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When I was young, a black widow spider bit me. The venom started spreading and eating away at my skin. I remember my grandmother praying that I would live, and it was the prayer that pulled me through. But it left a bad scar on my face, which made me very shy when I was growing up.
I stayed away from people because I was ashamed of the scar. I rode my horse, and spent time sitting on the hill in Green Grass, looking at the beauty of the land and thinking about how it must have been a long time ago. I'd feel secure and at peace. I'd find my center.
Another time, my brother died, I decided I wanted to do something to honor him because he was so good at everything he did. At that time, I was just the opposite, I had no confidence. The day he was buried, I thought about how he was so natural with horses and that he would have been the best rodeo rider. So I made a committment to ride rodeo for him, in saddle bronco riding that he loved.
I went to the rodeo in Deadwood, but my body didn't feel quite up to it. I got ready anyway because there were a lot of friends from the reservation who had come to see me. I saddled my horse, and was feeling good. I looked up at the grandstand. I got on the horse, he bucked and went straight up in the air. Then he spun around and fell backwards--right on top of me. I heard a crack in my backbone, there, shaking. I couldn't feel my body.
The ambulance came and then I was lying there in the hospital. The doctor was telling me that I'd never walk again, that I was paralyzed from the neck down. I had broken three vertebrae, cracked one, and had a concussion.
I remembered my grandmother once saying to me that when a person is getting ready to go into the spirit world, their relatives come to them. At different times I would open my eyes and see them standing there.
Then the phone rang, and the voice on the line said "I'm your grandmother and the people need you." This grandmother chewed me out about the rodeo and said I had done this to myself. I felt my mother and father entering the room, but I kept my eyes closed because I didn't know if they were real or not. My dad started talking to me about trhe Sun Dance they were having. In my mind I kept thinking about my grandmother saying that it didn't matter how many people prayed for you, if you didn't pray for yourself the prayers wouldn't be effective.
So I was trying to relax my mind. I kept picturing the Sun Dance and all the people circling around the Tree of Life in the center. I prayed so much, humbly, from my heart.
When the Sun Dance was over, my bones healed back together. The doctors couldn't believe it. A week later I walked out of the hospital. I knew deep down in my heart that my prayers had been answered.
Arvol is one of the founders of the BigFoot Riders.
Hundreds of Native people -- mostly Lakotas -- made a long, cold ride in the winter of 1990 to memorialize the massacre of BigFoot's band at Wounded Knee, around Christmas, in 1890 on what's now the Pine Ridge Oglala Lakota Reservation in South Dakota.
A video -- "Wiping the Tears of 7 Generations" -- of this was made that won the 1991 American Indian film festival "best video" award. It's avilable ($29.95 for schools and private use; $85 if you plan to give public-for-pay showings) from the makers, Kifaru Productions, 800/400-8433.
Kifaru has a commercial web page which is a catalog describing this and other videos, books, tapes, many of them Native. Kifaru also maintains a non-profit corporation that donates from its revenues to many Indian causes. They have a web page too, called Dream Catchers. You can call for orders to 800/400-84336
The BigFoot Riders made many unity rides in Canada (and some in the U.S., see below) at places where Native people were massacred and where tribal groups are living now. This is continuing, and this round of unity rides will end at the sacred site of the central June 21 World Peace Prayer Day Ceremony, Mato Tipila (also known as Greyhorn Butte and Devil's Tower, Wyoming):
UNITY RIDE FROM WAPETON, SASKATCHEWAN TO GREY HORN BUTTE, WYOMING: May 3rd, 1996 - June 21st, 1996
Donate to the Ride or sponsor a Rider to carry a staff or flag.
The BigFoot Riders (often accompanied by Arvol, carrying the Pipe for them) have become a permanent spiritual organization. During Labor Day weekend, they came from Canada with 7 horses (and Arvol) to a Wiping of Tears ceremony sponsored by the Lower Sioux tribe (and Dakota Open School) memorializing the 38 Dakota who were hanged as a result of a rebellion caused by losing most of their land and being cheated of treaty payments and food, in 1862.
There was a 70-mile run from Mankato, where the hangings took place at Christmas, 1862, to Birch Coulee Park, site of a victory by the Dakota forces on September 2, 1862. The BigFoot Riders met the runners at midnight, halfway, and escorted them back to the campsite and powwow ground.
The runners ran all night and arrived before dawn Saturday for a purification sweat and a ceremony. The Tribe furnished food for the runners -- who included several women, and elder Emmet Eastman (Yankton Dakota), who has run the equivalent of twice round the world in the cause of peace and justice -- and several big feeds for those who attended the "Gathering of the Kin" powwow after the ceremony. There was a pretty good crowd for a Labor Day weekend doings with no prizemoney. People attended this one for other reasons. I was there, because I was at Lower Sioux, working on Dakota Open School's new computers.
Arvol spoke very movingly Saturday at the powwow about the spiritual education that is taking place among the BigFoot Riders, who include a number of youths who take part for a short while, as well as those with long-term committments. They cannot drink and must be respectful to their task and to the people they meet from all walks of life.
Saturday night, it was hot, humid. There were zillions of mostquitos from the woodsy park and nearby stream. Low clouds made us fear rain. When it was fully dark, one of the Drums began to play a beautiful, sad song honoring both the Riders and those who have perished over the centuries.
It was an honor dance for the Riders. Silver dancing mists edged the thinning, ragged clouds, and a fat cresent moon showed herself, dancing among the mists. In an amazing optical phenomenon, fuzzy circles from spotlights of the Jackpot Junction Casino, miles away, somehow swung north and circled the moon, dancing. This wasn't done by moving the spotlights, which were on automatic, the air, moisture, moon, and song did it. The powwow ground lights were turned off. The clouds went away. So did most of the mosquitoes. There was dancing by moonlight, then. That very fat crescent moon, different from how I've ever seen it, gave a lot of golden, warm light, not silvery like high-up moonlight usually is. It was like the sky was honoring the Riders and their Unity Rides.
The BigFoot Riders and their horses returned to Saskatchewan. I will try to keep this section updated with news about the June 21 world-wide prayer ceremonial, and would appreciate receiving email about it from those involved in preparing for it. As Arvol says in his announcement, there are sacred places all over -- probably 1 every 100 mile radius or so, so there could and should be many World Peace and Prayer ceremonies June 21 -- perhaps you might organize one at a sacred place on land important to you?
Text and graphics copyright Paula Giese, 1995, 1996. Photo of Arvol by Dan Budnik, from The Book of the Elders, Sandy Johnson, Harper SanFrancisco. c. 1994. That's where Arvol's recollctions of how he started his path comes from, too. The Wounded Knee poster -- memorializing both the 1890 massacre of BigFoot's band and the 1973 AIM occupation of the hamlet on the Pine Ridge Reservation -- was done by Bruce Grant for Awkesasne Notes Poster series in 1974. All Notes posters were volunteered artwork by supportive artists. Poster sales helped the paper to expand its then-free distribution to Native people, especially prisoners. After a publication hiatus in 1990, Notes is going again. Subscribe for $25/year (U.S.) to: P.O. Box 366, Mohawk Nation, via Rooseveltown, NY, 13683.
Last Updated: Tuesday, February 13, 1996 - 7:53:18 AM