As a child, I was raised in a very traditional Lakota way, I was not only raised by my mom, I was by my elders, my community. How can I describe this so you can understand. The next time you are at church, or surrounded by people you know, at that very moment I want you to close your eyes and think of your family. Now, open your eyes and look around…the people you see, the people you surround yourself with that you care about, THIS is your family too. takúkic‘iyapi. As a Lakota, we live based on the concept of interdependence. This means that we lived, we live, in kinship societies, where extended family groups form our communities. The extended family, are made up of blood and nonblood relatives, this is at the core of our nuclear family.
So now let me take you back to my childhood. My grandparents lived on a ranch in the grasslands of South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. They had a wrap around type of porch that looked onto the corrals and the beautiful grass filled hills in the distance. Often times the wind would carry through trees and buildings dispersed around the property. You would here the horses, cows, chickens, dogs, birds and children in the background. And more often than not you could hearlop
a tractor moving hay, or the sound of Lawrence Welk on the radio with my grandmother humming along in the kitchen preparing coffee and something to eat for the guests. There were always guests. Usually elders, my great aunts and uncles, sitting outside on the wrap around porch enjoying the beauty and telling me stories. Today, if you saw my elders, my great aunties and uncles on the street, you might dismiss them as simple. That would be a mistake.
The elders in my family, mitákuyepi, are descendants of many strong Lakota people, brought up in the old ways by their elders, and now they were passing that knowledge onto me. My Great Uncle Harvey taught me about the names of the wind, the rain, the birds, and all we would see as we were sitting on that porch. Usually me sitting at his feet while my Great Aunt Agnes would run her fingers through my my long dark hair trying to braid it. Speaking between Lakota and English, my Uncle liked to close his eyes, and he and my Aunt, my grandpa if he was around, or my grandma, and they would sing in Lakota. To this day, I remember these moments like they were yesterday. They fill my heart and soul with so much comfort and love. I remember the first time they asked me to join them, for me as a child, this time with my elders, was precious, almost the equivalent to going to Disneyland! They wanted to teach me about my destiny. I was learning first hand centuries of traditions that have been carried down through generations after generations. I would close my eyes and sing my little heart out, not really knowing the words, but feeling the spirit, the sacredness of those moments. Always pretending as my eyes were closed that I could see my great great Grandparents and other tribal ancestors, my hunkáke’s right there with us. However, the more I think about it today, I realize, I really wasn’t pretending, because they were really there with me. There were days, if you listened really carefully, you could hear them, talking, singing, drums in the background.
Fast forward a few years. I was talking to my great Uncle again. I always reached out when I was struggling with something. If you know me today, you know that I still do this. Reach out to those I respect and love, for much needed advice and wisdom. The presence of my elders was my comfort, and when they shared their wisdom with me, there was no place I’d rather be. He said to me, “t‘akojá”, which meant grandchild, “someday the world will be in trouble. People will forget their wisdom. It will take elders’ voices from the far corners of the world to call the world into balance. You will go far away. It will sometimes be a lonely road. We will not be there. But you will look into the eyes of seeming strangers, and you will recognize your mitákuyepi, your family. And it will take all of you. It will take all of you to bring the healing ways we have given you. It will take all of you, to find that strength. But you will. Do not worry.” These words, I have held onto all my life. Because the idea of doing it alone terrifies me. I hold close his words, and often close my eyes to feel their presence, and when I open my eyes, I find I am not alone. And he was correct. I have friends from all around the world, each one who has come into my life for a reason. We are different ages, nationalities, beliefs, but we find a common thread that connects us with each other. I hold them close to my heart. And I know with these friends, I am not alone, and together, we bring healing to our world in so many ways.