Media and the Lakota

After experiencing the final project presentations yesterday, I decided to dedicate my final blog post to the issue of Indigenous Peoples in the media. We had two interesting presentations on the topic: from the media team we learned about the Lakota of the Pine Ridge Reservation in the news, and from Sam we looked into the theme of Native Americans in media (literature, movies, video games). We spoke about the implications of negative press or media in which a picture is painted of the Lakota, or Indigenous Peoples in general, as victims, hopeless, lost people. We asked the question, is press in which this image of the Lakota is perpetuated a positive? People who said yes believed that while buzzwords like “hopelessness”, “ravaged”, or “devastated” were redundant and not effective, at least the larger social issues that the Lakota face were being brought to light in mainstream media. People who said ‘no’ to this question felt strongly that this type of media was dehumanizing for the Lakota people. They believed that hearing this narrative of their lives again and again in the media could only be detrimental to the Lakota. The majority of the class sat in this second camp.

I thought a lot more about this after our discussion in class, and I think I am still torn. I can say confidently that a piece like the Diane Sawyer one was inappropriate and pure sensationalization. That type of media is surely negative for the Lakota, and it barely raised awareness regarding the social and political issues that the Lakota face. But we also read the New York Times opinion piece, in which the author stated facts about the inequality and poverty that the Lakota face, and then his own opinion that in order for the Lakota to make strives to social and financial security, many of the Lakota must leave the reservation. This opinion was based in the fact that the reservation would never be able to create enough jobs to support its population. Sure, this argument was a controversial one. And the class felt that the author’s economic analysis was not grounded or fair. I think I disagree.

Throughout the class, my peers often argued that stating statistics or health facts about the population on Pine Ridge was dehumanizing for the Lakota–making the community a series of numbers, rather than a living, breathing population. I found myself frustrated with this conclusion. Of course, statistics are treating people like numbers–statistics won’t ever pay full respect to a culture or its people. But as a Sociology major interested in Public Health, I have to argue that statistics, especially quite alarming ones, are precisely what motivates many people to action. Although some people need to hear the personal stories and meet the people before they feel this motivation, many do not.

I never want to minimize our experience at Pine Ridge–I believe it was essential for each one of us to meet the people who live in the Lakota community. That said, I would argue that the opinion piece, and ones like it that state the truly alarming statistics about Pine Ridge, are not detrimental to the Lakota, but actually quite necessary if true social and political change will reach the reservation.


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Completing the Circle

For my ceremony reflection, I posted on this blog about what it means to “Break the Circle.”  I finished the paper with these sentiments: “While I am still conflicted as to what exactly constitutes a broken circle, I now realize that I will never know the full extent of what the circle means and how it embodies itself, as its meaning will continue to evolve over time.  The embodiment of the circle is ever changing, adapting with the culture and it seems that, even if the circle is often interrupted by change, it may never fully be broken.”  As we finished up with our final pipe ceremony yesterday, I had an overpowering feeling of the significance of the circle and couldn’t help noticing that by doing this we truly were completing the circle.

It’s crazy how strong the power of association of memories is.  Sitting in a circle in Shove yesterday for Celinda’s pipe ceremony, my mind automatically transported me back to that initial pipe ceremony we had on one of the first days of this course.  I flashed back on all those initial feelings I had and, by reliving these, I was able to contrast just how far I’ve come in these past few weeks and how much I’ve learned in the process.  I’ll admit that I had no idea what to expect going into that first pipe ceremony.  I spent the majority of the pipe ceremony terrified that I would do something wrong that would ruin the ceremony for everyone or upset the spirits.  I kept reminding myself to listen to follow Celinda’s orders – just a pinch of tobacco, grab the pipe with your left hand first, don’t break the circle, no wearing metal jewelry, allow yourself to be a “hollow bone.”  All I could focus on was following these instructions and trying not to break the circle, made up of a class full of people I knew barely, if at all.  I was unfamiliar with the chants, with the meaning of “Mitakuye Oyasin,” all my relations.  When it came time to give everyone hugs at the end of the ceremony I felt slightly uncomfortable hugging people I had barely ever met.  My first pipe ceremony unraveled in that way; above all else, it was constituted by a state of heavy emotional vulnerability on my part, being thrown into a culture I knew nothing about.

The pipe ceremony I attended yesterday brought all these memories flooding back to me and allowed me to see just how much I’ve grown this block.  This time the words being chanted were familiar and I was surrounded by a community of people I have grown to love and trust over the past month.  We had gone everything together, from that very first pipe ceremony, to arriving at Pine Ridge, to that very first sweat lodge, to Bear Butte, back to CC where we all struggled to assimilate back into the larger CC community, and finally to this final pipe ceremony.  We had truly formed a community.

At the end of yesterday’s pipe ceremony, it came time to hug everyone in the circle.  This time, I was grateful for the hugs, having formed some sort of a connection with everyone in the class.  After giving my final hug, I returned to my spot and realized that I had walked the full circle.  I looked around and realized that, through the hugging process, the circle had literally grown smaller and now everyone was closer.  And I knew then that, no matter what sort of relationship our class has following this block, we can continue to walk the circle in the future, but for now the circle has undoubtedly been completed.  Four weeks ago I struggled to grasp what the “circle” was that Celinda was speaking of.  Now I understand its true capacity.  And I now know that the circle can never truly be broken.

Mitakuye Oyasin, my friends.

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My Time At Pine Ridge

When I first came to Pine Ridge I felt scared and alone

could not shake the feeling that this was not my home

yet I gave it an open heart and mind

and left myself open to whatever I could find


Coming to sweat I tried to be still and calm

tried to let the love in with an open palm

going into the sweat pushed me into the dark

and I sat waiting for a healing spark

yet when the steam began to build and grow

all the memories began to rush and flow

as Justin beat the drum and chanted

I looked back and realized I took a lot of things for granted


I sat in the lodge in a panic as by body began to shake

as my skin felt like it was going to bake

I felt something larger reach out to me

and I felt what I really wanted to be

someone who people looked to for comfort and joy

not just a larger and terrified boy

how I needed to let go of my hurt and pain

and not leave it as a stain

for me to put the sadness and anger in the sweat

and to let it leave with no more regret


The feeling when I was comforted outside the lodge

left me with a feeling I could not anymore dodge

“Maybe people see something in me that is good”

even when I feel that I was always misunderstood

because on face value I did not think people found me appealing

even though I had so much kindness and love I was concealing


I was so nervous talking with people after the first sweat

but I had a new mindset that I had not tried yet

you are not a burden to others

these people are your sisters and brothers


I realized through this experience that confidence is contagious

and that feeling good about myself was advantageous

I would like to thank everyone involved

for helping me through what was unresolved

from the LittleBoy family and Bruce to the Lakota group

you have helped me to end the vicious loop


Thank you


-Raylon Silberman

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Someone mentioned the idea of the circle during the last pipe ceremony with Celinda and it has really stuck with me. The idea of the circle: to really have no beginning or ending. Or at least to have a beginning that is constantly refreshed. And as I look back through my time in this class there is a constant reminder or recognition of the circle.

At pine ridge everyone sat in a circle in the sweat lodge. One side the women and the other the men.  Even if we were separated by sex we still entered the sweat lodge and left together in a circle. I felt that this was a physical representation that together as a whole we have completed a journey that had connected everyone’s prayers, strengths, and love together. And like the circle, our walk into and out of the sweat lodge will continue again the next day. For some like the Lakota residents, the refreshing of their circle will continue everyday in the sweat lodge. But as soon as they leave the ceremony of the sweat lodge they will continue their lives outside the circle. Until they come together again.

Another instance when I found the motif of the circle to pop up was when Emma and RJ read their spoken word poems to the class. RJ’s words flowed and rhymed connecting one thought to the next. And in my mind I saw many small circles of struggle, strength, insight, and newfound happiness that developed his poem. For Emma’s poem, I felt like her poem was spinning with confusion and strong energy. Her thoughts of confusion of being at Pine Ridge and her impact circling continuously forever. Will we ever figure out our true meaning for being at pine ridge?

Lastly, I saw the image of the circle during our last pipe ceremony. Again, as a class we sat in a circle. The feeling of this pip ceremony to me was entirely different then the first one. As we went through this class, each and every one of us, I felt, has grown close. I noticed either by renewing friendships or creating new ones. We all have walked a circle together and are now connecting it with the final pipe ceremony. However, like the circle I hope that our friendships will continue and to flow again and again.

It has been a great class everyone! I am so glad I have gotten to experience this journey with you!

~Becca A

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My Personal Pipe Practice

Throughout this class I have been exposed to many beautiful spiritual practices that have moved me. Pipe ceremony, in particular, was a ceremony that brought me both clarity and connection to those around me. As a form of council, pipe ceremony is a beautiful way to speak openly and listen earnestly. In this format, I feel like I am able to speak spontaneously, yet say what I’d like to with few words. I pray, evaluate what is important to me, and set intentions. I would like to incorporate these exercises into my own spiritual practice, but I am hesitant.

Maybe it’s because I am utterly turned off to new-age spirituality after seeing footage of the drum-circle at the Wintu holy spring, but I worry that it may be inappropriate for me to take something so sacred to someone else and make it my own. As a white male living in the United States, I wonder how I can borrow from another culture without appropriating. Surely doing my own pipe ceremony is different than making homemade curry. Both American Indians and Indian Indians suffer from the living legacy of white colonialism, but borrowing a culture’s spice kit is very different than borrowing their holy ceremony.

If my participation in this type of ceremony offends others, should I not do it? This could be resolved by a simple cost-benefit analysis; if the benefit of my doing the ceremony outweighs the harm of offense done to others, than my participation in the ceremony is okay. Maybe. Many harmful acts can benefit others, but it can also be said that harmful acts should be avoided at all costs. In this case, there also seems to be issues of ownership at play. Pipe ceremony belongs to those who received from White Buffalo Woman. It does not belong to me.

Even so, I wonder if anybody would actually be offended if I did pipe ceremony in the privacy of my home. It is likely that I would do the ceremony ‘incorrectly’. I supposed could take part of the ceremony that I like and make an entirely new ceremony. For example, I could bring the practice of council to a ceremony where a bowl of tea is passed around instead of a pipe.

I really appreciated what Isaac said about the difference between cultural appropriation and acculturation: Appropriation is a luxury the colonizer has to take bits of culture from others without understanding their significance or meaning, while acculturation, requires an individual to deliberately adopt a practice as their own, while giving thought to the full weight and gravity of this move.I know very little about the mythology and theology of pipe ceremony. I am unaware of anny communication with spirits when I smoke the pipe. I am sure there are also many micro-rituals in the actual performance of the ceremony that I am unaware of. If I do pipe understanding, it would be with a shallow understanding of what the ceremony actually is.

My hypothetical tea bowl ceremony could achieve much of what I gain from Pipe ceremony without appropriating from anybody. Maybe I will do tea ceremony. But I also love the taste of the smoking herb blend. Being able to identify and forage native plants for my own horticultural uses is empowering. It connects me to land, deepening my relationship with the local ecology.

Spiritual practice is a form of knowledge, just as agrarian or culinary practices are. Even though these forms of knowledge have different significance, it is strange to imagine having knowledge but not using it. Ultimately, I think I will continue doing pipe ceremony with my friends. It seems appropriate to utilize the ancient knowledge of those who lived here before us. In the privacy of my home, I will conduct this ceremony as a homage to Lakota tradition, without trying to disguise it as anything other than what it is: a borrowed imitation.

I will forage, pray, smoke, and council with care.

I hope you’re not offended.

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Gratitude and Wochangi

Since the very first reading of the class, Eliade’s idea of chora and kairos has been a motif for me.  These terms are respectively place and moments with unrepeatable emotional significance.  I have had chora and kairos countless times from high school track races to summiting mountains to thanksgiving dinner.  What Eliade argued and what I have taken away from this class is that experience of both chora and kairos is sacred.

Two moments stand out for me this block as particularly sacred: the third sweat and our final pipe ceremony.  During both ceremonies, I felt tremendous love and connection with the people I was with physically as well as friends and family I prayed for.  Both instances, I emerged feeling clean, energized, and almost euphoric.  I think this is because openness to and overt expression of love strengthens interpersonal bonds and self-esteem.

Celinda mentioned that ceremony of thanks and gratitude has the most wochangi.  She mentioned that giving thanks does something chemically to your mind that calms and invigorates you.  I hope to take her words and my experiences from this class with me and try to replicate them through outward expressions of gratitude.  I hope to push past cultural norms of masculinity to achieve this goal.

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I have been talking about the connection I felt with the whole class ever since we were up on pine ridge. This connection is completely organic and positive in nature. I have felt that the emotions everybody is feeling has an effect on my own and that we all have the capability to heal one another. My feeling on the reservation that there is a single collective emotion we all shared though physical spiritual exercises.

My feelings that this omni-emotion was always positive though was limited to the reservation. Once we returned to class I felt that we lost the positive energy we had gained through the ceremonies. I had the vibe that much of the class had this feeling but maybe it was simply my experience, I quickly spiraled into negativity in the classroom noticing only the bits that annoyed me. We were constantly talking about the bad things our society has done and how nobody had learned about it. Everybody went around the room at one point explaining how their high school had systematically ignored indigenous peoples. Yes, we have done many bad things but repeating it does not atone for our crimes against their culture. I felt as though the whole week was spent judging the way the media looked at Lakota, and how christian church screwed over the Native people. The negative attitude we brought to the classroom was not productive when compared with the energy we felt in ceremony. I feel as though we somehow overlooked the fact that our classroom selves were being negative, passing it off as normal and only looked at how the ceremony brought us all together and made the atmosphere one of healing.

Our final pipe ceremony returned us to an overall positive energy. The aura of goodness seemed to flow from everybody. My question is what makes the ceremony elicit such a beneficial response? Why can’t our natural state be as healthy as the state we seek through ceremony? While there is a certain inherent emotional separation between ritual and day to day life — the profane and the spiritual, much of the difference between positivity and negativity I believe stem from intention. People clearly try to clear their minds of ill thoughts before ceremony as they should as not to offend the spirits or cause pain to somebody though the spirits. But what if people brought this intention to every day and every interaction? This is my goal after leaving this class: I no longer want to get bogged down in negativity, no longer want to feel disconnections between me and other people because I fail to see the side that is filled with love, I want to approach every choice as an opportunity and every person as my family member. I want to thank everybody in the class for helping me realize that we are all part of the same larger experience and all effect one another.

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As I spoke the things I am grateful for a few hours ago, I looked around the circle and was overwhelmed with gratitude toward Solinda for the prompting and to the class for listening.  Gratitude is something people talk about sometimes and I certainly feel sometimes but never before had I felt so privileged to express it. Part of this has to do with the genuine listening that was occurring in the container of the ceremony. In other modalities of life it would be unthinkable to see 100% of a large group looking at me and listening to me with such open hearts.  However, in ceremony people come genuinely to community. Speaking my gratitude aloud made it feel real and validated by the group, my peers acted as the world I was looking at in thanks and substantiated the experience.

I spoke first in the circle and I was very appreciative that I had this chance to think for myself and not co-opt other people’s gratitudes. However, as the speaking progressed, I found myself wishing that I had thought to give thanks for what others were saying. I felt like I had forgotten things and squandered an incredible opportunity to offer verbal gratitude.  Then I chastised myself. Why should I be annoyed that I have so much in my life to be grateful for? Why should I be annoyed that my peers were making me more aware of the beauty of my life and the people and experiences that surround me?

From that moment on, I realized that these gratitudes we were expressing were a form of shared prayer. With each uttered thanks 24 hearts joined in identifying with the sentiment, taking it inward and offering up an internal rendition of the thanks of another. This is perhaps why it felt so strong, this privileged group that I consider myself privileged to be a part of was all together, offering thanks with open hearts for all we have and all we’ve been given.

Gratitude is not limited to ceremonial moments like this one. Solinda said that we should try making a practice of offering thanks every night. Gratitude can in this way become a lifestyle. Neurologically we create and shape the synaptical pathways in our brain by nothing more than use. If we can simply use the path of gratitude we can literally restructure our brains. A life occupied by gratitude is so much richer and fuller than a life bogged down by the fears and greed.  Many of the teachers of my life have passed on this message to me and it always slips away in time to the “abortive sorrows and short winded elations” of life’s wrinkled road. I want to thank Solinda for reminding me of the transformational power of gratitude.

Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | 1 Comment

University of North Dakota Mascot “Fighting Sioux”

On Saturday night, I attended the CC vs. University of North Dakota hockey game at the World Arena. Whenever UND scored a goal, fans would stand up, chanting “Sioux!” Jerseys, worn by fans, displayed a picture of an Indian Chief. I decided to look into this, so if any of you are interested in reading about it, the link is below:

Apparently, the University of North Dakota had to get rid of the “fighting” portion and must be represented as “mascot-less” in the NCAA finals.

Posted in Block 3: 2011-12 | 1 Comment

Native American Experiences in Higher Education

Though we were not able to formally discuss Native American experiences in higher education, reading these articles gave me an understanding of the discrimination evident in the education system. Devon A. Mihesuah’s article, “Native Student, Faculty, and Staff Experiences in the Ivory Tower” opened my eyes to the fatal cycle many Indian Professors face. This article discusses a survey sent to Native faculty members and their non-native allies through the American Indian Quarterly journal.

The cycle begins with the lack of participation in these solicited surveys, or dialogues. Many Native Americans in academia fear they will be seen as “trouble makers” in the eyes of employers if they offer their critical perspectives on the real issues they face in everyday life. Speaking up, many believe, is a red mark on their future job applications or a harmful move with respect to their current positions. While remaining tacit might be a slightly more favorable move in the eyes of the tenure committee, Native Americans continue to face inequities in their rights as a faculty member. Some Native Americans had trouble putting words to their horrifying experiences, and opted not to respond to the survey. The desire to voice opinions combined with the consequences of honesty stir the vicious cycle.

The few Indians who have spoken up, through writing publications and verbally have powerful stories to tell. Additionally, Non-Native professors in Native American Studies (NAS) Departments, tell stories of times they were targeted for their radical political beliefs.

In the anonymous article “Old School”, a Jewish, female professor in the Native American Studies Department states, “Officially, I have never been reviewed for tenure. In reality, my tenure dossier went up the hierarchy of review committees once and was sent back to the NAS tenure committee under a “scorched-earth” mandate to redo the review because of gross procedural errors” (54). And, “The university I have worked at for six years is paying me a five-figure sum to resign” (54). The lack of opportunity and pure discrimination against this individual, who chooses to incorporate the idea of “color privilege” into her teachings, and whose husband is a Native American, is appalling.

After reading several articles, I remain unsure of how this situation can be ameliorated. If the positions of those who speak out are compromised, and discrimination occurs on a daily basis toward those who do not speak out, what can be done? Anonymity is crucial to sharing these horrors that are occurring, but even upon hearing these stories anonymously, discrimination in educational institutions has not subsided. Without the mention of specific colleges or universities in these articles, the departments are not “hearing” or “listening.” I hope to read more of these articles, as I find a further education and understanding of the topic is crucial to suggest ways in which awareness can be raised, or systems can be changed, if this is possible.

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