This is one of the most ancient and sacred of Lakota origin stories, parts of which have been revealed to certain Lakota Thunder Dreamers, the Heyoka who were holy men. My grandfather, John Fire, knew some of these as does my Heyoka son, Wiconi Was`te.
According to these spiritual teachings, prior to man and creation, a battle raged between the heavens and earth. The great Thunderbird from the West was engaged in a heated battle against the mighty King of the Waters, Unktegila, and this battle spanned thousands of years. Unktegila was monstrous and mighty to behold with devastating powers. Unktegila could turn objects to stone with a glance. From his one horn, he could strike with Red lightning upwards towards the heavens.
Can you imagine a storm without rain or life without water? Unktegila, the greedy exiled “outsider” relative of the Thunderbirds, had entrenched himself with his numerous offspring who were “snakelike” in the water on earth. These offspring strengthened Unktegila, allowing him to consolidate his power and withhold the waters of life, “mni wiconi wakan” to prevent creation from taking place. Unktegila and his offspring greedily kept all the resources for themselves.
The brave Thunderbird from the West whose color was black had no water though he commanded the skies. He had clouds to shield him but no rain. During this horrific battle, the King of the Waters, Unktegila, struck a mortal blow against the Thunderbird from the West whose blood fell to the earth and became the half-spirit, half-man, the Heyoka (Thunder Dreamer) Nation.
The Great Spirit looked with sadness and favor upon his lone embattled Thunderbird from the West. Out of darkness, this lone rebel Thunderbird sacrificed himself to share life giving waters with those who were yet to be created. This was a task given to this selfless Thunder Being by the Great Mystery. The other foremost Thunderbirds from the North, East and South were apathetic and concerned with their own interests.
In his anguish, the Thunderbird from the West cried out, “Brothers, when I fall it won’t be long before Unktegila also takes you. Creation depends upon all of us.” The Thunderbird from the North, whose color was white, was the first to speak in his booming voice. He said ”I am the Chief of the Clouds and the Master of the Red Road. This is your battle. I am concerned only with my path. Only man will exist if I help you. I am the decider, the master and the power. I refuse to lower myself for Creation.”
Out of wisdom, the East whose color was yellow, spoke out in turn, “My Brother from the West. You are the strongest. What you have said is true for I rise with the sun each morning and illuminate the darkness. I stand with you.” Next the Chief of the Dead, the Thunder Being from the South whose color was Red, spoke out, “I am the Chief and Master of those destined from Creation to venture back to the spirit world. At this time, I am without Creation and the dead. I have become stagnant because of Unktegila’s greed and I am lonesome without my land of the dead and I am bored so I will stand with you.”
As soon as the blood drops fell from the wounded Thunderbird from the West, they turned into the Heyoka, half-spirit who was destined to become man. Due to their spiritual origin, they did not require water. The Heyoka instantly knew their father, the West, from whom they came. They joined him to fight against Unktegila and his many snakelike children. Unktegila drawing upon the water and power from his offspring was able to regenerate himself time and again when struck down.
Some Heyoka’s lives were sacrificed and they never became man but they became the “overseers/defender/protectors of ceremonies.” Eventually the other Thunderbirds except for the arrogant North, joined the battle. Each Thunderbird lost a piece of himself while fighting Unktegila. In concert, they defeated Unktegila and his offspring without assistance from the Thunderbird from the North. The remains of Unktegila’s offspring are seen today as petrified objects. These fossils are reminders of this horrific battle.
The Great Mystery saw the greed and treachery of the Unktegila as well as the arrogant, sociopathic, lofty Thunderbird from the North. As a result, the North was stripped of his title as “Chief” and Unktegila became one with the earth and waters that he so greedily coveted. For his heroic sacrifice, the Thunderbird from the West was made the foremost “Chief” and his offspring, the Heyoka, were honored as heroes, prophets and defenders of mankind. The Heyoka, the children of the West, had unselfishly helped their father out of love, unlike the other Thunderbirds.
To greet the new creation now made possible by the sacred waters of life, the “mni wiconi wakan,” the Great Mystery also made the first tree in the Black Hills, a cedar tree, which is an ancient species. All of creation was now fulfilled and given a place upon this earth. The children of thunder, the Heyoka, were rewarded and made into flesh as men. They echoed and followed the voice of the West during storms, forever connected to their origin.
This ancient legend has become the story and representation within all Native American people. Some within our current reflection have designs much like Unktegila to dominate, control and take over the precious lifeblood of our tribes, our resources, the waters of life. Their selfish and greedy spirit is within our origin. The spirit of Unktegila and the invading white man have long sought power by any means. Our native blood is as the “sacred water of life” and it is precious. Those outsiders who invade are much like the greedy Unktegila and his children who would dilute our native blood to the point of extinction if we allow it.
Today it seems the spirit of the Unktegila and Custer have become as one. They use cultural genocide, forced assimilation and relentlessly dilute/pollute our Native American bloodline. Just as the sacred waters of life became polluted by Unktegila and his numerous greedy offspring, our bloodline which is the water of life is being thinned out by the white man and outsiders who have invaded our tribes.
Is it acceptable to allow our youth and Red People to be taught that our Indian culture and our Indian bloodline is inferior and “not as good” as the white, black or Mexican culture or identity? I cannot think of one tribe which has been perpetuated by non-Indian blood. The native bloodline, face, culture, thought and ideals are what define us as tribes.
This is not about hatred but about a great love for my Red People who are on the brink of extinction. Before our Indian bloodline is reduced to a trickle, take back control over your tribe’s sacred waters of life, the very economic resources that your Indian people will need to survive into the future. You must not let your tribal government be corrupted and polluted by the spirit of Unktegila or Custer. Creation and our youth of the future deserve a chance to live and they will need resources.
Do not be as the proud and arrogant Thunderbird from the North who stood by and did nothing while his brother from the West sacrificed himself so his people could live. This is no time for apathy because the numerous snake children of Unktegila are alive and well today and they will consume all your precious tribal resources amongst themselves.
In the old days, the Lakota had an “eyapaha” (crier) who sounded the alarm and warned the people of impending danger to them. In much the same fashion, today out of love for the Indian people, my son and I share a part of this ancient sacred legend with you in hopes that you will listen, take heart and action before history repeats itself.
It takes an aggressive and progressive defense to defend and maintain one’s bloodline and culture. Over two hundred years ago, the great leader Tecumseh observed that the real Indians fought the battles while the acculturated and apathetic so called “Indians” were there to reap the rewards and scavenge from bones of their people.
Today many tribes face a great threat through ancestry only enrollment policies. These minimal blooded tribes with diluted/polluted bloodlines now stand upon the graves of their very distant Indian ancestors and desecrate the Native American ideology, culture, spirituality and identity. How dare they in arrogance and entitlement even voice a whisper about being Indian!
When you think of an Indian family or children, do you picture the embodiment of our Red ancestors as Custer’s clan or do you actually see an Indian face? I challenge you today to look in the mirror and within your heart and question the ideals and reflection that you see before you. Have you lived and made choices to protect the Indian bloodline or do you live in the shadow of one of Unktegila’s progeny? While the native, Heyoka and the thunderbirds still exist, reclaim your tribe!
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 email@example.com She can be reached
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