Russel Eagle Bear, Ben Rod, Steve Vance, Phil Little Thunder, and Paul Stover Soderman speak to hundreds who gathered at Black Elk Peak in South Dakota to welcome back the Wakinyan Oyate. Photo by Ernestine Chasing Hawk / Native Sun News Today

Native Sun News Today: Ceremony welcomes Thunder Beings back home

Welcoming back the Wakinyan Oyate
Native Sun News Today Editor

BLACK ELK PEAK – Hundreds of hikers disappeared into a hazy mist as they began the two and a half mile pilgrimage through slushy ice and snow to make prayer offerings welcoming back the Wakinyan Oyate (Thunder Beings) at the top of Black Elk Peak.

Each year this ancient celestial ceremony takes place during the Spring Equinox, and begins with a ceremony by Lakota spiritual leaders who have been visiting this sacred mountain for more than three generations.

Their prayers are offered to celebrate the reemergence of life awakened by the clashing of the Wakinyan Oyate upon Unci Maka (Mother Earth) said Wakan Wicasa Richard Moves Camp.

Also among those who offered words of encouragement to young and old alike stressing the importance of carrying on this sacred tradition, was Russel Eagle Bear, Ben Rod, Phil Little Thunder, Steve Vance and Paul Stover Soderman.

Eagle Bear spoke about how coming to this place for the past 32 years hasn’t always been easy as the gathering place is within Custer State Park. He said park rangers place obstacles in the way citing safety issues, parking issues especially since the crowd of people who gather here grows with each passing year.

Black Elk Peak is a sacred peak in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Photo: Austin Matherne

Eagle Bear invited participants to Pe Sla for the Summer Solstice Ceremony on land held in trust by the tribes, where he said they can offer prayers without interference from the Park Service.

Little Thunder who was instrumental in the renaming of this mountain from Harney Peak to Black Elk Peak spoke of that transition which he said brings honor to the Oyate who have been coming here for millennia.

Paul Stover Soderman, a seventh generation descendant of General William Selby Harney, also addressed those who had gathered to offer up prayers to the Wakinyan Oyate.

“I am a direct descendant of General William Selby Harney who was the general who commanded the army that committed an act of genocide at 1855 Blue Water Creek and attacked the Little Thunder village. He was also the third signer of the 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty,” Soderman shared.

“I found out about 15 years ago who my ancestor was and we started to take action toward anything we could do to honor that 1868 Treaty when it comes to the Black Hills and Paha Sapa,” he said. “One thing that we thought would be good was to make an attempt to take his name off this mountain.”

Soderman said he spoke to his family especially his mother, the matriarch of the family, and she agreed it would be a good thing, “So we took those actions along with the Little Thunder family, the Black Elk family and Basil Brave Heart.”

Soderman said to their surprise the Department of Interior Board of Geographic names agreed and that the only thing they were lacking was consensus on what the name should be.

Hinhan Kaga, the making of owl, is the traditional Lakota term that has been used for centuries to describe this place and Soderman said he had hoped it would replace his grandfather’s name.

Eagle Bear once described it this way “If you sit up there at night all these stone structures look like owls sitting up there.”

Soderman said the group also had to prove that this place had spiritual significance to a group of people and, “At the end of the day, it was this ceremony that made a difference.”


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