World Indigenous Peoples Day

The wisdom of indigenous people is something the world is in sorry need of today. There is nothing I can say that would have greater meaning on this day set aside to honor indigenous peoples throughout the world than what is said in the following video. Note that the speaker, Floyd “Red Crow” Westerman (Kangi Duta) crossed over to the next life in 2007. His words are truer now than ever before.

What we have done to our planet is shameful. The consequences will not be pretty.

Navajo Weaving

Navajo rugs are a rare art form that often sell for thousands of dollars.

Navajo (Diné) blankets and rugs are world-famous for their beauty and technique. Here are two videos that tell about them. The first one is a lovely montage with no narration, just restful Native American music in the background and the other is Wally Brown, a Diné elder, talking about his mother who was a weaver.  Following that is an excerpt from Chapter 24 of “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits” where the main character, Charlie Littlewolf, reminisces on when he helped his amasani  (Diné for grandmother) weave a very special blanket.

Enjoy.

CHARLIE’S CABIN

RURAL FALCON RIDGE

June 9, Saturday

9:32 p.m.

Charlie sat cross-legged in front of the fireplace, wool blanket draped around his shoulders. In two days he’d start work with Lone Star Operations.

Was there any other way he could make that kind of money?

No. Absolutely not.

The prospect, however, shadowed his mind like a storm front. In response a random thought tickled his psyche.

This is something you must do.

The justification, however, remained buried beneath any conscious awareness.

Besides the industry itself, what concerned him most was the thought of living with those people. Like when he left for college.

Harassment stories along with the racist views that characterized the industry constituted modern tales of cowboys and Indians. Working with them all day would be bad enough. But bunking with them as well? He didn’t want to think about the pranks he’d be subjected to.

He pulled the wrap closer, fingers entwined in its soft texture. June or not, nights were brisk at seven thousand feet. Its earthy scent, including a hint of lanolin, unfurled memories of three decades past, when he was living on the Diné reservation in New Mexico.

His very first job.

An assignment he resented.

He could still see Littlebear leaning against the horse corral, arms folded across his chest.

“No, son,” he’d said. “You have only six winters. You are too young for the javelina hunt. You must stay and help your mother and amasani.”

Charlie hung his head, thinking he’d sneak away somewhere for the remainder of the day.

“Look at me,” his father commanded. When he obeyed, his intent collided with the probing eyes of a knowing parent. “When I return you will tell me what you did and they will tell me if you did it well.”

He pouted, looking back at the ground. Not hunting with his father was disappointing enough. That edict made it even worse. The teasing he’d suffer from his cousins and friends for doing the work of squaws would be merciless.

Moccasins shuffling in the dirt, he trudged back home to find his mother. As soon as he stepped inside their hogan she took one look at his sour face and shooed him away.

Outside again, he stifled a smile, vindicated to pursue his original plan. Then he remembered. His work was subject to review. His grandmother, one of the tribe’s weavers, was his other option. He’d watched her work a few times, but progress was slow and tedious—far too boring to hold his interest for any length of time. With luck, she wouldn’t be busy and would tell him one of her wonderful stories. He especially liked those about mischievous coyote.

But when he got to her little house, she wasn’t there.

It sounded like a big commotion over by the training corral. Sheep bleating along with people talking and a variety of other unfamiliar sounds. Curiosity tickled, he headed that way.

The characteristic smell of sheep was strong with so many confined to a small area. That, along with all the dust, evoked a giant sneeze. He wiped his nose on his sleeve, then climbed up on the fence to watch the antics of one of the lambs. That held his attention until he spotted his grandmother a short distance away.

What was she doing, poking around what looked like dozens of flat, dead sheep?

Then it a registered: Shearing time.

He watched one of the men use clippers to peel away a year’s worth of wool from one of the ewes. It came off in what looked like a solid piece. His grandmother spotted him and waved him over.

Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“I’m supposed to help you today, amasani,” he said.

Her weathered face, round like the moon and likewise bearing the grooves and craters of life, broke into a broad smile. “I’m so glad, grandson. What think you of all this wool?”

“I think it smells funny.”

“I like it,” she replied. “Sheep are almost as important now as buffalo were long ago. They give us meat and they give us wool. This is one of my favorite days, when I pick the fleeces I want before the rest go to market.”

“Aren’t they all the same?”

“No. Each is very different. Certain parts are better than others, too.” She took his little hand and led him over to those she’d set aside. “Let me show you.”

She pointed out the different parts of the animal from which the fleece was removed. Some areas were much cleaner and the fiber longer.

“I have a very special project I must do. I need you to separate the shoulder section from the ones I’ve chosen. Do you know why?”

He looked closer. “Because it is cleaner?”

“Yes. It is also the longest, which makes it easier to spin.”

That task finished, he thought he was done. Little did he realize his work had only begun. The raw wool needed to be prepared for spinning. She showed him how to tease each lock by pulling it apart.

His reverie paused as he rubbed his thumb and forefinger together, remembering how they squeaked when coated with lanolin. To his surprise back then, it also softened the callouses he’d earned practicing with his bow.

Next came combing the teased wool with a pair of carders that looked like giant-sized dog brushes. The resulting bats went into a reed basket, miniature clouds of fluff awaiting his grandmother’s skilled hand.

As the day wore on, his arms ached and he couldn’t card quickly enough to keep up with her spinning. She prodded him to work faster, her hand moving the spindle relentlessly as she twisted the prepared fiber into yarn.

As it turned out, the project lasted into summer. By then he earned her name for him, Naalnish. Once enough yarn was spun, the fun began. Now he could do some exploring while he gathered the dye materials needed to produce a variety of warm colors. Best of all, the collection process for some required a knife or ax, a worthy task for a young brave.

Cottonwood leaves, yarrow, and oak bark were some of the things she requested. Among the most challenging were cochineal beetles which, when dried and ground into powder, yielded shades of red. It took an entire day or more to collect enough from their cactus homes for a single batch. To both him and his amasani, however, it was time well-spent.

When shewas ready to start the dyeing process, he hauled water from either the iron-rich spring north of their village for reds, or the alum-rich one to the east for yellows. The resident minerals affected the final hue and were necessary for the fiber to retain its color—the ‘”why” of which planted the seed for his interest in chemistry.

When she had sufficient dyed yarn, he helped warp the loom constructed from tree trunks, tie the warp rods that helped create the pattern, then wind the different colors on smooth sticks that served as shuttles.

Then, at last, weaving began.

He marveled day by day as she lifted the warp rods and alternated shuttles, colorful geometric patterns emerging with each row, until their collective labors produced a finished blanket that was not only functional, but a work of art.

His heart swelled as he remembered the day it came off the loom. She folded it carefully, hugged it a moment, then handed it to him with a sparkle in her eyes.

“Where should I put it for you, amasani?”

“In your hogan, Naalnish. By where you sleep.”

 “Why?”

“Because it is yours.”

Only now, as a grown man, did he appreciate the love and wisdom of that experience. Especially when he discovered that most blankets, at least those offered for sale by members of the tribe, were not made the old way, but with commercial dye and machine-spun yarn.

This was one like none other, made expressly for him with his amasani’s love and his reluctant assistance.

It was far more than the work itself. It was what it taught him. Not only about the old ways, but of cycles. Of going full circle from the vegetation the sheep ate to grow wool to dyeing the yarn with some of those same plants. The process was tedious and long, yet the result was priceless.

From that first bat of carded wool to its liberation from the loom, it instructed him in the ways of life. It taught him patience, perseverance, and appreciation—for hard work and simple things.

The Diné believed part of their soul went into such creations and always hid a loop somewhere in the tight weave for their soul to escape. So far, it was so cleverly hidden he’d never found it. His fingers caressed the soft fiber, wondering if he ever would. It felt softer each year, improving with use, unlike so many things that didn’t last. Analogous to the earth itself and his connection to it.

All thanks to the wisdom of an old woman, who at the time was not much older than he was now. Whose kind heart would forever live in a cherished wrap that kept him warm for what would soon be thirty haigos, including many spent in the frigid Colorado Rockies.

How many white men had such a treasured possession?

Are you Listening?

If there’s one thing most of us need it’s an occasional sign that we’re heading in the right direction. One thing indigenous people have that most others don’t is a deep connection with nature, which talks to them on a regular basis.

Yes, I’m talking about spirit animals and receiving messages from them.

This morning when I went outside to feed my feral cats this beautiful spider web caught my eye. The fact it was on my deck furniture was slightly less than enchanting, but the perfection of the spider’s handiwork got my attention, especially the way it glistened in the rising sun.

In many cases, if you’re paying attention, you can figure out such a message yourself by considering the animal and its characteristics. At other times, it might be more subtle. In that case, you need a reference of some description to help you figure out what the natural world is trying to tell you.

Fortunately, I have such a reference, the book “Animal Messengers: An A – Z Guide to Signs and Omens in the Natural World.”

Here’s a excerpt from what it says about spiders: “The spider symbolizes infinite possibilities. With its eight legs it is anchored in every direction, and it weaves together the powers of the elements and their expression into a unified whole. The spider weaves webs of fate, in which we can get caught, and it encourages us to keep searching for new possibilities and explore the endless steps of our journey of learning. If your attention is drawn to a spider it wants to remind you that you are constantly building new webs with your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and visions that contain tasks you must solve and subjects you must deal with.”

As is always the case with such an encounter, this had a very personal meaning to me.

If you’re not listening to what nature is telling you, you’re missing out. If you need a little help discerning what an animal is trying to say, I highly recommend this book by Regula Meyer. Note that it does not contain exotic animals you might see in a zoo, but concentrates on those you’re likely to see in the wild including mammals, birds, invertebrates, and insects, for a total of 145 different animals. It was originally written in German, so some birds common to the United States such as cardinals are not included, either, but overall it’s very insightful. It’s available at Amazon via this affiliate link.

Review of Nancy Red Star’s “Star Ancestors: Extraterrestrial Contact in the Native American Tradition

This book is a masterful work of art in addition to containing a collection of personal experiences from members of several different tribes. These include Navajo, Mi’kmaq, Abenaki, Seneca, Cherokee, Tarahumara, Maya, Olmec, Yaqui, Creek, and Choctaw.

Though testimonials about UFO encounters are included, the majority of the book is on a more spiritual level, dealing with other types of connections with the Star People. These include the importance of ceremony, previous lost civilizations from millennia ago, high technology in the distant past, the origin of indigenous people, and prophecies of the future, which is upon us now.

The book has been around a while, the original copyright in 2000, then renewed in 2012. In today’s world that’s a long time and many things prophesied that may not yet have occurred by either of those dates have by now.

I think my favorite section was “We Wander This World with a Purpose” by Mali Keating. She spoke of the Hopi, where they came from, and their numerous prophecies. Here’s an excerpt of one section that explained so much about our modern world.

“The Anasazi were a people left over from the migration. The people were told they must never stop and build cities, but of course some did…. Cities make people crazy, as we all know. People become greedy and lose the ability to work together.”

Here’s another, that may not have been as apparent when this book was first released as it is now:

“The Hopi said that they would know that the end is coming when roads crisscrossed this continent like the web of a spider–those are the vapor trails of airplanes. You can see vapor trails like the webs of spiders in the sky.”

Actually, roads on which we drive crisscross the continent, too. Those trails in the sky,  however, are not vapor trails, they are called chemtrails. Vapor trails are condensation from normal airplanes whereas chemtrails are chemicals such as barium and aluminum being deliberately sprayed in the atmosphere to supposedly combat climate change. This, like so much else out there today, is a lie. If anything, they are causing the climate to go crazy by facilitating weather manipulation.

There are numerous photos of indigenous art and the layout of the book itself is genius, between Nancy Red Star’s commentaries before each entry to her free verse poetry at the conclusion. Reading these stories is not just informative, it’s an experience of another realm beyond what meets the eyes.

A realm that Native Americans and all indigenous people understand.

May we all learn from their ancient wisdom before it’s too late.

5-stars, Highly Recommended

Available from Amazon and InnerTraditions.com

Panpsychism in Indigenous Cultures

What is he trying to say? (Photo credit Robert C, Pixabay)

Panpsychism.

That’s a big word, isn’t it? I’d bet dollars to donuts most of you have never heard of it before, much less know what it means.

Okay, here’s a hint:

Indigenous people consider panpsychism to be intuitively obvious.

This is something that’s inherent to their culture. It’s a form of spirituality and reverence for life too many in today’s modern world lack.

If you’re still lost, here’s another hint.

If you’re a pet owner, you might know more about this than you realize. Do you believe your fur baby, or even fish or turtle, has a personality? Does that mean it has a soul? Okay, skip the dualism, do you believe it’s conscious? A sentient being?

My little suitcase stowaway is no doubt saying, “I want to go with you.”

What about your houseplants and garden, the trees that shade your home? Do you ever talk to them? Provided they’re not made of plastic, there’s no doubt they’re alive. But are they conscious? Some research in recent years suggests they are, even if they’re a bit snobbish about it and only talk to their own kind.

Anyone who’s had their car, computer, cell phone, or some other electronic device go wonky right when they need it most has seen this. Maybe it’s only Google spying on you, in which case you can hope they hear the unpleasant things you’re expressing in your frustration.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, panpsychism is the belief that all things, animate and otherwise, have consciousness. Here’s a quote from an article by Berit Brogaard, D.M.Sci., Ph.D. and graduate student, Kristian Marlow, published in Psychology Today a few years back:

“According to the traditional version of panpsychism, everything around you is conscious: the chair your are sitting on, the rock you use as a doorstopper at home and the thick hurricane-safe windows in your office. Panpsychism literally means that particular kinds of psychological states are embedded in everything…. Consciousness may be a force akin to electromagnetism or gravity that exists in some form on the fundamental level of reality.” (Read the entire article here. )

Indigenous people have known this to be true for thousands of years.

By now Native American readers are rolling on the floor at the stupidity of the white man. No wonder he makes so many bad decisions, he’s out of touch with his world in the most pathetic of ways. Now, at long last, the white man is starting to catch on. Spirit animals are becoming popular as well as sensitivities to other energies as well. The question is whether or not it’s too late.

One of my favorite stories is told by Russell Foureagles when he states, “This may sound crazy, but rocks–especially artifacts manufactured by our ancestors–have occasionally spoken to me and sent me pictures, sometimes even movies, when I picked them up. With the aid of a rock, I have not only seen the past but, in a sense, lived it.” (The Making of a Healer: Teachings of my Oneida Grandmother, p. 195) He goes on to tell a delightful story of a rock calling to him and telling him its amazing story of being part of a hide scraping tool thousands of years before.

Think what you want, but you cannot make this stuff up.

As a writer, I let my characters lead, and they often teach me many things I never could have imagined. I don’t believe as a writer I create their essence, then channel them. One of my favorite parts of “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits” is Chapter 6, “The Aspen,” where Charlie Littlewolf connects with an quaking aspen tree that helps him solve his white brother’s murder. (You can read that excerpt here.) In my science fiction story, “The Terra Debacle: Prisoners at Area 51,” the main character is a telepathic walking plant. I’ve never seen plants quite the same way since.

Okay, you don’t have to be crazy to be an author but it helps.

My point is if we but learn to listen, there are messages all around us. What wisdom might a mighty oak convey? Meditate on a tree sometime and see what you learn. I’ve obtained amazing insights just watching my birdfeeder.

One of the problems of modern life is that we so rarely take time to listen.

What are you missing?

When Every Day was Earth Day

Karl Bodmer: Indians hunting the bison. Tableau 31. In: Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied: Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834; published London 1843–1844.

Today is Earth Day, reminding us to honor and appreciate our planet as well as treat her kindly. The concept of doing so only once a year is incomprehensible to Indigenous cultures. Native American reverence for all living things extends to the Earth herself. Taking what you need with respect and gratitude is expected; exploiting her resources for the sake of greed is abhorrent.

Every day was “Earth Day.”

For example, bison (erroneously called buffalo) were revered and respected. They killed only what was needed for food, then used the hide, horns, bones, and sinew for such things as clothing, tipis, and tools. Nothing was wasted. Killing for sport or simply for the animal’s hide (much less its tongue), was unheard of.

Then the white man came.

At the beginning of the 19th century 30 to 40 million bison were present on the Plains. By 1895 their numbers had been reduced to roughly 1,000. Upon completion of the Intercontinental Railroad, they were often shot from moving trains. Hide Hunters moved into Native hunting grounds and slaughtered bison, leaving their rotting carcasses behind.

1892: bison skulls await industrial processing at Michigan Carbon Works in Rogueville (a suburb of Detroit). Bones were processed to be used for glue, fertilizer, dye/tint/ink, or were burned to create “bone char” which was an important component for sugar refining.

In 1873, Army Lt. Col. Richard Irving Dodge stated, “Where there were myriads of buffalo the year before, there were now myriads of carcasses. The air was foul with a sickening stench, and the vast plain which only a short twelve months before teemed with animal life, was a dead, solitary putrid desert.”

Historian, Pekka Hämäläinen, noted the effect this had on Native Americans when she noted, “The buffalo was the foundation of their economy and the centerpiece of their cosmology, and the wholesale slaughter shook their existence at its core.”

Rath & Wright’s buffalo hide yard in 1878, showing 40,000 buffalo hides, Dodge City, Kansas.”

Where might our country be today if it weren’t for such wanton destruction? But the real question is have we learned anything since?

THE STORY OF BRIGHT EYES IS COMING TO THE BIG SCREEN

Many indigenous people from various tribes have fought for their rights, whether on horseback or in the halls of Congress. Among them was a young woman named Bright Eyes, about whom plans are in work to make a feature-length movie.

To quote the producer’s website:

It’s the true story of a shy, young woman of the Omaha Tribe whose love for her people and other Native Americans helped her overcome her fear. So, she spoke out against injustice and helped bring about the landmark court case of Chief Standing Bear vs. General George Crook where a Native American was first regarded as a “person” with legal rights!

Can you believe that it took until 1880 for Native Americans to be considered a “person?”

What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s take a look at the founding documents of the United States penned in 1776. How many times have you heard the following words from The Declaration of Independence ?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“All men?” Really? Obviously that didn’t apply to First Nation peoples.

Did you know that in the early 19th Century slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for census purposes while indigenous people were not counted at all?

Then there’s the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified July 9, 1868, following the Civil War:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Did this apply to indigenous people? Obviously not.

Instead they were considered savages for fighting for their rights to land on which they were the original occupants. A country that shoved them out of the way, yet states in the Second Amendment to its Constitution, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

And why the Second Amendment? To defend our country from a tyrannical government or foreign invaders!

Sound familiar?

Seems to me that’s what Native Americans were trying to do when all other negotiations with the U.S. Government failed.

If more people understood the true history of how indigenous people were treated it could make a huge difference. As I’ve discovered the truth through research I’ve done writing The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits and working with my Northern Cheyenne co-author, Pete Risingsun, I’ve been outraged by the hypocrisy and double standard.

The United States would be a wonderful country if only it followed its own declarations rather than the whims of greedy, powerful individuals who either warp or by-pass the law to their own benefit. And if you think things are improving currently, clearly you don’t understand what’s going on. Why are illegal aliens treated better than our nation’s first people? Everyone who belongs here is losing their rights at an unprecedented rate.

Perhaps it’s a case of “What goes around, comes around.”

I didn’t intend for this blog to turn into a rant, but it’s something I’ve come to feel very strongly about.

Back to Bright Eyes, this wonderful true story about an heroic Native American woman is being made into a feature film. I encourage you to watch the trailer here.

The producers are looking for crowd funding to make it happen. You can help bring this inspiring story to the big screen! Find out more on their website.

First-Hand Account of Someone Raised by a Medicine Man

This short video captures the essence of the indigenous spirit. Some of the comments are worth reading as well. I stumbled upon it quite by accident and it touched me so deeply I wanted to share it with as many as possible.

Indigenous people get a lot of bad press, mostly from history books written by their conquerors who knew little of their beautiful, compassionate culture. There is much to be learned from their wisdom. The world would be a better place if more people embraced their values of family first, hard work, connection with nature, independence, generosity and kindness.

I hope you enjoy this short (about 10 minutes) video and it brightens your day with hope as it did for me.

The Medicine Wheel and the Zodiac

The four sectors of a classic Native American Medicine Wheel superimposed on the houses of the Western Zodiac. Many tribes relate the four colors to the races of man, i.e., white, black, red, and yellow, though each sector relates to a different part of a person’s character. Each house in Western Astrology pertains to a different part of life.

There are many interpretations of the Medicine Wheel, perhaps as many as there are tribes. Nonetheless, there are distinct similarities, all seeking to help a person grow through self-knowledge. The one included here pertains to the principles taught by Sun Bear and Wabun Wind in their book about the Medicine Wheel, but subtitled “Earth Astrology,” which lines up nicely with the zodiac used in Western Astrology.

Not surprisingly, the interpretations for the different “Moons” are about the same as their corresponding zodiac sign.

Sun Bear, an Ojibwa, states that his interpretation of the Medicine Wheel was not derived from western astrology, but acquired through inspiration from the Great Spirit, suggesting that both systems originated with the same source. The purpose of their system is to help all people relate more closely to the Earth Mother and all of creation.

Here are Sun Bear and Wabun Wind’s Medicine Wheel equivalents to the zodiac with their totems.

ARIES – March 21 – April 19

Moon: Budding Trees

Animal: Red Hawk

Plant: Dandelion

Mineral: Fire Opal

Color: Yellow

TAURUS – April 20 – May 20

Moon: Frogs Return

Animal: Beaver

Plant: Blue Camas

Mineral: chrysocolla

Color: Blue

GEMINI – May 21 – June 20

Moon: Corn planting

Animal: Deer

Plant: Yarrow

Mineral: Moss Agate

Color: White and Green

CANCER – June 21 – July 22

Moon: Strong Sun

Animal: Flicker

Plant: Wild Rose

Mineral: Carnelian Agate

Color: Pink

LEO – Jul. 23 – Aug. 22

Moon: Ripe Berries

Animal: Sturgeon

Plant: Raspberry

Mineral: Garnet and Iron

Color: Red

VIRGO – Aug. 23 – Sep. 22

Moon: Harvest

Animal: Brown Bear

Plant Violet

Mineral: Amethyst

Color: Purple

LIBRA – Sep. 23 – Oct. 23

Moon: Ducks Fly

Animal: Raven

Plant: Mullein

Mineral: Jasper

Color: Brown

SCORPIO – Oct. 24 – Nov. 21

Moon: Freeze Up

Animal: Snake

Plant: Thistle

Mineral: Copper and Malachite

Color: Orange

SAGITTARIUS – Nov. 22 – Dec. 21

Moon: Long Snows

Animal: Elk

Plant: Black Spruce

Mineral: Obsidian

Color: Black

CAPRICORN – Dec. 22 – Jan. 19

Moon: Earth Renewal

Animal: Snow Goose

Plant: Birch Tree

Mineral: Quartz

Color: White

AQUARIUS – Jan. 20 – Feb. 18

Moon: Rest & Cleansing

Animal: Otter

Plant: Quaking Aspen

Mineral: Silver

Color: Silver

PISCES – Feb. 19 – Mar. 20

Moon: Big Winds

Animal: Cougar

Plant: Plantain

Mineral: Turquoise

Color: Blue-Green

Equivalents to the Elements in Western Astrology

Fire = Thunderbird

Earth = Turtle

Air = Butterfly

Water = Frog


The introduction to The Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology states, “We have forgotten that we are connected to all of our relationships on the earth, not just our human family. We have forgotten that we have responsibilities to all these relations, just as we have them to our human families. We have imprisoned ourselves in tight little worlds of man-made creations.”

You do not need to be familiar with western astrology to enjoy and understand this approach. If you are, then it will enhance and deepen your perceptions with another layer of insights into yourself and others. The books below, available on Amazon, provide the details and earthly beauty of the system for relating to Mother Earth.


[NOTE:–These books are among the many I’ve read as research material while writing The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits. Co-author, Pete Risingsun, provided the details of Charlie’s journey in the book, but material such as this helped me learn more about Native American culture and prepared me for our collaboration.]


The Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology by Sun Bear and Wabun Wind

Dancing with the Wheel: The Medicine Wheel Workbook by Sun Bear, Wabun Wind, and Crysalis Mulligan

Veterans’ Day Kudos to Native Americans

Ira Hayes, one of the soldiers depicted in the iconic statue of the Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima, was a Code Talker.
[Picture attribution: By Famartin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link]

It’s Native American Heritage Month as well as Veterans’ Day, the perfect time to show appreciation for the many astouding contributions Native Americans have made to the U.S. Military. Their participation rate is higher, 19% having served in the armed forces versus 14% of other ethnic groups. Furthermore, even though they were exempt from the draft, many enlisted.

The “warrior tradition” of Native American tribes was mostly squashed once they were exiled to reservations, yet their love for their country and willingness to defend it remained. They already dealt with the consequences of one “foreign invader” stealing their land. The prospect of things getting even worse with another one was not an acceptable option.

It’s ironic that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Native Americans were forced by the U.S. Government to leave their traditions behind, including their languages. Fortunately, however, their many dialects survived, a fact that was a major factor in U.S. victory during World Wars I and II.

Choctaws in training in World War I for coded radio and telephone transmissions. [Wikipedia]

During that time their unique, unwritten languages were perfect candidates for development into code. If you’re unfamiliar with the “Code Talkers,” here’s a brief summary, courtesy of Wikipedia:

 “…there were approximately 400 to 500 Native Americans in the United States Marine Corps whose primary job was to transmit secret tactical messages. Code talkers transmitted messages over military telephone or radio communications nets using formally or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. The code talkers improved the speed of encryption and decryption of communications in front line operations during World War II.

Comanche code talkers of the 4th Signal Company [Wikipedia]

There were two code types used during World War II. Type one codes were formally developed based on the languages of the several tribes, including the Lakota, Crow, Comanche, Hopi, Meskwaki, Seminole, and Navajo peoples. They used words from their languages for each letter of the English alphabet. Messages could be encoded and decoded by using a simple substitution cipher where the ciphertext was the native language word. Type two code was informal and directly translated from English into the native language. If there was no word in the native language to describe a military word, code talkers used descriptive words. For example, the Navajo did not have a word for submarine so they translated it to iron fish.”

Navajo Code Talkers, Saipan, 1944 [Wikipedia]

Several tribes were represented during the course of various wars and campaigns, including the Navajo, Comanche, Hopi, Meskwaki, Cherokee, Choctaw, Cree, Mohawk, Muscogee (Seminole and Creek), and Tlingit. Military and government honors have been bestowed on them for their contribution, in some cases years later because it couldn’t occur until the program was declassified.

Micah Highwalking, U.S. Military Academy 2010 graduate.

If you’re a history buff, especially as it relates to intelligence encryption, you’ll want to check this out further. Wikipedia has a comprehensive article at here and Military Times published an outstanding piece which includes interviews with former Code Talkers here.

Clearly this honorable tradition is continuing today for both Native men and women. The first Northern Cheyenne to graduate from West Point was Micah Highwalking. As of her 2010 graduation date, she was one of only five Native Americans to accomplish that honor. You can read more about her on Facebook here.

On this special day all former and current members of our military deserve our respect and gratitude, but especially the many Native Americans from all tribes who willingly fought beside those who had previously been their foe. It’s notable that on Veterans’ Day 2020 the Smithsonian Institute dedicated the National Native American Veterans’ Memorial. You can learn more about it here and watch their virtual message in the following video (17:25 min).


OTHER RESOURCES

Print

Available from Southwest Indian Foundation Website

The Navajo Codetalkers

Video Introduction to the book (3 min)

Video

Wyoming PBS Special on Native American Veterans (27 min)

Help Native American Veterans

If you’d like to show your appreciation for their service by helping Native American veterans, Native American Veterans’ Assistance (NAVA) does exactly that. Their website is here and their donation page is here.