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From Medicine Bow to Standing Rock December 13, 2016

Posted by Tracy in : Indigenous culture , trackback

By Tracy L. Barnett

Dec. 9 – I landed back at my daughter Tara’s doorstep at almost midnight, filled with gratitude and relief to have made it safely full circle home from my journey to Standing Rock. I fell into a deep deep sleep and awoke with a fragment of a dream – just an image, really – of a woman standing strong in front of the Diné hogan where we had stayed at Oceti Sakowin Camp, dressed in full winter gear, goggles, facemask, coveralls, the works. Arm raised high, fist clenched in a salute of solidarity and power. Smoke rising from the chimneys of the Hogan and the Tipi side by side.

I realized that woman was me. And I realized that the gift I was given – and that we were all given – in our stand at Standing Rock was a gift of strength and resilience, as well as a small measure of understanding. Understanding of many things that we as a culture have only begun to grasp. A strong feeling that the sacred hoop of which Black Elk spoke has come full circle. That the vision I had in the Summer of 1989, the song I was given to set my life course, has guided my life in a good way, and that the time for the circle to complete is now.

I give gratitude for this small opening, this glimmer of light in dark times; and I pray that we who were privileged to live this moment can be of service to the elder brothers and sisters who opened their lives to all of those who answered their call. I pray that we can all be guided to seize this moment together, to give voice to the pain and the healing, to the struggle and the beauty, to the vision that has shone its way through the confusion for 500 years. I pray that together we can penetrate the wall of concertina wire that has been built between us, the illusion of separateness that has melted away in the subzero temperatures of a camp in resistance. Because there in the heart of Oceti Sakowin we were shown by the elders that the only way to breach that wall is not through force but through prayer. That the hands that bring down the barrier at Turtle Hill, the sacred burial ground of the ancestors, must be those of the oppressors themselves, and that the moment will be one of teaching and of profound healing.

I take this moment to share the song that was given to me in the summer of 1989 when I went to the Medicine Bow of Wyoming, the place where according to tradition, the tribal peoples of the region – the Sioux, the Cheyenne, the Arapahoe and others – would meet to harvest the mountain mahogany and construct their bows, which were said to have exceptional powers. During those gatherings they would hold healing ceremonies and from those gatherings came the name of the mountain range, its highest peak and the neighboring town.

The native history of those lands has been nearly erased; a look at the Wikipedia entry on the town of Medicine Bow reveals a story of the transcontinental railroad, of cattle drives, of the Old West setting of the novel The Virginian, the first in a genre that glorified the genocide that occurred here. Not a mention of the people who inhabited these lands for thousands of years before.

At that critical juncture in my young life Wikipedia didn’t exist. Nor did Mapquest or Trip Advisor. I just followed the road north from Colorado, feeling guided through the backcountry on a sort of personal vision quest. I had recently lived a series of painful revelations about the true nature of our history as a nation, a history that left me devastated, shamed and anguished about the role of our ancestors in the dispossession and genocide of the original inhabitants of these lands. As the sun began to set and I made my camp, I prayed for a vision that would guide me in my life, that would show me the way I could lend myself to healing and to justice.

No such vision came. But the next morning, as I gazed up at the snowy mountain from my campsite, I was given this song. I felt it as the gentle voice of healing of the Mother Earth, and a message to forgive, but not forget – and to always find ways to help orient the human spirit toward healing and toward righting those wrongs. Not in any way to accept the injustice as a manifest destiny, not to turn away, but to look deep into the pain and then to trust that we of open heart will be shown the way, and that on some cosmic level, things are unfolding as they must do.

I feel that with the stand at Standing Rock our Lakota relatives have opened the way for many of us to act upon our longing for a reconciliation; to take up the arms of prayer and of love and to stand beside them, learning from them a little bit about how to live a life of balance with the Earth. It is just a small seed that has been planted but I pray that this seed will be nurtured and will grow until the rightful owners of these lands may rise again, and that our elder brothers and sisters may join with us in finding a new way, a new culture born from the old that can heal this land.

As in the truth of the Zapatista proverb: “They tried to bury us. But they didn’t know we were seeds.”

Medicine Bow

In deep dedication to the Standing Rock Sioux
and to the First Nations Peoples of the world

Resting in the arms of the Medicine Bow
Mighty mountain, still touched with snow
I feel your power under my feet
Just close my eyes and let it flow. 

Medicine Bow, mighty mountain
May our aim be clear, our vision true
Medicine Bow, give us the power
To bring your people back to you.

Cradled in the arms of the Medicine Bow
My fathers tore your people from you
Ripping the ties that bind humans to land
Everything’s wrong now and we just can’t understand

Medicine Bow, Mighty Mother
May our aim be clear, our spirit true
Medicine Bow, give us the power
To bring our people back to you.

Children of the Medicine Bow
Children of the melting snow
Children of the African soil
Children of the Amazon

Native peoples all around the world
Rage turned into anguished cries
As they gaze on their broken lands
And we know that they were right.

Medicine Bow, Mighty Mother
May our aim be clear, our spirit true
Medicine Bow, give us the power
To bring our people back to you.

The sun’s first rays light up Medicine Bow
The sky is clear in the valley below
Leave filled with joy, she says, do not fear
All is at peace in the valley here. 

Medicine Bow, Mighty Mother
May our aim be clear, our spirit true
Medicine Bow, I know your people
Have it within them, to come back to you.



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