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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 windwhisper but nothing came.

Until it did. Only after I gave a flesh offering, did the songs come. And, did they. We danced, I sang. We sweat, I sang. The sweat leader, “You know these songs? You know these songs.”  “Not exactly. The songs just come.”  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.

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