Mitchell Zephier, Rosebud Lakota, made this 3 1/4 " medallion of trade silver (mixture of silver, nickel, and zinc, harder than silver), jeweler's gold, copper, and of bone hairpipe, pony ceramic and brass beads, around 1982. On the back, it is engraved "Sweat Lodge Vision #1 "
Talking or writing about spirituality is very hard for me, it is something felt, experienced, known. But unless one is a poet, talking or writing of it usually seems shallow, trivial, gushy, foolish -- the sort of thing NuAgers seem to like.
Ralph Coe, a sensitive person, usually a good, clear, writer, who for 10 years or so had the world's best job -- travelling around Indian Country in the U.S. and Canada with unlimited money from a rich man to commission or buy art created by contemporary Native people, exemplified this in writing for his catalog description of Zephier's medallion, which he bought from a rich white guy in Kansas City:
"In this medallion, tradition joins new and genuine frames of reference to further spirituality. The buffalo emerge from the sweat lodge, a whole psychic mind set erupts, and design exudes symbolic energy reminiscent of and related to the visionary function of shields."
I don't know what that means.
But the buffalo are not emerging from the sweat lodge.
The 7 buffalo, representing the 7 sacred rites or ceremonies that were brought to the Lakota people by Ptesanwin, White Buffalo Calf Woman, are formed of smoke, the incense from the sacred Pipe, which is the foundation of the sweat (inipi), the rite of purification she brought. The 7 sacred smoke puffs symbolize this for the sky, the father, with buffalo (made of sacred smoke in the air) of the earth, the mother.
The 7 eagle feathers hanging from the Pipestem (which is the connection between the person smoking and the red Pipestone bowl, the altar), symbolize these 7 sacred rites for the earth, the mother, with the feathers of the Sky-father's wingflapper, shown below and supporting the sweat lodge. The skysigns in the earth, below. So there is a kind of mirroring or doubling of the relationships of earth and sky, a symmetry of relationships which is not geometric, and is felt rather than expressible in words.
Well, who knows, that's probably just as much gibberish as the art collector wrote. It has meaning to me, but probably to no one else.
There are also 7 bone, bead, and leather-tab danglers, with copper beads, as another reminder of the 7 sacred rites.
Around the bottom rim and more than halfway up the side rim are raised triangular shapes. These are the sacred Black Hills, the heart of the Lakota people, which are surrounding the sacred representations at the center as those rest on earth.
Paha Sapa, the Black Hills, were taken in total violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, and while eventually the U.S. courts ruled (in 1974, aftr Wounded Knee II had caused some publicity) the taking was illegal, all the Lakota-Dakota people were offered for it was money, which they have refused. Most of the sacred Black Hills is "owned" by the U.S. federal government, it could be returned to the people. My Native Astronomy section explains why the Black Hills are such an especially sacred place. I couldn't remember for sure if Zephier made them gold on his medallion too (sweat lodge and Pipestem are), but it seems to me if he didn't, he should have, because it was for the gold they contained that Waschichu -- led by General Custer -- took the Black Hills and the Powder River country in violation of the treaty.
Info about the Black Hills treaty violation and claims settlement proposals will be found at the Docket &4-A, B site. Much additional historical information, about Wounded Knee I (1890) and II (1973) and their aftermaths is at this site, as are various petition and meail forms for proposed support actions.
So: about Native spirituality: A knowledgeable, sensitive educated person just couldn't see what was there in this medallion, and said something both incomprehensible and factually wrong. A person who is usually a good, clear, sensitive and even inspired writer gushed some kind of nonsense. I could do no better; I could do a lot worse!
I described it only because my scanned copy isn't as good as seeing the thing itself, you might not see for sure that thre are 7 buffalo smoke-puff clouds, and you surely wouldn't recognize as is immediately obvious that the rim motif is the Black Hills. I do know enough (though not Lakota) to recognize the basic meanings Zephier put into it.
This medallion-necklace is something special. Every time, kids couldn't stop staring at it, we could never be allowed to touch it. So I know about the inscription on the back only from reading the show catalog. We knew what it was -- not what he named it -- from seeing it, what is there. Now it may be in a California museum -- I don't remember which one, though I was told, in 1989. But maybe not on display there.
Anyway I think it should have been, or should now be given as an honor to a Lakota person to wear. Who I think it should be, should have been (though in 1983 that wasn't so obvious) given to is Arvol Looking Horse, who now is keeper of the Lakota original sacred Pipe, at Greengrass, SD (in 1983 his father was the Pipekeeper).
As described on Arvol Looking Horse's pages, Arvol often travels now, in the U.S. and Canada, with the Bigfoot Riders (this is explained in those pages), for the purpose of bringing this group to events where their spiritual presence, on the horses, helps to promote the circle of Native unity. His wearing this medallion would help him bring spiritual knowledge and inspire appropriate lives (no drinking) among Native youth, as he is now doing.
Probably won't happen. But that's what I think should, where I think this medallion should be. I realize there can be other medallions, but this was very very special, in ways impossible to describe. It hurts to think of it in a museum, even if it is on display in a glass case there.
This page has been made with background and text in the Lakota sacred colors of the 4 directions. (Those colors are also on Zephier's medallion.) This whole beadwork section, all pictures, history, descriptions, facts, how-to-do-it, etc., is already about spirituality, identity, etc.
So, this is all I have to say about it.
| TOP of
Webmistress --Paula Giese. Text and graphics copyright 1995, 1996.
CREDITS: The photo of Mitchell Zephier's inspiring medallion-necklace was scanned from its black and white printing in the Coe collection catalog, Lost and Found Traditions: Native American Art, 1965-1985, University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1986. Sadly, this catalog, the best book of its kind on Indian art I've ever seen, has gone out of print. The American Federation of Arts has lost many of the photos, though the University of Washington Press still has the page plates, and could reprint it. The collection travelled for 2 years from 1986-88. I visited it many times when it was in Minneapolis, taking Indian kids along many times. I colored the photo from memory.
Last Updated: Thursday, October 31, 1996 - 1:25:49 PM