“Mommy? This isn’t just a normal night. This is the specialest night. I’ve been waiting for this night for a long, long time.”
These are the words a Lakota wakanyeja (sacred little one) shared with her mother this past Friday following a powerful evening of reconciliation at our Lafayette, CO hub.
By chance or by Spiritual appointment, the visit of our dear friend Tom Hollow Horn for our monthly Nagi Circle Gathering coincided with the arrival of a new friend to our community - one with an ancestral connection that led him our way.
You see, Tom’s great-great grandfather Toka Kokipapi (Enemy Fears Him) was a survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890, in which 300 unarmed Lakota men, women, and children were killed by the US Army’s 7th Cavalry. With three bullets lodged in his body and the image of gunned-down family members still burning in his mind, Toka Kokipapi fled to a nearby canyon, and lived to pass down the harrowing story to the generations that succeeded him.
And as fate or Spirit would have it, Brad, the new friend who reached out to join us for Friday’s Gathering, is descended from an ancestor who stood on the other side of the cavalry’s Hotchkiss guns on that bitterly cold day in 1890: Colonel James Forsyth.
Pictured above, left: Tom's great-great grandfather, Toka Kokipapi , who survived the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. Above, right: Brad's great-great grandfather, Colonel James Forsyth, commander of the 7th Cavalry during the massacre.
Tom has heard family stories of Wounded Knee since his childhood, and lives each day above the very ground upon which his ancestors were slain. For him, December 29th, 1890 is a living reality. The trauma and discord sown by the massacre continue to underpin daily life in his community on the Pine Ridge Reservation.
Brad has spent years learning about his own familial connection to Wounded Knee. In a spirit of prayer, reconciliation, and truth, he has dedicated himself to the redress of his ancestor’s crimes, and has made great efforts to be in relationship with Lakota tribal members and spiritual leaders.
And so, as these two fated friends came face-to-face on Friday, with so much going on under the surface of their DNA, their hearts, their spirits - reconciliation began to organically take shape.
“It’s among our ancestors now, brother,” Tom said as he softly smiled and clasped Brad’s hand.
“Wašté yelo.” Brad replied, before bringing his new brother into an embrace.
Pictured: Tom and Brad greet one another for the first time at our hub in Lafayette this past Friday.
Later that evening, Brad and Tom continued down the road of reconciliation. There, in the tipi, they shared their stories with one another and with the group gathered before them. Tom passed around pictures of his ancestors who survived the massacre. Brad spoke on the return of items his ancestor’s troops had taken from the site.
Tears flowing. Deep breaths taken. Something heavy but warm in the air around us. Spirit.
Two brothers, one Lakota and one not, held one another with a tenderness and kindness that may never have seemed possible in the days following the 1890 slaughter.
On the prayers uttered and dialogue had, Tom later shared: "Our spirits became alive with one another, made a special prayer for the Tokata Wakanyeja (Future Sacred Children), and reflected on the past with a warm heart - Ihanni wokiksuye canté wašté."
As I continue to reflect on Friday's events, I find myself equally moved by the healing that took place and haunted by the questions: How late is too late? Is it ever too late?
For some, it is. For 300 Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee, it is. For thousands in Palestine and in Israel, it is. But for those who remain, for our humanity, for our shared future, for the inescapable fact that we can and must live together, perhaps it is not too late. And I think, given love, honesty, self-reflection, and no small amount of courage, we will soon find that there is a better way forward - one that we can walk together. I have to believe this is true.
Tom and Brad - kolas (friends, brothers) - proved that to us on Friday night.
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