Black Elk and Me


The Old wicaśa wakan and this modern white woman

Walking with the Sioux, Part 2

Many know of him by way of  the book Black Elk Speaks, few know him as family. Until last summer, I did not know of him beyond a name & book, one I hadn’t read. Since then, he has become a stalwart guide and one of the most ‘vocal’ participants in my council.

In August 2015, he announced his presence in my world. Like others who are a part of this journey, he was patient until he was not.  I did not know who he was when I first saw & felt him. The image given me was somewhat foreign and out of context in the living room of client-friend. Even when I discovered the book cover from whence his image was repeated, I chose silence, to ignore his presence in my world. When I did so, ignoring his touch & attempt at integration, he went to someone else and demanded she paint him into my world. And she did. Since then he is prominent thread in my weaving, a stalwart partner, and guide or inner spiral this weaving we do.

In the painting done by Jamie H., he appeared as a reflection of me with a restricted throat. With an awareness of but not a reading of Black Elk Speaks, the image filled me with regret for not being able to speak to and for him, not being able to speak my own truth, and shame for not being able to bring the two together.

I did not have the experience or awareness of Black Elk in my world before I began receiving visions and information that led me to the Sun Dance outside in the heart of the Pine Ridge reservation nor during. I know now, though, that my presence at this particular Sun Dance was integral to being seen, recognized, welcomed and supported as I move deeper into Indian Country.  Holding and being space for the Old Ones wasn’t what I thought was going to happen. I, mistakenly, thought that what was going to happen was about and for me–a specific task or nugget of intelligence that might move from from ignorant foreigner & outsider to wise woman. The Old ladies who brought me language and gifts and knowing didn’t indicate I was to just be. Yet, I was. Just be, just being…yet, not just.

While he may have appeared to me during that week, I did not notice him. I was overwhelmed by the other invisible forces of family, of love, of expectation, conflict, and strangers in a not-so-strange land that individuations of his energy did not register.

I left that Sun Dance at the end of June and by the end of July, Nick Black Elk made himself known and was subsequently identified clearly on August 3. The reasons for his being woven into my world seemed unclear for some time–or at least as long as I chose to deny them. At one point, during an awakening experience at local burger joint in California, a young lady said he appeared to her in the women’s restroom and said, ‘Go to her. She knows.’ I didn’t. Or, said I didn’t. Neither of those, though, were the truth; even in the moment.

I’ll not share much of Black Elk Speaks here. It’s available for anyone who chooses to read it. I eventually read it but not until I settled into Helena this winter and was disappointed.  Although some will say I overstate things here, I believe that John Neihardt’s revisionist perspective in his creation of literature was no different than Bishop Landa’s burning & ‘cataloging’ of a great Mayan and Aztec libraries. There is plenty of scholarship on both so, feel free to dig into each as you choose.

My references here are to how he speaks to me, through me to others, and, if I use them, his words will come from the original transcripts of the interviews between he and John Neihardt.

The summer when Black Elk was nine, during a period when he was ill, he was given a ‘great vision’. Just before he became physically debilitated, he heard a voice say, “It is time, now they are calling you” and he knew that it was spirit speaking to him and the calling spoken of was spirit as well. During the twelve days of the vision, there were distinct elements that included being shown the horses of the four directions, introduced to the six grandfathers; taken to the four quarters and the center of the earth, given specific powers & tools for healing and warfare; and instruction to create (or recreate) a nation. Depending on from what text one reads from, the recreation of a nation is either Sioux-specific or a universal.notion.

Many elements and symbolism contained in Black Elk’s first vision have been distinct aspects of my own evolution, though they have not always occurred in the same manner and obviously don’t have the same shared cultural background. Despite that, the meanings are identical even beyond the universalism; experiences with Jesus Christ, our working relationship with the elements–particularly thunder, wind, and plants; being brought to the centre of the earth and sent into the stars, plants, and horses; as well as the paradoxical trust and fear of our powers and visionary capacity.  In addition, his adaptations of faith (many don’t know he was also Catholic catechist and had sprinklings of the Episcopal variety), belief, integration and openness are also shared by yours truly and although they existed before, his role in my life both solidifies and broadens them as my operating systems.

One of his few regrets in life was his capacity to see the nature and purpose of his vision but not feel the capacity to complete it. Before I met Black Elk, I chose, as part of my identity, the label of weaver as it had become clear how I bridge past and present & infinite and individual together; through people, place, space and time. The purpose of that weaving seemed–for the most part–fairly specific and about reconnecting ‘lost’ healer to gift and tribe (see an example of this in A Spirit-Guided Mother and Child Reunion).

Since Black Elk’s appearance, that specificity has expanded in respect to meaning while the purpose remains focused. The shift has been that as we weave the Sioux hoop back together, other ‘hoop’ tapestries are woven as well. Why this has be given to me I may never truly know or understand in a way that would be explicable to the reader.  Most of my experiences aren’t. I do know that this is one of the things I was born for and the time for it is now. I told he and the others last autumn that I would not deny them.  After I did so, when they came through me during a sweat lodge, what they said as a collective to me and the kinfolk medicine man I was with was this: “Speak. For when you speak your heart, you speak ours. There is no confusion at the heart of the matter.”

Many Old Ones that have come to me since my first encounter with my favorite Old Ojib-Cree have been cohorts of Black Elk–leaders and medicine men of their time and (mostly) of the his generation. Although not all are directly connected to reuniting the Sioux Nation, they are part of a larger reunification of Nations.  Those that are  actively part of include  Red Wing (Mdewakanton),  Red Cloud (Oglala), Sitting Bull (Hunkpapa), and Red Feather (Sans Arc). Each, including Black Elk, have connected me to at least one member of their living kin who are gifted beyond measure and carry the medicine for their people now (as well as the burden of the past) and in the future. Others–Siouxan and otherwise–who I have  yet to identify visually are known solely by their presence and, as I follow the directions given in visions, I will be connected with their kin as well.

While these Old Ones tend to announce themselves individually, they appear as a larger council and often work in pairs to bring visions, direction,  and support.  They operate synchronistically, across different cosmologies and cultures because they know this reunification process is interconnected and the relationships are interdependent. It was a Shoshone-Paiute and Mescalero Apache that got me to Ft. Belknap to meet one of the Sioux connections. And two Sioux, Sitting Bull and Black Elk, who put me into the wind to bring me to the Yavapai the day after my birthday. In doing so, they expand the threads across continents knowing that there is a purposeful order in the unfolding.

So I drive into and walk through communities as I’m led to those with whom I am to connect. There is never an accidental encounter and those with whom I do meet, see beyond the skin and recognize not a generalized ‘all our relations’ but family. Unbelievably, yet undeniably family. Be they Maya, Quechua, Koori, Sami, Navajo, Oglala, Gael, Choctaw or Chippewa.

For more information about how I can work with your community or you, go to

THE PRAYER: (From the Traditional Lakota Sioux)

Aho Mitakuye Oyasin …All my relations. I honor you in this circle of life with me today. I am grateful for this opportunity to acknowledge you in this prayer….

To the Creator, for the ultimate gift of life, I thank you.

To the mineral nation that has built and maintained my bones and all foundations of life experience, I thank you.

To the plant nation that sustains my organs and body and gives me healing herbs for sickness, I thank you.

To the animal nation that feeds me from your own flesh and offers your loyal companionship in this walk of life, I thank you.

To the human nation that shares my path as a soul upon the sacred wheel of Earthly life, I thank you.

To the Spirit nation that guides me invisibly through the ups and downs of life and for carrying the torch of light through the Ages, I thank you.

To the Four Winds of Change and Growth, I thank you.

You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.

Thank you for this Life.



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.