The Voices, They Come

They began arriving in August 2017. One and two at a time they came. The choir grew day by day, led by Pihtokahanapiwiyin, Kamiokisihkwew, Shingwauk, Keeseekoowenin, and Isapo-Muxika. And still, they come. Day by day.

Horse Lake, Beaver, Bush, Yellowknife, Salt River, Birch Narrows, Black Lake, Sunshield, Paul Band, Maskwacis, Ermineskin, Louis Bull, Sampson, Montana, Pigeon Lake, Cold Lake, Saddle Lake, Frog and Onion Lakes, Makwa Sahgaiencan, Little Pine, Sweetgrass, Muskeg Lake, Muskeday, One Arrow, James Smith, Day Star, Yellow Quill, Kankewistaha, Pheasant Rump, Sandy lake, McDowell Lake, Lac Seul, Eagle Lake, Attawapiskat,  Garden River, Missanabie, Bear River, and Benoit.

Scuggs, Rama, Bedusoleil, Serpent River, Tetoten, Kwikevtlem, Semiahmoo, Alexis, Chipewyan, Big Stone, Kainai, Blue Quills, Amber River, Busche River, Driftpile, Pigeon Lake, Heart Lake, Horse Lake, and Devil’s Gate.

Big Horn, Stoney, Sturgeon, Stonechild and Sunchild. Swan River, Beaver Ranch, Tsuu T’ina.

They travel far. Their hearts are carried on the leaves of the aspens, wings of eagles, and the songs of sisters. That missed drum beat? Borrowed for this journey.

Osoyoos , Okanagan, Tsinstikeptum, People of the Knife, People of the Sand, People of the Lake, People of the Sun. Sweetgrass, Fond du Lac, Pelican Narrows.  Aamjiwnaang, Kettle and Stoney Point, Chippewa, Oneida and Delaware of the Thames.

From Attawapiskat, Aroland, Bearskin, Beaverhouse, Brunswick, Cat Lake, Constance Lake, Deer Lake, Eabametoong, Flying Post, Forts Severn and Albany, Ginoogaming, Kasabonika, Kashechewan, Keewayin, Koocheching, Lac Seul, Long Lake, Martin Falls, Matachewan, Mattagami, Mishkeegogamang, they come.

Cowesses, Piapot, Peepeekisis, Kahkewistahaw, Daystar, Carry the Kettle. White Bear, Standing Buffalo, Nekaneet.  Birdtail, Bloodvein and Brokenhead.

Missanabie, Mocreebec, Muskrat Dam, Neskataga, Nibinamick, North Caribou and North Spirit Lake, Pikangikum, Poplar Hill, Wahgoshig, Wapekeka, Wawakapewin, Weenusk, Whitewater Lake, and Wunnumin Lake.

They are brought by rivers and prayers on the wind and are threaded into this unfolding by all the forces of creation. Tarahumara, Purépecha, Tepeherán, Otomi, Guarijo. Barkindji, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngyiampaa breathe their soul-sounds through drum and didgeridoo. Murrawarri, Anangu, Palawa and Yolngu and Bininj sing together, a chorus crying “Freedom!”

There are hundreds more. They come; flag by flag, soul by soul.

They sing for home, they sing for tribe, they sing for love not spoken and deep sorrow.

Silenced no more, they will be heard.

We live and move and breathe as one.

For them. For freedom.

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Those Who Tell Too Much; Ancestors and Missing, Murdered Women and Children

artist: R Blackwater

In the introduction to this series on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Children, I mentioned that this unfolding of the Fuckery and I

 requires discussion of history and the repercussion arisen out of it, trauma experienced and held by peoples and the natural world, realities of misogyny, sexuality, institutionalized racism, the reemergence of what I call ‘the medicine way’ and where all those things converge in our current era.

I think the thing that frightens people the most is the reemergence of the ‘medicine way’. It means recognizing that beliefs and ways of the world are more than theoretical or ceremonial, beyond the scope of encultured ‘sacred space’, and are neither ours nor out there. It creates an inescapable ‘in your face’ expression of truth that makes beliefs true or untrue, redefines things of spirit held as personal or tribal into universal, and cuts the commodified crap connected to the aforementioned in a breath. It means that death isn’t what we’ve thought it is, that everyone really is connected beyond super-simplified popsychospiritmeme-ified oneness. It means we have responsibilities beyond what we’ve presumed revealed within sweat lodges, by the one-liners of protest signs and attention-grabbing headlines. It means prophecy can be true, cosmologies can crumble, and we really may not who or how (or why) we think we are.

It frightens lawmen, lawyers, politicians, medicine men, journalists, folks who once called me friend, and those who operate the Fuckery. It’s why a tribal historical preservation officer nearly scorched his shorts when I asked about an eagle.  Because it can’t be true but what if it is.  If it is, we have to kill her. If it’s not we have to see who is really giving her all this information, then kill her.

I was once asked by one of the more lazy cops I’ve ever met, “So, is it like talking to God?” when I went to talk to him about Jermaine Charlo. His syrupy derision was no different than the “Why are my ancestors coming to you?”  Sadly, I’m not one skilled with witty repartee and it didn’t occur to me until much later to say, “No, conversations with God are much more direct.”  They are but for all the church-going, Bible shaking, and God-loving, to tell people there are active conversations with God is a nullifying as explaining those with Ancestors.

Whether those who would like to put an additional hole in my head (or anyone else) believe this or not, these are those who ‘tell Ingrid way too much’

They are Coushatta, Cree, Muscogee, Maidu, Diné, Dene.

They are Lakota, Dakota, Comanche, Choctaw, and Apache.

They are Kickapoo, Meskwaki, Mi’maq, Tongva, and Gros Ventre.

They are Ojib, Ohkay Owingeh, Mewuk, Osage, Missouria, Potowatami, Quapaw, Quinault.

They are Rappahannock, Paiute, Pascato, Seminole, Shawnee and Chickahominey.

They are Sappony, Seneca, Waccamaw, Natchez, Niitsitapi, Cherokee, Mohawk, and Miccosuckee.

Onandagan, Cheyenne, Crow, Unitah, Calusa, Colusa, Appalachee.

Fox, Saux, Winnebago, Miami, Illini, Ioway and Omaha.

Arapaho, Otoe, Kiowa, Caddo, Coahuiltecan, Kutenai, and Pend d’Oreilles.

Nakoda, Yurok, Chumash, Yokuts and Yana.

Nahuatl, Mixtec, Mayo, Massai, and Huichol, O’odham and Tepehuan.

Guaraní, Cocopah, Dogon, Delaware, Sara, Salish, Tatar, Bua and Bantu.

Samí, Bedu, Yoruba, Ibibio, Damara, Pueblan. Altai, Mapuche and Quechua.

Abenaki, Mohigan, Wawenock, Acholi, Madu, Evenki.

Salish, Kumeyaay, Ohlone, Pomo, Skykomish, Yakama.

And more.

The sand speaks, clouds halt, rain and stag protect, horses signal, ground and eagles pull, bees direct, water leads, raven weaves with spider, snake and worm connect threads where others can’t go. Wings whisper, trunks kiss my face, Nagas sing, devas dance. Creation twins create anew.

They know. They see.

Hundreds more who trust me with their living kin whose prayers they have heard, whose cries for freedom they echo across the universe and pound through my dreams– insistent, repetitive beats of love. They give me medical advice, tell me when to run and when to be still, wait. They tell me to ‘stop with the questions’, ‘sit down and shut up’, ‘Speak, child. Speak.”

They ride the wind, thunder through clouds, beat my heart, sing my soul, cry my tears, soothe and sear my skin. They guide, they tattle on the twisted medicine men, they show the limbless torsos.

And we live and breathe and move as one.

The Road to Sun Dance

Walking with the Sioux, Part I

As far as I know, my journey with First Nations peoples began when Chief Running Rabbit, a Siksika Blackfoot, visited me in May 2008 in my first vision. His disembodied head appeared in my driver’s side window during a time where what I needed was to feel safe. His presence, after a brief ‘have I lost my mind’ internal conversation, assured me that someone had my back, that I was protected. Oddly enough, I was on my way to my mental health therapist when I’d hopped into the car. When I asked her to tell me if I was going nuts and seeing things, she replied to me with a question: “Do you think you think you are?” When I said no, she just nodded with that knowing that spoke volumes I didn’t yet understand.

I didn’t know the man in the window at the time. I only knew what he meant to me–that I’d be okay. I wasn’t aware of who he was until January 12, 2014, when on old Ojibwa-Cree entered my world. Pat Kennedy, invisible man of medicine & music & mischief, sat down on a hotel room bed with me while I was in a remote session with a third party here in Helena. And, in that moment, my world changed. While I was researching who he was, I found my Old Protector; big as day, clear as light, hat and all, there he was.

It was Pat, though, who began flooding me with information the night before about a specific piece of land, a specific people, and massacre of the same. And the expectation to do something about it, knowing that I didn’t need any more direction other than ‘go there. now.’ Not that I, well, knew it in the moment.

And, I did. Go and know.

That began a two-year odyssey of on-the-road living. Those spirit-led travels have led me to people and places and experiences that I never could have fathomed and, truth be told, still don’t. They have also led me to trust the direction I’m given by Old Ones so when an Old Missouria-Choctaw showed up in my world (although he had to go to someone else to get my attention) at the end of April, I sat up and took note. James Eaglefeather showed up as I was connecting to another James, a breathing alikchi (medicine man) in Mississippi Choctaw country, and without knowing if they were kin or not, I left Helena for the Choctaw Nation in Philadelphia, MS.

I found James Johnson, that alikchi, in two conversations; the first noted here, and the second, a not-quite-accidental meeting with his daughter. After he found the note I left on his door, he came to visit at the hotel,  and  during our conversation we scheduled a sweat lodge for two nights later. And, between our meetings I followed through with the knowing that Mr. Johnson was not accidentally located less than twenty minutes from my estranged father’s home. And met Mr. Eaglefeather in the flesh, although I didn’t know it.

Blessedly, Mississippi hadn’t hit it’s summer-humid stride by the end of June because the opportunity to move from the holy into hellfire would have been filed under ‘oh hell, no’. During the sweat and through Mr. Johnson, Mr. Eaglefeather formally introduced himself. He let it be known clearly that his job was to be my Go-fer, my man-Friday, and he was damn good at his job so I’d better use him well and often. He also said, “She can see me in the daytime but doesn’t know it yet” and, the kicker, “You need to be prepared to for a Sun Dance”. He didn’t say which Sun Dance or where this Sun Dance might be but this missive came twelve hours after a Cree bundle had the same thing to say.

As the 700 miles between Philadelphia, MS and Blanco, TX, later unfolded before me, I  was filled with flummoxedness. I’d added a new feather to my visor, a new person in my invisible entourage, and direction to get to an unknown place at an unknown time.

Skill at deduction, a trusted reliance on intuition as well as Google and a few well-timed visions began bringing pieces of information together, however. I mentally retraced my steps from Helena and revisited my interaction with Daniel, a youngster I met at the Wounded Knee memorial. I hadn’t planned on stopping there. I had no desire to get caught up with a bunch of tourists or folks wanting to sell something to me with what little money I had. I gassed up at Pine Ridge and made a beeline eastward. Until my car turned itself around. Now, I know it was my hands on the steering wheel, however, I didn’t actually turn Tater around after I’d passed the exit for Wounded Knee. So there I went, shaking my head and wondering what the hell I was getting into.

There weren’t any tourists. The few folks there were trying to sell their wares or ask for donations to a number of causes; their own or of the community. The wind was brisk and biting. And I sat. I said no to a couple of people and I sat some more, listening to wind and observing the cemetery on the hilltop. The massacre at Wounded Knee didn’t actually occur there but the what’s left of the bodies are there. More than just a cemetery and commemoration of collective death, the space symbolizes for me something distinct that I’ve felt in other places but that’s for another time.

There was another knock at my window and a youngster was seeking funds to help support a local youth drumming group. He noticed my Virginia license plates and asked how I’d made it to South Dakota via Virginia and so I told him the story and then, said, “You’re why I’m here.” He asked, “So, you can heal my heart?” I said yes. And, so, in the biting bluster, I got out of the car and put my hands around this young man’s heart and said, “Why are your insides jumping around? Can you feel it?”  “Yes, my spirit is dancing.” “Why have you separated yourself from it?”  He openly shared his heart  and we merged the two of them again.  As we wrapped up, I sent him in the direction of his uncle and knew, at some point, I’d be back to find him.

Three weeks later it became clear that I was headed back to South Dakota but not to meet Daniel again.. I’d done my bit of googling to learn what a Sun Dance was, how they came to be and why on earth this white girl was doing being led–or shoved–in the direction of one. Mr. Johnson had mentioned one he’d been to in the past in Kyle, SD, although he claimed to have not remembered that conversation and I knew when that one was scheduled. I also knew of another one but the only thing clear until two days before I was to get on the road was I was going to somewhere in South Dakota.

While in Texas, nuggets of information flowed in random deliveries. Old ladies of the ether began bringing me Buffalo hides and other gifts, including language carved in stone, to prepare me for the journey. A second eagle feather appeared on the bed next to me one morning and a dream vision included an envelope with a name and address in Kyle, South Dakota, on it. I could only remember her name and the interwebz provided confirmation of her real-life existence but a phone number that wasn’t. I headed my way back into Sioux country, with enough knowing to go find a lady whose name appeared to me in a dream.

Two days and 1100 miles later I landed in Kyle, SD. I smelled bad, hurt all over and couldn’t find a vacancy so prepared to sleep in the car again by the local store’s dumpsters, staring at the moon, listening to the occasional bottle rocket and wondering in which way I would turn onto the highway the next morning to find the lady whose phone number I didn’t have but whose name I did. While I wondered, I watched a pack of gods being corralled (and spoiled)  by a couple of old ladies (of the breathing persuasion) sharing their dinner with them.

I got out of the car, walked over, introduced myself and asked if they knew the Envelope Lady, shared her old phone number, and mentioned I was looking for a Sun Dance but wasn’t sure which one. “Oh, she lives right over there? Here’s her new phone number. By the way, her family’s Sun Dance was over today so that’s not the one you’re going to.”  I shook my head at my luck, their hands in gratitude and crawled back into my car to settle in for the night.

After sharing breakfast with some kids from the local store, a phone call with the granddaughter of the woman I was looking for (who, by then, I recognized as being dead), I found my way to where I needed to be. I drove into a camp of strangers, essentially crashing a family reunion, saved by a brother who said, “Who are you and why are you here?”  When his response was met with my, “I’m Ingrid Oliphant and all I can tell you is that I was sent here,”  without blinking an eye, he said, “Well, welcome! I think you need to see my brother.”

Another brother and the full story of guides and gifts later, I was settled in for the long haul. I still didn’t know why I was there but was grateful to have made it, even if it meant sleeping in the car another five nights in a row.

I was blessed to know that the Sun Dance leader understood and recognized my “I just need to be still” and in things as they unfolded. For me, that meant secluding myself in the midst of a gathering. I was left me alone to pay attention to all that was going on in the physical and etheric realm and be available to their merging within me. When I needed a break in the seriousness and somber, kids would show up to make me laugh.

For two days, I danced with the songs and drum in support of dancers I did not know and family I felt no connection to. And while dancing, I wondered why I still didn’t have clarity about my participation. I also wondered why the songs weren’t coming to me. They usually do. In languages I don’t know, songs burble from my being during ceremony.  Here though, nothing. I stomped my feet, I talked to the tree, and let the wind wind whisper but nothing came.

Until it did. All of those Old Ladies I didn’t know, those who had appeared before me with gifts and guidance, had brought me there so they and other kin could actively participate with the dancers who had prayed for them to come. And, with that knowing, trust and responsibility, I opened myself into being the vessel for those who wanted to breathe the air & dance for their loved ones.