The last time I visited Bear Butte was 12 years ago. I was in a hurry as I had just come from Sun Dance on the Yankton rez and needed to get back to San Diego. My intention was just to do a quick canupa (pipe) ceremony and leave. I filled the pipe, offered up my prayers and had just lit the kinikinik (a blend of tobacco and herbs) when all of a sudden, a wind came and lifted the entire contents of the deep bowl, fire and all, and took it away. Astounded, I felt I was being told that my prayers had been heard and that I needed to ‘get on the road’. I left a rock in the crook of a nearby tree…a tradition I adopted that meant I wished to return to this Holy place.
This time, I was returning for the sake of my spirit. Sad and feeling lost, I felt disconnected spiritually. I NEEDED to connect with the Creator and Mother Earth and I had always been able to find that deep connection at Bear Butte.
I left Wyoming early, not only to beat the high heat and humidity but to get to Bear Butte before visitors arrived. I was successful and arrived to a quiet broken only by a light, playful wind and a meadow lark. I performed the pipe ceremony near the front of the mountain but I knew I would be praying in multiple places this day. Once I was finished with the ceremony, I took a gift, some tobacco and a blanket with a walking stick and started hiking up one of the slightly steep grass slopes…something the signs request you not do. It had rained that morning and I quickly found my flip-flops mired with a thick layer of clay mixed with grass (something you could patch walls with). I had to take them off and after ‘peeling’ the clay away, walked barefooted up the mountain. I was not unaware of the fact that perhaps that this was intended…that I needed to show respect and be humble. I had been in too much of a hurry to remember to take my shoes off so the Creator and Mother had gently reminded me.
It was a dicey walk with all the rocks but eventually I made it about a third of the way up the mountain. I looked around at all the trees to choose which one I would sit under. The trees had various sizes of “prayer ties” (colored cloth filled with tobacco and prayers and tied off). Some were hanblecya (vision quest) prayer ties…usually 100…wrapped around and around the bases of the trees. Some were small and others were prayer ‘robes’, large sections of cloth filled with a huge amount of tobacco, hanging on limbs and blowing gently in the wind. Some had been there many years and others were fresh.
I started towards a large shaded tree to my left, when all of a sudden, a small Aspen caught my attention. Its leaves were blowing in an ‘unseen wind’…speaking to me..inviting me. A friend’s words came to mind: “The Creator speaks through the Aspens…they carry the ‘breath of God.” So I chose the small Aspen, which was on a steeper incline on the hill. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. Would I be able to kneel before the Creator or would I simply slide down the hill? Still, I felt I was being guided to sit underneath this small relative of the Standing Tall nation and there I offered my heartfelt prayers. The tears came and I spoke of everything that was in my heart and all that weighed my spirit down. I prayed long and hard and when I was finished, I was exhausted. I carefully left my gift and tobacco and placed a rock of layered red in the center of the tree and walked down the hill to a nearby path.
The path led to a small flat area that overlooked the valley where Natives of all tribes held council or performed ceremonies such as sweat lodges (inipis). Sure enough, smoke rose from the valley that spoke of an inipi…perhaps in preparation for putting one on their vision quest. I sat in the tall grass there, enjoying the sun, the sky-blue corn flowers and watching the tall grass ripple in the wind…reminding me of the waves on my home town’s Beaches.
And for awhile, all was utterly peaceful. Until the people who were hiking Bear Butte wanted to chat with me…and I didn’t feel like talking. So, I decided to lay down in the grasses thinking I wouldn’t be seen. And there I lay, thinking on many things…how I was without a home…wondering why the Creator asked me to quit my job in Prescott…and why had He brought me to Wyoming? My thoughts drifted to how many brothers & sisters, who had traveled the Red Road, had either stopped doing ceremonies or had crossed over. That thought brought to mind the words of a Cheyenne brother who told me once that Sweet Medicine, a Holy Man of the Cheyenne, had told his people that the sacred ways would eventually all go away…and then my thoughts turned to Bear Butte.
With the clouds hurriedly flying overhead and the faraway cry of an Eagle (funny, I hadn’t seen any eagles all day and there was always at least one), I started to get sleepy. I don’t remember if I fell asleep or not. All I know is that I sat up with a sudden ‘knowing-ness’ that there weren’t as many ‘Spirits’ on Bear Butte as there had been before. And then came the memory that it had been absolutely “crowded” with spirits before. With this thought, I stilled all movements, all thoughts and opened wide my spiritual senses. I asked quietly in my mind, “Are there many spirits here now?” A voice called back, quietly, “there are a few of us still here.” And then I felt it…a lonely feeling…full of yesterdays. I looked up at the Butte and a single tear ran down my face.
As I drove home, my thoughts were of this new energy that promised a change for our world and our children. I’d noticed how it had been replacing the old ways and I had been truly excited at the prospect of our progressing, spiritually! Finally, the time when we step closer to the Creator and who we truly are. But as I drove away from Bear Butte, my eyes filled with tears and my heart felt like it was breaking with sadness.
This Sacred and Holy place that had brought much guidance and solace, not only for me, but for the likes of Tsunka Witko (Crazy Horse) and many others for hundreds…perhaps thousands of years…would it now move into history like the other sacred places of past eras? Did the ancient ones cry as I now did? Did they know, as I now began to suspect, that perhaps I had completed everything the Creator asked of me and that my time was now over? If so…then as I walk to the Hill…I pray I have acted wisely and with loving compassion and that my actions and words have honored the Creator who made me. My deepest gratitude to all the Elders and all Relatives, including my Family and Friends, who guided me in the ways of the Red Road. Wopila, Creator….Wopila, our Mother!
Tekichihila= Love one another!
Many blessings, Lynn Manyfires