The leader of the Lakota Dakota Nakota Oyate, the great Sioux nation, is a man with a vision. Chief Arvol Looking Horse sees a great danger threatening "Grandmother Earth" and a great hope for restoring her wholeness. So he is calling all nations to prayer of any kind on June 21 in an effort to return the planet to balance, the people to spirit. I asked him why this path is the right path to take.
"A man or a woman without spirit is very dangerous," Looking Horse explained in a recent phone interview. According to this Sioux chief, the absence of spirit is causing suffering everywhere. "We are in a time of survival," he said. "But we don't want to believe it because we have forgotten our spirits. We have forgotten that Grandmother Earth has a spirit." Disconnected souls, according to Looking Horse, are "hurting others without even knowing they are hurting others." Those being hurt include animals, trees and waterways.
The Sioux have an inclusive worldview, but it was not shared by the transplanted Europeans who undertook genocide on Indian land, culminating in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890. That final brutality broke the "hoop" binding Indians together; however, Sioux prophecy foretold that in a hundred years the people would be reunited.
Although surviving tribe members and their descendants were stripped of religious freedoms (returned to them only 32 year ago by the U.S. government), the rituals were kept and the prophecy not forgotten. So the Sioux nations set out on horseback to "mend the broken hoop" of their nation in 1986 at a sacred site known to non-Indians (and Close Encounters of the Third Kind fans) as Devils Tower or the Great Horn Butte; their ritual went on for four years and concluded in 1990, 100 years after Wounded Knee.
During the course of that long ritual, Looking Horse was surprised by a vision that came to him of peace and unity that included not only the Indian nations but all the nations of the world, each gathering with ritual plants around sacred fires on every continent. The Sioux chief felt called to oversee a much broader mending. But who was going to listen even to the chief of a people largely ignored in the country where they lived?
"We had to leave our homeland to be a voice in the world," said Looking Horse. "We are up against a lot of violence and anger and hatred. We need to go back to our sacred places and pray about this. In every generation, there are changes. But our way of life, our ceremonies, our prayers don't change. Our sacred sites don't change.
"When the first non-Indian came to this land, our people said, 'What shall we call this man?' and they called him Wasicu," he continued. "It means 'takes fat,' which we know today means the white brothers are taking fat off Mother Earth. Long ago, when the first nations lived on Turtle Island, through our prayers and ceremonies, we maintained harmony and peace, a way of life where there's no ending, no beginning.
"It's everyday life for us that we hold Grandmother Earth sacred, we hold the trees and the plants, everything has a spirit. We need people to be really respectful for each other. The Great Spirit put us here all together. If we're going to survive, we need to have spirit and compassion. On June 21 we're asking people to go to their sacred places or sacred spaces to pray."
Looking Horse seems surprised to be a global spokesperson for the environment. "It seems like it was just yesterday when a woman had no voice in this country, when our people were fighting for their rights," he said. "Just a hundred years ago, our people were in concentration camps called reservations. Our ceremonies were outlawed, and we were put in boarding schools. I never thought I would have the opportunity to go to the White House. Now today, people all over the world are listening to us."
And here's the message. "On June 21," said Looking Horse, "shut off the electricity and let's pray."
To learn more about Chief Arvol Looking Horse, go to www.wolakota.org.