- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
"Look at things not with the eyes in your face but with the eyes in your heart."
—Leonard Crow Dog
I am Crow Dog. I am the fourth of that name. Crow Dogs have played a big part in the history of our tribe and in the history of all the Indian nations of the Great Plains during the last two hundred years. We are still making history. I am talking this book because I don't read or write. I never went to school—where they try to make Lakota children into whites, where it takes them eight years to teach you to spell cat. Talking and listening, not writing, that's in our tradition. Telling stories sitting around a fire or potbelly stove during the long winter nights, that's our way. I speak English as it forms up in my mind. It's not the kind of English they teach you in school; we don't use five-dollar words. I always think up the story in my mind in my own language. Then I try to put it into English. Our Lakota language is sacred to me. Even now, as I am talking, our language is getting lost among some of us. You can kill a language. The white missionaries and teachers in their schools committed language genocide. We are trying to bring our old language back. Trying to purify it. So now I'm telling my own story in my own way—starting at the beginning.
It's a medicine story. White historians say that we came over from Asia, when ice covered the Bering Strait so that one could walk over it. We don't believe this, not only us Lakotas, but nearly all the Native Americans on this turtle continent. If there was any crossing of people on the Arctic ice it was the other way around, from Alaska toAsia. We were always here; we came from this earth. We were put here for a purpose, by Wakan Tanka, the Creator. We were put here in the center of the world, and at the center of these United States. Look at a map. Rosebud, our reservation, is smack in the middle. My story is a spiritual winter count of our people.
It was Ptesan Win, the sacred White Buffalo Woman, who made our people holy and taught them how to live. She was the spirit of waonshila, mercifulness. She was grace. She was beauty. When she appeared, the people were starving. There was no game and nothing to eat. The chiefs sent out two young hunters to look for game. But these scouts found nothing. They saw neither buffalo nor deer. Then the winyan wakan, the woman sacredness, appeared to them in the morning. Ptesan Win came out of a cloud. The cloud turned into a hill. Ptesan Win walked the hill in the shape of a white buffalo calf who turned itself into a beautiful maiden dressed in white buckskin. In her hands she carried sage and her great gift to our people, chanunpa, the sacred pipe. Four days before she appeared, the hunters had foreseen her coming in a dream.
The sacred woman spoke to these two young men: "Go back to your people. Tell them to get ready to receive me, to prepare the sacred tipi. Prepare the sacred sweat lodge. Do all these things. You already have the fire, peta owihankeshni, the fire without end. Light this fire for me. Igluha. Act well. Perform all I told you. In four days I will come to your camp."
The young men treated Ptesan Win with awe and respect. They honored her. They went back to their village without meat, but bringing with them spiritual food. Their nourishment was the wind, and it filled up the people's bellies as if they had eaten buffalo hump. And the hunters told their chiefs, who ordered everything prepared for Ptesan Win's coming. The people at that time were not what they became. The men knew a little about hunting. They had stone axes and wooden spears whose sharpened points were hardened in fire. They hunted the mammoth and other animals that have long since died out. They killed mammoths and buffalo by chasing them with burning branches over high cliffs to fall to their deaths. The women gathered wild fruits. The people's language was still rude. They did not know how to pray. They did not even know that there was a Tunkashila, a Grandfather Spirit, the Creator.
At daybreak, just as the sun rose, the sacred woman arrived at the camp, as she had promised the two young scouts. She wore her hair loose, on the right and tied with buffalo hair on the left. She was carrying the sacred pipe, carrying the stem in her left hand and the bowl in her right. As she approached she was singing her song:
Niya taninyanWith visible breath
mawinayeI am walking.
oyate leToward this nation
imawani.I am walking.
Her voice was sweet, and the men, women, and children who had assembled to greet and honor her saw that she was beautiful beyond words. Besides the chanunpa, she carried a sacred stone into which seven circles had been carved. These circles represented the seven sacred rituals of the Lakota nation. She brought with her chanshasha, red willow bark tobacco. The chief led her inside the sacred lodge, where sage had been spread to sit on at the place of honor. The chief's name was Tatanka Woslal Nazin, or Buffalo Standing Upward.
Ptesan Win told the people that she had been sent by the Buffalo Nation to instruct them in the ways of Wakan Tanka, the Creator, whom she also called Tunkashila, the Grandfather Spirit. She taught them how to use the sacred pipe and how to pray with it. She taught them the sacred songs. She taught them how to perform the seven great ceremonies. She instructed them how to make offerings to Wakan Tanka. She told the men to protect and nourish their women and children, to be kind to them and to share their wives' sorrows. She told the women that without them there would be no life. She taught them the manner in which to bear children, how to do quillwork, and to stay away from men and sacred things during their moon time. She taught the people how to live like human beings, how to put things together, and to understand Tunkashila's holy ways. She made the Lakota into the people of the sacred pipe. After she had done all this, the woman took leave of the people, promising to return after four years. As she walked away, the people saw her turning into a ptesan ska win, a white buffalo calf, and also into a tahca win, a deer woman, and a hehaka win, an elk woman. They also say that she turned herself into buffalo of four different colors—black, dark brown, light yellow-brown, and, finally, white—as she disappeared into the clouds. The Creator had given her the power to carry the pipe to the Lakota people. She was a woman sacredness, a spirit of the spirit. When the descendants of Chief Tatanka Woslal Nazin had died out, the pipe was passed on to Chief Hehaka Pa, Chief Elk Head. The Elk Heads were the pipe's keepers for generations. After that the pipe passed to the Looking Horse family at Eagle Butte, on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota. The present keeper is Arval Looking Horse. The sacred pipe is made from a buffalo calf's leg bone. Age has made it so brittle that it can no longer be smoked, but when you touch it, power flows into you like an electric current. The power is so strong that you burst into tears.
Now here is something that has never been told. The way they tell the story of Ptesan Win today, when this sacred woman appeared to the two young hunters one of them had impure thoughts and stretched out his hands to touch her, to possess her body. Lightning struck him and burned him up until only a little heap of bones and ashes was left. But this is not true. Both young men were respectful of Ptesan Win. Nobody was burned up. This untrue story was made up a hundred years ago by missionaries who always tried to make our beliefs look savage and nasty. When they put the story into books, everybody started to repeat it this way. That's one kind of religious genocide.
I think there must be a reason why Ptesan Win came to the center, to our people, to the spirit of this continent. After her, the nation split up into seven tribes, the Oceti Shakowin, the Seven Council Fires: the Sichangu or Brul‚, also known as the Burned Thighs, that's my own tribe; then the Oglala, the Scattered Ones; the Hunkpapa, Sitting Bull's people; the Mnikowoju, the Planters Beside the Water; the Itazipcho, the Without Bows; the Oohenunpa, the Two Kettles; and finally, the Sihaspa, the Blackfeet (who are not the same as the Blackfeet of Montana, who are not Sioux). So these are the seven western Lakota tribes, the Tetonwan. Sioux is a word that's part French and part Ojibway, a white man's word for us. We are Lakota. We full-bloods also call ourselves the ikche wichasha—the wild, natural human beings.
My father told me that after Ptesan Win came four chiefs—a medicine man, a man of knowledge, a warrior, and a hunter. They dwelled together in the Black Hills. The White Buffalo Woman had taught the people sacredness. The four chiefs taught the people how to survive, how to live in this world, when to sleep and when to get up, how to make bows and arrowheads, and the different ways to make a fire. They taught them their language.