irish father who abandoned me and only dreams of an absent mother, I was the product of an inferior reservation education, counted out and counted down, much like my ancestors.

According to the white man, I was nothing more than a hopeless statistic, born into the poverty of an Indian Reservation, but I was an Akicita winyan (warrior woman) nevertheless, without the promise or privilege of a Harvard or Yale education. Like the eagle, I ascended, eager to rise and soar far beyond my own dreams and hopes

It seems that my grandmother spoke in a voice almost unheard as her eyes closed forever. Grandmother shared all that she could with her loved ones before she took the hand of Waziya (Death). She spoke of the shadowy figures that resembled my grandfather and great-grandfather. Her last words to me were for me to take care of Wiconi Was`te, her Heyoka grandson whom she had named. There was much power and instruction within grandmother’s desperate and final vision.

As a Lakota “relic,” my grandmother was raised in Lakota culture that was steeped in spirituality and tradition. She knew personally and grew up with some of our greatest Lakota Heyoka (Thunder Dreamer) and Holy men including Chief Frank Fools Crow, Robert Stead, Frank Arrow Sight, Dawson No Horse, the “Heyoka Winyan” (Heyoka woman) from Norris, South Dakota and many others.

I have often wondered if the first voice I heard when I was born was my grandmother’s or the eagle’s. For it seems as many Lakota, I grew up listening to the Great Mystery more than anyone else’s voice. My destiny, despite all that could have been, has been a good example of one called to walk the Red Road. I have learned on this spiritual journey that chronological age is irrelevant for the spirits (Tunkasilas) impart wisdom to those chosen by the Great Mystery.

My son Wiconi was a “grandfather” at a young age and different from others. People made comments about his strangeness and his own father rejected him. I did not realize that he was a Heyoka until later and after he suffered much in his lifetime. Beginning at age 6, my son spoke of two spiritual “men” whom he said appeared to him, asking “Come with us, you are one of us.” He said these men told him his father was the sky and said he had to leave with them.

Years later, while my son was a thousand miles away, I was present when his two spiritual helpers came into Eugene Eagle Elk’s lowampi ceremony and took it over. My son had simply told me “I’ll be there.” Eugene’s brother was Joseph Eagle Elk, a Heyoka who has since passed on. At this ceremony, Eugene was terrified of the power which invaded his circle. While having a Lakota child with the vision from the Thunder Beings is a great honor, it’s also feared by parents and relatives. They know their Heyoka relative’s walk will be accompanied by footsteps from great suffering, sadness and loss but a life remembered by defiant miracles and eulogized as his final gift to others.

The Heyoka’s power to prophesy, heal and alter impossible circumstances comes with a great price, the ultimate sacrifice. In this selfish world, one must ponder, what is a greater miracle? The eagerness to sacrifice one’s self or the healing itself?

Along with the sunset and extinction of the buffalo, we share the last moments of the Heyoka.

There was a time when the Heyoka were feared, highly respected and beloved as defenders of their people. The Heyoka were chiefs among chiefs and today, it almost seems inadequate to declare them to be “tribal treasures.” I realize as a traditional Lakota and mother to one of the last genuine Heyoka that when my son passes, the sacred knowledge that he possesses will be lost.

Others within the community have witnessed healing of terminal illnesses and miracles where the impossible was achieved, prophesies came true for those who sought help and my son possessed unexplainable spiritual knowledge about peoples’ lives. This young man who helped many has been content to exist unrecognized in the shadows while the fakers and “psychics” who are so limited, bask in the glory and limelight of Hollywood celebrity. What would one give to see a loved one rescued from the spectral hands of death?

While preparing this essay, I reviewed my notes and contributions from those helped by my son for the book I am writing on his life’s story. The following are what my son the Heyoka has said: “Lightning illuminates the earth but for a moment, much like the lifespan of our people yet thunder outlives lightning. The voice of the Great Mystery cries out and echoes deep within our soul. It is powerful to behold a perfect work of the Mystery and even greater to ponder that mystery. As a Lakota, we must love and treasure the moments that we are given on this earth.

Life is a gift but a lifetime can be defined as brief as a second for some. A child may be born and die moments later. The Great Mystery’s voice comes in a silence as loud as thunder and just as sudden as lightning strikes. It has echoed throughout my life.

Lakota people today must have faith as there are many ancient spirits (illnesses) which are making their way through the doors that man has opened. Fear, doubt and greed are the greatest spiritual illnesses of all. Selfishness and jealousy have become the namesakes of our people. There is no cure or hope for a person without faith or compassion. Healing and spiritual work come from outside of man and must become within him to be renewed.

When my sun has set and my battle is no more, I pray that the love and sacrifices made by all Heyoka will be remembered. May I leave a path worthy to be filled with memories and pride for my children, wife and people to follow. My hopes are that as night falls over my remains, my spirit (Nagi) and teachings live on in my people. I pray that the Heyoka extinction will not have been in vain and that our vision, wisdom and dreams are reborn within the hearts and minds of our future.

Within my final moments I pray the beloved faces of the past and the present, both ghosts and man will bring comfort and deliver the seeds of hope to the future. Do not mourn me for I have become a drop of rain upon your cheek to be renewed within the sky. Remember me, remember your Grandfathers.” These are my son’s words.

There is strength within the frailty of life that man ponders within the mystery of our Creator. My life has been an echo within a thunderhead. In my youth, despite an uncertain future, I became a lawyer and the mother of a Heyoka. I have overcome many mountains and prayed upon many hills while walking the Red Road.

Upon the lonely vision quest hill where I stood praying, a voice from my past began praying with me. Though I could not understand the spirit language, within the sweat lodge my son interpreted as the spirit spoke. It was my grandfather’s unseen presence. He spoke of his love and pride in my accomplishments and prayed for me. Love and life echo beyond the constraints of time or death. Just as lightning or man are seen for a moment, a thunder’s echo and a man’s heart are heard long after they are gone. I dedicate this to my beloved grandfather, grandmother, unborn grandson and the unseen Heyoka society.

Wambli Sina Win (Eagle Shawl Woman) is currently an Associate Professor and Director of the Bacone College Criminal Justice Studies Department in Muskogee, Oklahoma. 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 wamblisinawin@yahoo.com She can be reached at wamblisinawin@yahoo.com.

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