06 February 2010
What is Sacred?
Sweat Lodge Leader Is Indicted in Deaths
Having travelled throughout the Southwest for the last 17 years, visiting Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, I have come to love and respect the wisdom and strength of the Native American People.
I feel honored to have walked through such sacred places as Canyon de Chelly, the Hopi Reservation, Chaco Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Mesa Verde and 3 of the 19 pueblos of New Mexico -Acoma,Nambe and Taos. With each visit and in each place it is possible to see and experience the distinct culture and the spirit of the people who walked the land centuries before us. So it was heartbreaking for me to hear of the tragedy that occurred in Arizona regarding the loss of life during a so-called sweat lodge ceremony in October 2009.
I had just returned from Arizona in September. It had been ten years since my last visit and it was Mr. Jackson's first. As we travelled north from Phoenix to Sedona and on to the Grand Canyon, what struck me was the expanse of the land and the wildness that still existed despite all of the development that had gone on in the last ten years. The struggle to maintain a balance between modern world and to retain the culture of the native peoples of the land is evident and is a common story throughout the Southwest. The agrarian way of life has been all but lost, the language and the culture is for the most part unwritten and left to the telling of stories, handed down from one generation to the next. For this reason, I find the native lands of Arizona, Utah and Colorado while beautiful also sad because the voice, the culture of so many people has been lost or forgotten. New Mexico perhaps because of its 19 pueblos and the co-existence of Spanish, Hispanic and Anglo cultures has a special place for me because the cultures all exist, not necessarily without conflict, so I can hear and feel the heart beat of the people.
I was sent the following statement from Chief Arvol Looking Horse by my friend Mercedes in October and it has sat in my inbox since until I could find the right words:
"As Keeper of our Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, I am concerned for the 2 deaths and illnesses of the many people that participated in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona that brought our sacred rite under fire in the news. I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others, are not our ceremonial way of life, because of the way they are being conducted. My prayers go out for their families and loved ones for their loss.
Our ceremonies are about life and healing, from the time this ancient ceremonial rite was given to our people, never has death been a part of our inikag’a (life within) when conducted properly. Today the rite is interpreted as a sweat lodge, it is much more then that. So the term does not fit our real meaning of purification.
Inikag’a is the oldest ceremony brought to us by Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit).
19 generations ago, the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Oyate (people), were given seven sacred rites of healing by a Spirit Woman Pte San Win (White Buffalo Calf Woman). She brought these rites along with our sacred C’anupa (pipe) to our People, when our ancestors were suffering from a difficult time. It was also brought for the future to help us for much more difficult times to come. They were brought to help us stay connected to who we are as a traditional cultural People. The values of conduct are very strict in any of these ceremonies, because we work with spirit. The way the Creator, Wakan Tanka told us; that if we stay humble and sincere, we will keep that connection with the inyan oyate (the stone people), who we call the Grandfathers, to be able to heal our selves and loved ones. We have a gift of prayer and healing and have to stay humble with our Unc’i Maka (Grandmother Earth) and with one another. The inikag¹a is used in all of the seven sacred rites to prepare and finish the ceremonies, along with the sacred eagle feather. The feather represents the sacred knowledge of our ancestors..." The entire statement continues here.
The following video speaks of the need to retain and protect that which is sacred to each Native American culture.
"Namah’u yo (hear my words)"
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle.