Village Earth

Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Hosts Children’s Camps on Pine Ridge


The most natural place for a young Lakota boy to be – on the back of the Sunka Wakan (horse)!

By Ethleen Iron Cloud The summer has been extremely busy with two cultural spiritual camps that were held in June and July and a children’s cultural camp that was held in July also. Two young men went through the Wicasa Ihuni (Becoming a Man) ceremony at the first part of June. The purpose of the ceremony is for the young men to receive traditional teachings on becoming a man and more specifically, becoming a Lakota man. The young men go through four consecutive nights of Inipi (purification lodge ceremony) with other men who provide teachings, guidance and assist with the preparation for the buffalo hunt they do on the fifth day. During the preparation period, they are asked to make relatives with the spirit of the buffalo they are going to kill so that there will be a spiritual bond between them. The buffalo provides nourishment; sustenance and spiritual teachings for the young man to emulate and these teachings are intended to provide a path for the young man. For example, the Pte Oyate (buffalo nation0 protect their young by placing them in the middle of the herd when danger is imminent. Likewise, the young man is taught that when he has children, he must protect them at all costs. This is a very important teaching given contemporary times and situations where the father is absent is too common.

Covering the Arbor with pine boughs, a neighbor donated the pine boughs from his arbor, so we didn’t have to cut or kill any more trees! The arbor is where some activities took place and where the naming ceremony for the children took place.

The children’s camp was a great success! There were 22 children and their parent/guardians for a total of 45 people participating in the camp on July 17-20, 2012. The children’s camp focused on the ages of 7-10 and those who experienced grief, trauma and major loss. 19 of the children experienced the “wopakinte” (spiritual purification) by Elders, the intent of the ceremony is to provide an opportunity for the children‘s spirit to be wiped with sage which represents medicine for the spiritual wound they carry from the trauma, grief and loss they experienced. The Lakota belief is that only sage and eagle feathers can wipe away the spiritual residue left from the trauma; in this case sage was used. 9 children received a Lakota spirit name which is an important milestone in their lives as the Lakota people believe that the Lakota spiritual name anchors one more solidly to the earth and strengthens the cultural and personal identity. Another healing activity for them was the horseback riding provided by Bamm Brewer who did an excellent presentation and was very patient and kind while teaching the children who did not know how to ride. It was extremely hot during the camp, the temperature exceeded 100 degrees every day. Thankfully, there was a swimming pool for the children and one day Dr. Mark Butterbrodt treated them to the water slides in Rapid City. This camp would not have been possible without the prayers and hard work by all the volunteers as well as the people who donated to this camp. Lila Wopila Tanka (thank you very much)!! The children and their parent/guardian wrote such beautiful words about the camp and that they hope there will be another; one little girl said she had prayed for a camp where “ we sleep in tipis, where everyone loved each other, where we had good food , ride horses and where we went swimming and my prayers were answered”. She seemed amazed that her prayers were answered; her mother commented that the camp was a blessing for her family. It is hoped that we can offer another opportunity like this; we received a request from a neighboring Tribe to have a similar camp for their community. Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to offer such a camp on a regular basis. The ideal situation would be to offer a camp like this on a quarterly basis so that the children can stay connected to an important resource. With the suicide attempts and completions among our young people (there were 2 completed suicides of young men, both age 22 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the first two weeks of August!); a regular and ongoing camp would be an important suicide prevention resource.

Setting up the tipis. Each tipi pole represents a Lakota value or virtue and the cover represents the womb of our mother.

One of the Tipis that the campers stayed in. Ti Ikciye is the proper Lakota term for tipi

The adults participating in the camp also benefited, they participated in Talking Circles, participated in the Inipi (purification lodge) ceremony with their children and had Dr. Larry Burke share his Emotional Freedom Tapping (EFT) approach with them as a response to depression, diabetes management and obesity prevention/intervention. Hmuya Mani (Richard Two Dogs), Lakota Traditional Healer, provided immeasurable help not only in conducting the spiritual ceremonies for the children but he and Tony Bush, a local Porcupine community member and Vietnam Veteran made sure the arbor was covered with pine boughs. Gene Kolaczkowski, Psychotherapist from Gunderson Lutheran in Wisconsin provided great therapeutic activities for the children and Dr. Elizabeth Warson from George Washington University brought some Art students and did art therapy with the children. The volunteers were exceptional – Gina Good Crow, Susan Hawk, Savannah Jensen, Tamara Red Owl, Johnnie Big Crow, Dawn Frank, Jolene Martin, Wilma Kills In Water, Bev Tuttle, Mary Iron Cloud, Santee Baird, Chris Valandra, Brice Valandra, Elder Isaac Last Horse, Stella Iron Cloud, Laura Wilcox, Cindy Giago, Forrest Calhoun, Eugene Giago Jr., Bamm Brewer, Mark Butterbrodt, Yamni Frank, Ed Iron Cloud, Eileen Iron Cloud, Ramona White Plume, Tilda Long Soldier , Elizabeth, the Art Students, Uma, Peter, Gene, Larry and the ladies and gentleman from Gunderson Lutheran who helped with the sewing of the Inipi dresses for the little girls – all truly amazing in their caring and hard work!. I hope I did not forget anyone! All in all, it was a great experience for many; this quote from one of the volunteers says it all:

I will never forget this experience. All of the children were/are so special and unique in their own little way. I saw them experience unconditional love from family, Grandparents, Aunties, Uncles and Community Members. I also saw that for the children whom did not have a sense of identity, they left with a stronger sense of self and who and where they come from.”  

 Future Events We hope to start the fencing of the additional pasture so that the buffalo will have more land to graze and roam; and so that the current pasture does not get overgrazed. We hope to be working with Wild Idea Buffalo and their affiliates on this project. 7-8 miles need to be fenced and it will take about a mile a week to complete so the entire project should take about 7-8 weeks. We are also planning an Ista mni Wicakici Pakinta Pi (Wiping of Tears) ceremony for the Porcupine community on Saturday, September 1, 2012. There have been many deaths in the community over the past year and this ceremony is a way to acknowledge the loss, provide comfort through prayer, song, words of encouragement and food. The Lakota belief is that this signifies a way to strengthen fellow community members as they adjust to the absence of their loved one but does not mean it is the end of the mourning period or grieving. Traditionally, Lakota people have a dinner and giveaway upon the one year anniversary of their loved one’s passing. The Wiping of Tears ceremony is the Lakota way of saying “we know you are hurting, here are some encouraging words, food and prayers to help you on your journey without your loved one here on earth”. Closing Wopila (thank you) to all the people who have contributed to Knife Chief Buffalo Nation Organization, your generosity is most appreciated and have made it possible to continue with our work!

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