In 1971, Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote “Indian Sunset,” a song about a young warrior in the latter part of the 18th century who was slowly watching his “People being crushed” – as the Europeans and new Americans inexorably and overwhelmingly moved across and invaded the continent. The song follows the warrior, on horseback, and his small family as they see the bison disappear, their People lose hope and pride and their way of life become overrun by the wave of invaders coming to chase “hills of gold.” He searches for his ancestors’ help, his chiefs and the lands that give healing water. The song makes clear the desperation, futility and crushing of the Soul that must have been evident for some – and certainly were for the protagonist of the song – during this time in history.
It is not the first time – and clearly won’t be the last – that a People, a warrior and his family, a way of life and a culture have been threatened by an invasion, another tribe, a Power or a change in history. Natural occurrences have also shifted and threatened humanity, and indeed all living life, in similarly cataclysmic ways for thousands . . . . even millions, of years.
The current pandemic, which stubbornly persists, could arguably be seen as a possible harbinger of similar times. In the same way, and almost inconceivably, there are reasonable arguments now being made in this modern time, that a second American Civil War is . . . . . conceivable (not likely perhaps, but . . . . conceivable?!). Melting glacier shelves, virtual infernos that are anything but virtual, Texas-sized “islands” of toxic plastic floating in the middle of the planet . . . . perhaps this is the sort of seemingly unstoppable destruction and finality that the warrior saw in that Indian Sunset.
Wise Elders from Indigenous Peoples all over the planet used to guide their People through times like this with hard-earned and time-tested wisdom. Lakota wisdom. Navajo wisdom. Hopi wisdom. Aboriginal wisdom. Minoan, Inuit, Caucasus, Saami, Mayan, Mbenga, Bedouin wisdom. From all over the world. From all races. From every corner of the globe. The wisdom from each of our ancient ancestors was available to guide and inform those who were – and are – willing to listen.
We are approaching two years of exceptionally challenging times for many of our families, for the relatives, friends and volunteers with whom we work, play, ride and travel with – and, indeed, for our organization as a whole. How does a small non-profit with limited resources continue to carry out its already complicated and challenging mission when the volunteers that are its lifeblood are literally threatened by a pandemic? How does a community such as Ti Ikciya Pa Slata Pi (The Tipi Raisers) in the best of times navigate an effective way through the trauma, historical trauma, mistrust, remoteness and depth of need that are sometimes seemingly insurmountable hurdles to carrying out our goals and intentions? During a pandemic with its economic challenges and also a time when many of our long standing institutions and communities are now under attack, the mission becomes layered in even deeper levels of complexity and challenge.
And so, we have learned again to listen to Indigenous wisdom and to allow it to inform our modern reality. The Lakota have a word, “wowancin tanke,” that roughly translates into “perserverance”. A Lakota elder describing that word summons up the image of the bison turning to face the incoming blizzard, instead of running from it as the domesticated cow does.
Photo Credit: Barbara Edit (Gerlach) Photography
A Hopi storyteller tells of how the omnipresent crows circling their villages were the court jesters of the People, reminding them with their “Caw!! Caw!!” of the absurdity in which they were carrying on in their daily human lives.
The Papuan of New Guinea – and Indigenous Peoples from South America, Africa, Australia and other continents also – all taught their warriors through the scarification of their young men’s bodies -- of the value of struggle, sacrifice and connection to God, Spirit, the Unknowable.
The Christians, Buddhists, Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples from virtually every corner of the Earth taught about, knew and unfailingly rested on the foundation of disciplined, humble and consistent prayer – similarly through the burning of a wide variety of plants, incense, fire. Wocekiye, the Lakota call it (“crying out to the Sacred”); “Precatio”, the Christians call it; “Tefliah” (Hebrew); “Sodizon” (Navajo); “Inua” (Inuit).
Taupin and John wrote their beautiful and mournful song from their perspectives and understanding as English storytellers. And so, perhaps they miscalculated the perseverance, patience and resilience of the American Indians. From that perspective, their warrior gives his life and his People die. In reality, however, we know that was not how the story unfolded over time. Native American cultures and ways of life have, in fact, endured and will endure to inform and benefit the Modern World, as will most Indigenous teachings . . . . for those willing to listen and learn. In that way, history is written over generations, not in headlines and moments of time. It is more important than ever to pay homage to, and honor all ancestral wisdom. To trust in their truth and take comfort in their wisdom.
And so, as we look ahead to 2022, we envision navigating these difficult and challenging times - in community with you - and leaning into Indigenous wisdom from around the world to guide us.
There is much to look forward to in the year ahead! While a work in progress, our calendar is already filling up with Gen7 gatherings and with opportunities for all generations to be in service and community with one another. And we look with eager anticipation to share information with you - as we have it - about the development of a more accessible and sustainable infrastructure to support and expand our activities and services.
We are grateful for our community around the world - for your ongoing support – in the myriad of ways in which it is offered. For that too is a lesson from those who walked through difficult times in the past: We are so much stronger when we stay together in community and family.
Wishing you and yours peace and health in the New Year!
Waylon Belt riding Crazy Horse on 2018 Tipi Raiser's Ride
While joy and holiday merriment may define November and December for many, the season is accompanied by the anniversaries of several massacres against Native peoples and a spirit of somber remembrance for the Indigenous victims of violence at the hands of the US Government.
In Colorado, November 29th marked 157 years since the Sand Creek Massacre and a chance to reflect on the injustices, past and present, faced by Native communities.
Violence and discrimination against Indigenous people in Colorado territory had heightened in the months leading up to the 1864 massacre after then-territorial Governor John Evans made two proclamations calling for the forced relocation of tribes and the killing of any Indigenous person deemed “hostile” by settlers.
After moving to the land area designated by treaties, a camp of 750 Cheyenne and Arapaho people was attacked by Col. John Chivington and the Third Colorado Cavalry. The Cavalry killed hundreds in the encampment - primarily elders, women, and children - and committed countless other atrocities during the massacre.
In the days that followed, the troops responsible for the mass murder rode through the streets of Denver carrying body parts and stolen items, which were then displayed for years in Denver's City Hall. The loss of life at Sand Creek- including the killings of 13 Cheyenne chiefs, one Arapaho chief, and four Arapaho headmen - disrupted the passage of traditional knowledge and had a significant impact on Cheyenne and Arapaho cultural lifeways and social structures.
Pictured: A sign at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in southeast Colorado. Photo credits to Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline.
Just as November brought forth reminders of the ongoing legacy of violence against Native peoples, the month of December also carries an obligation to reflect on the brutal history of massacres carried out by the federal government in Indigenous communities.
On December 26th, 1862, 38 Dakota men were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota - the largest mass execution in US History. The hangings were carried out in the aftermath of the US Dakota War of 1862. The conflict, which was precipitated by increased restriction of Dakota lands and the failure of the US Government to provide promised rations to the Dakota, had broken out following heightened violent interactions between Native people and white settlers across Minnesota. As casualties mounted on both sides and the 37-day war came to a close, 2,000 Dakota were taken into custody by U.S. Colonel Henry H. Sibley.
Trials for the captured Dakota were carried out by a US military commission over just 42 days from September to November 1862. 303 Dakota men were sentenced to death. Though President Lincoln commuted the death sentences of 265 warriors, stating “I could not afford to hang men for votes,” he ultimately approved of and ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men convicted by the commission.
Historians and legal experts have since criticized the military tribunals, citing language barriers, lack of access to defense counsel, and biased decision-making as factors which decreased the legitimacy of the proceedings. Two of the 38 individuals killed are now understood to have been executed by mistake. Two additional Dakota leaders were executed by federal order in 1865 for their roles in the US Dakota War; they are now remembered alongside the men hanged in 1862 as the Dakota 38 + 2.
Pictured: An 1884 painting by J. Thullen depicting the execution of the Dakota 38 in Mankato, Minnesota. Image credits to the Minnesota Historical Society and MPR News
December also calls to mind the painful legacy of the Wounded Knee Massacre.
Amid the Ghost Dance movement, broken treaties, and the assassination of Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull by Indian Agency Police, Chief Spotted Elk and his band of Mniconjou Lakota sought refuge on the Pine Ridge Reservation in late December, 1890. The group were eventually intercepted and escorted by US Army troops to camp at Wounded Knee Creek on December 28th.
The next day, the Seventh Cavalry began to confiscate weapons from Spotted Elk’s band, and a gun was suddenly discharged. Soldiers then opened fire on the camp. Several soldiers fired Hotchkiss guns indiscriminately on the encampment; others chased and hunted down Lakota women and children fleeing the scene. At least 300 Lakota men, women, and children were killed during the massacre, including Spotted Elk. 20 of the US soldiers involved were awarded the Medal of Honor for their roles in the killing. The medals have yet to be revoked by the federal government to this day.
We spoke to an elder from the Wounded Knee community this week about the 1890 massacre and its lasting impact. “My ancestors couldn’t comprehend it…I still can’t,” he said of the violence. His great-great grandfather was wounded during the massacre but survived after taking refuge in a nearby canyon.
“The massacre itself has a generational trauma effect, which I saw in my elders before they passed on.” He explained that the mass killing at Wounded Knee sowed discord in the community and led to the near destruction of the Lakota language. He also expressed that the massacre contributed to the boarding school system, with authorities employing tactics of abuse and assimilation against Indigenous children in an effort to destroy the possibility of future resistance. But amidst this traumatic legacy, the elder emphasized prayer and the hope for the future he sees in the children of the community. He asked that people remember the children in their prayers on December 29th, the 131st anniversary of the massacre.
Above all, he wants to ensure that Wounded Knee 1890 is never forgotten:
“Remember Cankpe Opi Wakpala 1890.”
Above: An excerpt from Tom Hollow Horn's talk on the history of Wounded Knee, originally streamed on the Tipi Raisers Facebook page in summer 2020
Additional resources on the Sand Creek Massacre, the Dakota 38 +2, and the 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee listed below.
On the Sand Creek Massacre:
"THIS DAY IN HISTORY: November 29, 1864 – 230 Cheyenne & Arapaho Massacred at Sand Creek" from Native News Online:
Resources from the Sand Creek Massacre Foundation: https://www.sandcreekmassacrefoundation.org/history
"Colorado Experience: Sand Creek Massacre," a one-hour documentary from PBS on the history of Evans' proclamations and the Sand Creek Massacre, available to watch for free at the following link:
On the execution of the Dakota 38 + 2:
"The Traumatic True History and Name List of the Dakota 38" from Indian Country Today:
Resources on the US-Dakota War from the Minnesota Historical Society: https://www.usdakotawar.org/
"Largest Mass Execution in US History: 150 Years Ago Today" from The Nation:
On the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890:
"Wounded Knee: Healing the Wounds of the Past" from Indian Country Today:
"Black Elk Speaks" by John G. Neihardt. Black Elk's firsthand account of the massacre begins on page 174 of the PDF:
"State senate urges inquiry into Wounded Knee Medals of Honor" from the Associated Press:
Sources for this blog post include: Coverage of these topics from Indian Country Today, Native News Online, CPR News, Smithsonian Magazine, the Sand Creek Massacre Foundation, The Nation, the Associated Press, the National Park Service, the US National Library of Medicine, National Geographic, and an interview with an elder from the Wounded Knee community on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
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