Tag Archives: sioux

121 Years Ago Today – Repost

SITTING BULL AND DANCING HORSE

Reid Dickie

December 15, 1890

Sitting Bull’s Camp

Grand River, South Dakota

Commotion was his cue, his spur, his trigger. Gunfire, whoops, whistles and yells! Dancing Horse needed no other prompting. He began to perform his repertoire of tricks; the seven Bill Cody taught him and the two he learned by watching other horses. He was a smart horse who learned easily.

Though it was the middle of a cold night and the years had slowed his gait, it all came back to Dancing Horse. As the air filled with noise and bullets whizzed around him, the horse pranced and danced, sat on his haunches and raised his front legs, waving, whinnying and shaking his mane. He cantered in a circle, stopped, backed up and cantered on, a curtsy, a bow and, his finale, a high wild buck accompanied by snorts and a long careening whinny. Then he started again.

The horse was born to the circus. Bill Cody had gelded him himself and taught him tricks. Dancing Horse was the gift Buffalo Bill Cody gave Sitting Bull when Bull retired from the Wild West Show. He’d spent recent years on the quiet prairie with Sitting Bull, far from the cheering crowds.

At the door of Sitting Bull’s log shack, melee built into frenzy. The holy man, now 60 summers old, lay propped half-naked against the doorframe, dying; his blood, loosened by two wounds, soaked into the snow. Sitting Bull’s spirit soared over the scene, its grief brief for the hard and desperate life just lived, now elated by the familiarity of death and the antics of Dancing Horse, moving like a white ghost in the snow below.

Long after the fighting ended, as the prairie filled with mournful keening, Dancing Horse continued to perform, repeating his act over and over. The horse had danced through the mayhem without a single bullet hitting him.

He did not perform for the incredulous and spooked Sioux who stared in awe. Dancing Horse had an audience of one. His old friend Sitting Bull watched long in delight, solely entertained by the horse’s show, then he turned and his spirit embraced The Light.

As the first rays of dawn swept over the frozen land, Dancing Horse collapsed into the snow, exhausted. A little boy dressed in buckskin advanced toward him, extending a handful of sweetgrass.

MESSENGER

Reid Dickie

December 15, 1890

Central Plains

Overhead Orion paused in mid hunt; half a moon lit the prairie snows. The Spirit, its message clear and urgent, rose from the shabby encampment on Grand River, the scene of the crime.

Wearing only paint on his body, riding a horse with arrows and lightning bolts painted on its white flanks, the ghostly Messenger held a human skull on a stick. Half his face was red, half white, his heart was painted with a blue starburst and his body had wavy yellow lines running from foot to throat.

Sailing through the clear cold air the Messenger traveled north over the rolling hills of Standing Rock Reservation to Cannonball River, the end of Hunkpapa land. Every tiny cluster of tipis with warm dreamers inside in the camps of Thunderhawk and John Grass got the news as they slept. Some awoke keening in grief.

The Messenger turned south, crossed over the Grand River in a single bound and headed toward Cheyenne River Reservation, home to the Minneconjou. In his dream, Yellow Bird, the medicine man received the news with a jolt, grabbed his rattle and woke the camp. It was nearing dawn but still dark and cold as Kicking Bear, the high priest of the Ghost Dance, his wife Woodpecker Woman, and all the Minneconjou were informed. Further on, the camps of White Swan, Bear Eagle and Hump were next to be grief stricken. Off the reservation, the camps of Touch the Clouds and Red Shirt received word.

The ghost Messenger leapt the Cheyenne River and flew southwest toward Pine Ridge Reservation. Passing over Bad River, through the eerie Badlands past Castle Butte and a leap over White River got him to Pine Ridge and the camps at the headwaters of White River. Black Elk, the mystical shaman of the tribe, received the news and told the Oglala chiefs Red Cloud and American Horse. Ghost Dance priest Good Thunder immediately began to beat a hide drum and chant.

Spirit Messenger turned eastward just as dawn was blemishing the blackness. A leap over Pass Creek, through coulees and around buttes and Two Strike’s camp was informed; the ghost dancers Short Bull, Mash-The-Kettle and Plenty Horses began to paint their bodies with grieving symbols.

By the time the sun rose, the Great Plains was lit with grief. As far west as Tongue River Reservation in Montana, Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and as far south as the Kiowa Reservation in central Oklahoma – they all knew what had happened. Even the people of Walker River Reservation in western Nevada, home to visionary Wovoka who brought the Ghost Dance to the people, knew.

Except Orion, no one saw the ghostly figure riding the strange awkward horse but they all reported his message with sad accuracy:

“Sitting Bull is dead.”

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North American Tribal Proverbs

MINQUASS PROVERB

“If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies in yourself.”

NAVAJO PROVERB

“There is nothing as eloquent as a rattlesnake’s tail.”

SIOUX PROVERB 

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”

CROW PROVERB 

“One has to face fear or forever run from it.”

HOPI PROVERB

“Work hard, keep the ceremonies, live peaceably and unite your hearts.”

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Sacred Clowns

SACRED CLOWNS

Reid Dickie

             Most cultures possess the essential balancing of the sacred clown whose role is to poke fun at the prideful, clarify cultural boundaries and rules by overstepping them, deflate pomposity, inflate absurdity and say what everyone else is afraid to say. In North American tribal cultures, there is a long tradition of the sacred clown, the extreme version of which is the contrarian whose speech, habits and gestures, in fact, whose very existence, poses the difficult questions about life and its challenges, daring you with laughter and humorous intent to find the answers. True contraries do and say everything in reverse. The contrary in the film Little Big Man demonstrates the actions and role of a heyoka.

The Lakota word heyoka, which translates as clown or opposite, serves as a collective title for these institutionalized forms of contrary behavior of the Plains Indians. The internet has made loose associations of sacred clowns and contraries possible, connecting specialties such as warriors, gays, exhibitionists and inverse speakers. Heyokas stand out at pow wows.

I don’t take pictures at pow wows. Neither of these pictures are of heyokas. I found this elder deep in trance and the young man behind him still looking online.

Five times, between 1995 and 2001, I attended the annual pow wow at Standing Buffalo First Nation in the Qu’Appelle Valley, west of Fort Qu’Appelle, SK. Held in a roofed, open-sided pow wow circle on the flats between Pasqua and Echo Lakes, the event always attracted over 400 dancers in full regalia. In fur and feathers, metal jingles and fringe, belled and beaded leggings, reed breastplates, feather bustles, leather and painted skin, the disparate Sioux Nations from neighbouring provinces and states gathered to celebrate, compete, renew and acknowledge the continuum of their being.

In addition to the dancers, six to eight Sioux drumming and singing groups performed, taking turns around the pow wow circle, singing songs that are hundreds of years old, pounding the heartbeat drum. I would camp in Echo Valley Provincial Park just up the valley from the pow wow and hear the drums and voices waft up the hill into the warm summer night. It was a special condition only Spirit could sustain.

Another of Spirit’s creations at Standing Buffalo Pow Wow was the transcendent moment when the setting sun poured into the circle, flooding the dancers with red light causing their already

Male dancer wearing a fine feather bustle.

flamboyant colourful display to take flight into the surreal for a few minutes before the sun sank below the valley wall. I always felt suspended in spiritual balance as the sun set at one end of the valley and the moon, close to full, rose at the other while pelicans performed aerial tai chi overhead in the twilight.

              I looked back through my travel journals and found the entry about the contrary at Standing Buffalo Pow Wow on August 7, 1998. Here’s what I wrote:

There is something I haven’t seen here before – a contrary, in this case a young man, featherless, wearing robes and shawls not unlike the women’s dress. On the front of his outfit is a long prayer to Great Spirit tooled into leather. He holds an unused drumstick in one hand and a small round unplayed drum in his other hand. He has his registration number upside down on his back. While the dancers all travel in a sunwise direction, he dances very slowly in the opposite direction at the periphery of the circle. A string of black beads across his forehead and over his nose form a kind of raccoon mask. When the dancing stops, he stands apart from everyone. When the Grand Entry is over and he leaves the circle, I introduce myself and ask to read his prayer, a well-known one. He is from Prince

Albert area, his first time at Standing Buffalo and he said his name was Dave. He spoke so softly it was hard to hear him. This is the first expression of open gay sexuality I’ve seen at this pow wow. We talked briefly and Dave says we’ll talk more over the weekend but he’s gone before I am able to say I leave tomorrow. The dancers and various site organizers treat him deferentially; his presence is not just tolerated but welcomed, though without much social contact.”

Along with his sexual statement, there was an element of jester and satirist in Dave’s aura, a subtle campy posturing. Things undone, the drum unbeaten, the disguise to confuse, the prayer of hope worn not spoken, understated but obviously contrary.

Modern day examples of  sacred clowns in the arts must include the Kipper Kids, ceremonial buffoons of the highest order.

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Five North American Tribal Proverbs

UTE PROVERB

“God gives us each a song.”

SIOUX PROVERB

“Speak the truth in humility to all people. Only then can you be a true man.”

KIOWA PROVERB

“Walk lightly in the spring; Mother Earth is pregnant.”

PIMA PROVERB

“The smarter a man is the more he needs Great Spiritod to protect him from thinking he knows everything.”

CHEROKEE PROVERB

“Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

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120 Years Ago Today

SITTING BULL AND DANCING HORSE

 Reid Dickie

 December 15, 1890 

Sitting Bull’s Camp

Grand River, South Dakota 

            Commotion was his cue, his spur, his trigger. Gunfire, whoops, whistles and yells! Dancing Horse needed no other prompting. He began to perform his repertoire of tricks; the seven Bill Cody taught him and the two he learned by watching other horses. He was a smart horse who learned easily.

            Though it was the middle of a cold night and the years had slowed his gait, it all came back to Dancing Horse. As the air filled with noise and bullets whizzed around him, the horse pranced and danced, sat on his haunches and raised his front legs, waving, whinnying and shaking his mane. He cantered in a circle, stopped, backed up and cantered on, a curtsy, a bow and, his finale, a high wild buck accompanied by snorts and a long careening whinny. Then he started again.

            The horse was born to the circus. Bill Cody had gelded him himself and taught him tricks. Dancing Horse was the gift Buffalo Bill Cody gave Sitting Bull when Bull retired from the Wild West Show. He’d spent recent years on the quiet prairie with Sitting Bull, far from the cheering crowds.

            At the door of Sitting Bull’s log shack, melee built into frenzy. The holy man, now 60 summers old, lay propped half-naked against the doorframe, dying; his blood, loosened by two wounds, soaked into the snow. Sitting Bull’s spirit soared over the scene, its grief brief for the hard and desperate life just lived, now elated by the familiarity of death and the antics of Dancing Horse, moving like a white ghost in the snow below.

            Long after the fighting ended, as the prairie filled with mournful keening, Dancing Horse continued to perform, repeating his act over and over. The horse had danced through the mayhem without a single bullet hitting him.

            He did not perform for the incredulous and spooked Sioux who stared in awe. Dancing Horse had an audience of one. His old friend Sitting Bull watched long in delight, solely entertained by the horse’s show, then he turned and his spirit embraced The Light.

            As the first rays of dawn swept over the frozen land, Dancing Horse collapsed into the snow, exhausted. A little boy dressed in buckskin advanced toward him, extending a handful of sweetgrass.

September 6, 2002

 MESSENGER

Reid Dickie

December 15, 1890

Central Plains

                  Overhead Orion paused in mid hunt; half a moon lit the prairie snows. The Spirit, its message clear and urgent, rose from the shabby encampment on Grand River, the scene of the crime.

            Wearing only paint on his body, riding a horse with arrows and lightning bolts painted on its white flanks, the ghostly Messenger held a human skull on a stick. Half his face was red, half white, his heart was painted with a blue starburst and his body had wavy yellow lines running from foot to throat.

            Sailing through the clear cold air the Messenger traveled north over the rolling hills of Standing Rock Reservation to Cannonball River, the end of Hunkpapa land. Every tiny cluster of tipis with warm dreamers inside in the camps of Thunderhawk and John Grass got the news as they slept. Some awoke keening in grief.

            The Messenger turned south, crossed over the Grand River in a single bound and headed toward Cheyenne River Reservation, home to the Minneconjou. In his dream, Yellow Bird, the medicine man received the news with a jolt, grabbed his rattle and woke the camp. It was nearing dawn but still dark and cold as Kicking Bear, the high priest of the Ghost Dance, his wife Woodpecker Woman, and all the Minneconjou were informed.  Further on, the camps of White Swan, Bear Eagle and Hump were next to be grief stricken. Off the reservation, the camps of Touch the Clouds and Red Shirt received word.

            The ghost Messenger leapt the Cheyenne River and flew southwest toward Pine Ridge Reservation. Passing over Bad River, through the eerie Badlands past Castle Butte and a leap over White River got him to Pine Ridge and the camps at the headwaters of White River. Black Elk, the mystical shaman of the tribe, received the news and told the Oglala chiefs Red Cloud and American Horse. Ghost Dance priest Good Thunder immediately began to beat a hide drum and chant.

             Spirit Messenger turned eastward just as dawn was blemishing the blackness. A leap over Pass Creek, through coulees and around buttes and Two Strike’s camp was informed; the ghost dancers Short Bull, Mash-The-Kettle and Plenty Horses began to paint their bodies with grieving symbols.

            By the time the sun rose, the Great Plains was lit with grief. As far west as Tongue River Reservation in Montana, Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and as far south as the Kiowa Reservation in central Oklahoma – they all knew what had happened. Even the people of Walker River Reservation in western Nevada, home to visionary Wovoka who brought the Ghost Dance to the people, knew.

            Except Orion, no one saw the ghostly figure riding the strange awkward horse but they all reported his message with sad accuracy:

“Sitting Bull is dead.”

 September 9/02

 

 

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