The Web of Life

“The future of humankind lies waiting for those who will come to understand their lives and take up their responsibilities to all living things.”
–Vine Deloria, God is Red. Pg.296

The main idea behind our project is to show how the Lakota religious traditions are weaved into everyday life and are a representation of the web of life through an artistic representation. The web of life in this context is how culture, religion and cross-culture are intertwined. Our project artistically represents how our experiences as non-natives influence the Lakota society and how they have impacted us.

Each of us have chosen a different mode of representation as an example of different Native American symbols that have influenced our connections with the Lakota culture, or what we know of it. We have put all of these pieces together on the (symbolic) structure of a sweat-lodge in order to show that they are all interconnected.

Sweat-Lodge 

We have noticed that religion seems to be intertwined with all aspects of Lakota life.  Indigenous spirituality is an important part of establishing community and family structure, decision making, health, and much more.  In our model of a sweat lodge the sticks represent the different facets of life that all come together under religion.  Religion is the all-encompassing element that ties all parts of life together and gives it meaning. Spirituality is used to give structure and bring unity to life.  The sweat lodge is a symbol for religion as the place where all parts of life come together into one.

The sweat lodge experience at Pine Ridge meant something different to all of us.  Even though we may not have access to a sweat lodge we want to find a way to maintain the unity and lightness achieved in the lodge in our everyday lives.  For some of us, the sweat lodge brought revelations, visions, and deep connections with the divine.  For others, it was a place of relaxation and a fascinating window into the Lakota way of life.  Despite all of the different reactions to the sweat lodge there was an overwhelming sense of unity amongst the group.  The feeling of connection between people and between different aspects of our lives is a central function of the sweat lodge.

(Rob, Courtney, & Ellen)

Tapestry

According to Navajo legend, Spider Woman and Man brought weaving to the Navajo people. When a baby girl was born, her hands were actually wrapped in spider webs to invite the blessing of Spider Woman. When eastern techniques were adopted, the Navajo first came in contact with borders on tapestries. Many weavers were skeptical of borders, seeing them as confining the spirit of the artists. They adapted to the border trend by incorporating Spirit Lines into their work, which are weft yars that go from the interior of the design, through the border and usually meet the end of the tapestry at the top right corner. Spirit Lines prevent creative energy from being trapped in the design and free the weaver to create again. The idea for spirit lines comes from when you look at a spider web. If there is no spider on the web, you will instead see a trail where the spider left the web. By caring for our spirit with spirit lines, we create movement towards the future with greater flow of creativity/ innovation/ and freedom

(Laura)

Prayer Bundles

The idea of the relatedness of all things is an important one in Lakota spirituality. In my experience at Pine Ridge, I saw this reflected in the very supportive community based life, and in practices like the stewardship of the Buffalo. But the main way I encountered of the Lakota expressing and experiencing connectedness was through prayer. For my addition to the web, I created 44 prayer bundles. I chose that number because it is a holy number, representing the four directions and unity with nature and the seasons. Inside each bundle I put a slip of paper with the name of some element of nature or of a person from our class and Pine Ridge. Somehow I managed to start tying them with no expectation of actually praying, focusing merely on getting classwork done. By the end, however, I organically developed a prayer to say over each name and imagine as I was tying them holding the person or thing in the light of my heart. It was a powerful feeling of connection that was almost unavoidable.

(Laura)

Word & Quote Threads

I was most drawn to words and how our class’s use of them on the course blog demonstrates the connections developed through ceremonies and our time at Pine Ridge. Out of curiosity I ran a word cloud application through the blog and pulled out our most frequently used words. While some words were expected (Pine, Ridge, ceremony, sweats), others were more striking (time, silence, living, unity, branches). While I hadn’t planned on really doing anything with the word cloud, I was inspired by the nature of the words—and by the idea that we as a community had all brought them forth together, used them, gave them strength—and struck by how, in a sense, these words connected us a class and to our moments with the Lakota at Pine Ridge. So, following the design of prayer bundles, I wrote out the larger clouds words onto paper scraps and wove them together on hemp, creating a vital thread of our web, as the words represent our unification as a class and with the Lakota. While we all had extremely unique and personal experiences in ceremony, we nonetheless intertwined, sharing words and thoughts and emotions. We gave the words their strength.

In addition to making the word thread, I also reread through the blog’s entries, ignoring titles and author names and treating it as a single entry. I pulled out the quotes that clicked with the class’s unified voice and eventually made a quote thread. This task took me longer than I anticipated, for as a community we developed a far deeper singular voice than I’d anticipated. In our writings, the class shared a beautiful a tremendous amount of hope and insight, a great sense of openness, of feeling a loss of words and sense of awe, and a respect for the Lakota way of life. Each sentence could be connected. As I worked on the threads, a warm calm built. It was a beautiful experience–rereading the class blogs–the entries wove together and became one. Though we all came from different places and are on entirely different paths and were participating in ceremonies with (and of) a culture absolutely abstract from our own, we brought our different aspects of life to the experience, came together, shared many words, and created a strong web. Like the idea of Mitakuye Oyasin, all my relations, the word and quote threads demonstrated how unity and connectedness play such a strong role in Lakota ceremony and culture.

(Heather)

Photo Weaving

“As different as we are, you and I, we are of one spirit.As dissimilar as we are, you and I, we are of equal worth. There must always be solidarity between the two of us. There can be no harmony in the universe as long as there is no harmony between us” – Navajo Proverb

We came together as a group and decided we wanted to do a visual arts piece. We were all under the same impression that the web of life was the most important and connecting component of the ceremonies and our experience. Specifically, we wanted to weave together pictures to create a new cohesive image. The idea of connecting stories to create a new story was most powerful. Researching weaving, I was most struck with the evolution of the process. Native Americans began using buffalo hide as material. Introduction of Europeans changed the style. Different materials and style were adapted into the weaving process. To represent past and present to understand the future, we used a combination of both colored pictures and black and white pictures. Selecting the pictures took a very long time. We decided which pictures would be more powerful in color and which photos would be more powerful in color.

Looking at the history and purposes of weaving I also felt rooted in this project. To the Navajo, weaving comes from life experiences, the landscape, family, community and the outside world, which we brought together through the photos of our experience. Weaving is also considered a cultural expression in which each rug contains a woven history of the people, in this case the woven history of our time at Pine Ridge. Because weaving is so deeply rooted in history and meaning, we tried to stay true to the weaving process with our modern twist. In Navajo tradition the universe itself was woven on an enormous loom by the mythic female ancestor, Spider Woman, out of the sacred materials of the cosmos. We were given the materials of our class moments together to work with and tried to weave ourselves with the land and the Lakota people in each photo, physically tying us all together in the web of life.

Additionally, weaving has a spiritual component. Through creating this project, we too were participating in ceremony. Studying the pictures, we shared stories of the images before us. Weaving the pictures was calming and served as closure on the trip. It was powerful to relive the trip to Pine Ridge. It was interesting to see what pictures people took. It was a glimpse into what they saw as most powerful, and we combined all of these powerful moments to create our single class experience.

(Jacquie & Kristin)

Literary Element and Conclusion

From the first essay that we read in class “What we wish to be called” to the last ones on education, it shows how interconnected the Native American’s lives are with ours. Although not every non-indigenous person has been exposed to the Native American culture directly, to the extent that many people don’t even realize their existence anymore, we are connected. Our cultural, or lack of cultural influence effects each other through economics, geography, social justice issues and much more.

Simply by having this class we are showing our connection with the Native American communities. Due to our long standing and taught ignorance of their culture and the separation that has been made between natives and non-natives since the beginning of US history many of us remain clueless about how connected our religions, arts, and lives are. Each piece of art that we have made here is representative of this connection between our cultures and how interconnected the Lakota way of life is in itself. The texts that we have read in class can also be used to further show this connection.

What We Wish to be Called: 

Quote: “Historically, and even in contemporary times, Indigenous Peoples of the United States and Canada have not regarded themselves as one monolithic racial society.”

This quote shows the first and foremost issue of other-ing. By not knowing what to call this ethnic group and by labeling all Native American groups under one name, it strips these people of their identity and shows to discomfort in our cultural relationship.

God is Red:

Quote: “Many people are trapped between tribal values constituting their unconscious behavioral responses and the values that they have been taught in schools and churches, which primarily demand conforming to seemingly foreign ideals…People are not allowed to be indians and cannot become whites.” (pg 243)

Education readings:

The education readings clearly show the interactions between Native Americans and non-natives in the melting pot creation of education. This is a clear Social justice issue that has come up and shows our clear avoidance of the Native American topic as even existence. By not acknowledging the Native Americans in our lives and by suppressing them we pretend that they are non-existent and only a piece of history.

To bring it all back together, whether it is from the view of our personal experience and art or through the readings we discussed, the cultures, economies, and lives in general of the indigenous peoples of North America and our own are intertwined. This connection is part of the web of life where any string that is pulled can be felt by the others. Just as our sweat lodge is made of many different components on one symbolic structure so are our lives.

(Hannah)

 Discussion Questions

1) what is your understanding of the web of life in Lakota Spirituality and what is its importance to their tradition?

2) in what ceremonial elements did you see the importance of the web of life and how does the understanding of the connectedness of all things impact Lakota ceremony and prayer?

3) do you think this idea/ value extends beyond just ceremony? did you see anything in the way the Lakota related to each other, to us, to animals, or to their land that illustrates this belief of the connectedness of the web of life?

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