In Memory of Bear Heart. Part 12.

A Native American peace pipe. From an exhibiti...
A Native American peace pipe. From an exhibition guide at the Library of Congress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
July 1, 2013
by Jerry Alatalo

“Those who conduct the Native American Church meetings are called ‘road men’ and, much like the leader of the sweat lodge, a road man is responsible for all the people who come to the meeting and sit in that circle. He must be strong enough in character, knowledge, and wisdom to not only keep in mind the purpose of the meeting itself but also be able to handle the diverse problems of the people in that circle.”

Bear Heart recounts a story about a healing that took place in one of the meetings of the Native American Church. A Ponca Indian had worked with a woman who was very ill, hadn’t eaten for some time, could not keep food down and was wasting away. After he worked with her she said she was hungry. The Ponca Indian told his helper to go to an orchard some short distance away, break off a limb from the first tree he came to, and bring it back to him.

His helper did so, brought back the bare limb (wintertime) and the Ponca Indian stuck the limb in the center of the fire. He said, “I am going to sing four songs.” As he started to sing the bare limb began to grow leaves and buds. When he sang the second song little fruit began to grow on it. He sang the third song and there were leaves and buds all over the limb. He sang the fourth song and pears were on the limb. He told his helper to give the woman four pears, and one pear to each of the people in the meeting. There were just enough pears for everyone at the meeting and Bear Heart knew the people who saw it.

At another meeting people gathered to pray for Bear Heart’s brother’s granddaughter who had a collapsed lung. They prayed all night on the Saturday before the Monday that she was to go to the hospital for treatment. Early Sunday morning Bear Heart’s uncle, who was conducting the meeting, brought the granddaughter into the tipi. He placed cedar on the fire and fanned her with an eagle feather. She went around and shook hands, thanked, with everyone there who was praying for her. The next day, Monday, she went to the hospital and her lungs were fine.

“She wasn’t at the meeting and ingested no peyote, but those at the meeting did and they prayed for her.” She got well and Bear Heart mentioned that things happen like that without any logical explanation.

“Those are just some of the things we think about when we appeal to this Great Being, when we make an effort and someone feels good from it. They thank us, but we were just an instrument, the healing went through us, but actually it came from Him. That’s why we are reluctant many times to take credit because we really did very little and wish we could do more.”

“There’s only one road that leads to the heart of God and that’s the spirit road-that’s what we strive to be on.”

In 1990 the Supreme Court let stand a Oregon law which prohibited the using of peyote as a sacrament.

“Faced with losing protection of our way of worship, people wondered what to do. We can write all kinds of letters, but we still believe in the omnipotent Great Being to intervene in such situations if we say, ‘Let a way be made so that there will be a continuance of the freedom of our Native American Church.’ We can call upon the Great Being, not only for ourselves but for all people, for all races. Especially for those who are coming after us, so that we can leave something everlasting that is good for all of mankind.”

Bill Richardson, at the time in 1995 a congressman from New Mexico, introduced a bill for the acceptance of the Native American Church and its use of peyote, to be protected by all the states. The bill passed and Bear Heart noted that, “…so it demonstrates that our beliefs and prayers can be answered when we put our hearts and minds together.”

The Sacred Pipe.

The white man has come to call it the peace pipe but the Native American calls it the Sacred Pipe, an instrument used to communicate with the Creator.

Bear Heart owned five Pipes including a medicine Pipe he used for doctoring, an altar Pipe for running sweat lodges, a long-distance Pipe for healing at a great distance, a working Pipe for general prayer, and his personal Pipe.

He recalled meeting a boy born without arms where he used his personal Pipe for guidance. The boy asked him, “Can God give me the rest of my arms?” Bear Heart told the boy, “I’d like to talk to you about it, but I’m quite busy now, so we’ll sit down and talk about it a little later.” He used his personal Pipe to get strength and wisdom from the Creator to talk to the boy.

He said to the boy, “When we come into the world, there are many things God intends for us and He must have something very special in store for you in order to bring you into this life without arms. As you continue with your schooling, you’ll find something that appeals to you, something that you’ll really enjoy. Seek out all there is to know about it, specialize in it. Perhaps that’s the area you’re going to excel in. Any number of opportunities will become available to you. There’s a certain amount of disadvantage at the moment, but you’re not disabled by any means. Today there are organizations that help little boys like you. They may have to give you mechanical arms so you can do things like drive a car and write, but even now you can still think, talk, see, and hear. And with those gifts, you can make something of your life. So don’t think about changing the way you are. Accept it by saying, ‘This is what God intended for me. I’m going to make something of myself because He gave me other gifts-I can become anything I want to be.’ ”

Bear Heart’s personal Pipe helped him talk to the boy.

He said the Pipe neither adds to or subtracts from the power of prayer. If it’s used for ego and ego alone it will not allow the power from the Creator to come through. “We must yield to the Greater Power, and by so yielding we may appropriate the power that comes from on high, and in that way we can ask for anything that we desire.”

He noted that the Pipe has to be handled very carefully as using it involves talking and praying to the Creator about our own lives and the lives of others. Smoking the Pipe is an appeal for healthy attitudes in healthy bodies. He advised that the Pipe was not smoked to impress others but because we want to express our feelings from our hearts and minds to Him. He said the Pipe has a power of its own to wipe away tears and that it will carry our pain to the One who can handle it for us.

The first quality a Pipe carrier must have is humility.

“To be truly humble is not an indication of weakness.”

Bear Heart said that if someone says lies about you or tries to take advantage of you, that it takes great strength to remain quiet. He would use his Pipe to convey to the Creator, “This is my situation. Only you can understand, so I offer this smoke to you and place this problem in your hands with gratitude that You are here for me. I sit on Mother Earth so she may absorb my tears and bring me a sense of joy instead of hurt. I want to feel good, not only about myself, but about the person who said these things. Please take care of it.”

“Our people say that if you get angry you’ve lost the battle.”

He noted that the Pipe has to be used in a positive way at all times. A Pipe carrier must own the quality of compassion. Other qualities are courage and loyalty. There are other qualities as well. A leader must stay focused on what is best for the people, not just best for himself. He is aware of the spirit of the questions in the Bible: “When they were hungry did you feed them? When they were naked did you clothe them?”

“This is a good day to continue with our ceremonies and share our spiritual values so that one day the white and the red who fought one another can truly live in a spirit of oneness. Let it be our battle cry everywhere, so that not only Indians but everyone can truly say, ‘This is a good day to live.’ ”

Continued in Part 13… 


In Memory of Bear Heart. Part 11.

English: Frame for sweat lodge at Lake Superio...
English: Frame for sweat lodge at Lake Superior Provincial Park, Wawa, Ontario, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
June 30, 2013
by Jerry Alatalo

“So the living God is one God. There are many ways people worship God, and that’s why there are so many churches of different denominations-their rituals are different, the order of services are different, but it is the same God. Whether you go to a Catholic church, a Jewish temple, a Protestant service, or a Native American ceremony, if you are strong in your belief and your faith, you don’t have to fear what anyone else does.”

Bear Heart said that there is only one Creator; there is not many gods.

He describes the Sacred Stone People’s Lodge or sweat lodge. This is a ceremony where stones become heated to red hot in an open fire, brought into the lodge, steam gets produced by throwing water on the rocks, and toxins are released when we sweat. The sweat lodge is a place to communicate with the Creator.

The sweat lodge is not a place to show others how much heat you can take, but is a sacred place. Here a person becomes purified and cleaned to communicate with the Higher Power. The differences between a sweat lodge and a sauna or steam room is that the sweat lodge involves a spiritual aspect. There is no reason that when one takes a sauna or sits in a steam room that the experience can’t be a form of prayer and spiritual.

Whether it is the sweat lodge, sauna or steam room the main cause in communicating with Creator is humility. With the sweat lodge you have to crawl through the low doorway to get inside and that is showing humility. The seven stones which are used in the lodge represent the Creator, the Earth, the four directions and one more for all living things. Bear Heart said, “So, when we sit there, we are in a little universe. And in that little space, we can pray for any situation on our planet, we can add our love, our concern for the whole world. There are many things that we can pray for from our churches and our little lodges and it doesn’t matter how great or small the structure because the One we appeal to has the greatest power of all.”

He describes prayer as communicating from our hearts to the One who will listen no matter what our station in life. He talks about the elders praying for people who have experienced disasters of some type. They pray for orphans so that someone may express good thoughts to them, give them food or toys to play with. Bear Heart said, “We can pray for these things if we are spiritual. The spirit just works, it doesn’t think in terms of distance, it doesn’t think in terms of time.”

When the drum was used there was an awareness of the spirit inside the drum. The wood of the drum was once a tree while the skin of the drum  was once life. The drum represents the heartbeat of the Creator, and when people danced to the drum all were in harmony with our fellow-man.

“The spirit of the One who gave us life, the Life Form of all life forms, is being called upon, and in time, that person’s heartbeat is going to catch up with the drumbeat. You don’t have to be a great medicine person to do this. You just have to have a lot of love in your heart to be able to do it, a lot of concern for your fellow-man. That’s why the drum is a sacred instrument for us.”

The fire where the stones become heated is attended to carefully and gently. The fire that burns is the eternal fire and is the sun lighting our way.

Bear Heart goes on to explain the meaning of the circle or Sacred Hoop. Sweat lodges and tipis are round and represent the circle without end, without any time element. People who gather in a circle experience oneness and a sense of the sacredness that is inside us all. The Sacred Hoop is the circle of all life and includes the four directions, the Earth and every living thing.

“Everything is part of the Sacred Hoop and everything is related. Our existence is so intertwined that our survival depends on maintaining a balanced relationship with everything within the Sacred Hoop.”

He said the circle represents the universe, all of creation united as relatives. The circle, the Hoop has been broken many times through history as man has ignored his fellow-man, the Earth and living things on her.

“In today’s culture, the Hoop has been broken in many places. What we’re trying to do is repair it. The circle brings us closer together in harmony with a sense of blending, forgiving, loving, tolerating. If we can live that way, then perhaps our world, which is the greatest circle, might be a better place.”

Bear Heart talked about the responsibilities of leadership where human beings have been entrusted to your care. The leader is responsible for every soul and every problem. It is a large responsibility.

He goes on to describe the use of peyote in the Native American Church. He noted that peyote has many healing properties, science has determined that it is not habit-forming, and that it has medicine value. Natives view it as medicine which cures all kinds of mental, emotional and physical problems. It is not taken to “get high” but because we need help, direction, strength and encouragement.

There isn’t any hallucinating with peyote, but the seeing of visions that teach.

“Peyote still works for our people today. I visited an Otoe man in the veterans’ hospital who told me he had used it to see his son in action during the Korean conflict. He told me, ‘I was home on Saturday, really worrying about my son. The heaviness in my heart for him was there. I didn’t want to go to town because I’d just end up drinking if I did. So I stayed home and decided to take peyote and, in my way, pray. I wanted to hear something good about my son, to see if he was safe. That’s all I was asking.’

“So he ingested some peyote and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes, he was flying and, looking down, he saw his son with four or five soldiers who became surrounded by the enemy. ‘They were trapped and my son would have been trapped along with them, but I saw him crawling through the weeds and then the weeds seemed to give way and he fell into a dry creek bed that couldn’t be seen because of the high grass around it. He crawled under a fence and got into some trees and made it to a safe area, so I felt good. I closed my eyes again and when I opened them I was still there lying on my bed. I don’t know how long it took, but I saw that.’ ”

Bear Heart mentioned that two months later the man and his wife got a letter from their son describing exactly what the father had seen. He had seen his son in Korea by using peyote and never touched a drop of alcohol again.

Continued in Part 12…