Archives for posts with tag: Ceremony

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He made beautiful stone pipes. Before he made them in the way of our sacred pipes, he made really fascinating dope smoking pipes, from a soft stone that was easily broken. These elegantly carved works of art did often break. I don’t know if this is because stoners are clumsy or if there was a message involved.

But the pipe maker always took it to be a message, a lesson and opportunity to lecture someone, when their pipe broke. Maybe it never occurred to him the lessons of the many broken dope pipes were because of who it was had made them.

He had a mean streak. He wasn’t faithful to the beautiful woman in his life and maybe it never crossed his mind, the reality of why he lost her. Or the reality of why he couldn’t keep many truly steadfast and dependable friends. Or the reality of why ‘the universe’ would deliver him a savage beating out of the blue. Or the reality of any number of bad experiences it seemed to him had ‘invaded’ his life.

He had meanwhile began making the ‘real pipes’ from our special stone. He didn’t learn ceremony from our people, there was no ‘sweat equity’ investment. What I’m saying is, he didn’t put himself through the hardships of real learning from our teachers’ generations of wisdom. But he was making our pipes. And making them without the understanding of how you go about making these pipes from our cultural perspective, without the proper training or knowledge from oral history.

Our medicine people were ‘watching’ this guy from a distance, they know how to do that. One of them showed up one day and said ‘I would like you to make me a pipe.’ And so, this pipe maker made a pipe for this native ghost priest, and with his incredible gift for ‘art’ he made the bowl so a human spirit was carved from the black stone bowl, facing the person who would be smoking it. The medicine man accepted the pipe and kept it for awhile but then returned with it and said ‘you need to remove this person because we don’t want people to be bugged by it.’ Or maybe he filed away the ghost image himself. In any case, this image disappeared. But the exercise had served its purpose.

When pipe maker came to our camp, one where we put together the summer ceremonies, he didn’t understand our rules. Or maybe in this case he simply didn’t care or think much of the idea of sacred ground. He didn’t refrain from his long time habit of promiscuity and had a girl in his tent, where he was screwing her in the middle of the afternoon.

Tipped off the right time had arrived (our old people have ways of knowing these things) or that is to say ‘timed’ by the fortuity of the gods, the ghost priest gathered up several of his fellow medicine men, they took the (truly freaky) ‘clown masks’ used in a Sun Dance sub-ceremony and stealthily approached the pipe makers tent.

The pipe maker was working hard at his exercise when he heard a cough. Looking over at the unexpectedly open tent door he was frozen as was the girl under him … as they beheld these hideous faces silently looking on .. and then one of the faces said, in a voice the pipe maker should have recognized, “Well, slip it back in”

We subsequently didn’t see this pipe maker at the ceremonies, which is a good, and in the same moment, a bad thing. What might have been going on in the medicine men’s mind?

What we know from the awareness the western culture had worked hard put to death, that is what the Christian culture, which had murdered the native cultures, doesn’t know, that is energy transfers. This guy making pipes needed to be overcome before his pipes began circulating his disease among the people. He had to be made to think about his behaviors. To change his ways. To understand there are unforeseen consequences to one’s inattentive actions. To learn to observe intelligently and begin to assume responsibility for his behaviors. To clean up his act, become ‘clean’ enough to mix with people without causing harm. To discover what it means to become a ‘real human being.’

And, as a last and poorest choice, if he’d not seen his mistakes and corrected himself, discover the hardest lessons of all, the disasters that would attend one’s personal life if he were to make pipes for certain persons and discover his energies can be directed squarely back at him.


Life in Indian Country


Pat had a medicine man friend over in the Flathead tribe and their main ceremony is the Blue Jay dance. When he was visiting at my house one day, I told Pat about a Stellar Jay coming into my pigeon coop to steal food. Pat was immediately interested, his eyes lighted up. “Is he a young one, can you catch me a young one?” Pat wanted to know. I told Pat I thought so. Over the next several days I kept warning the Jay “I’m going to catch you and give you to Pat!” The Jay paid no attention. So one morning I took a fish landing net out to the coop and cornered the Jay. Next thing he was in the net and then a cage. I called Pat and let him know. Pat waited several weeks to come pick the Jay up (Medicine men are careful, they don’t want something dying on their hands.)  The Jay was eating well, he especially liked earthworms. Finally Pat came and collected the bird, after I had left for Germany on business. So the Jay lived initially in a cage at Pat’s house while they got to know each other. He named the Jay ‘Strawberry’ for his favorite new treat. Eventually the Jay was trusted outside the cage and would steal from the plates at mealtimes. One day it was overlooked that a window was opened while the Jay was out of his cage and he went out the window. But Strawberry was back in the window just at supper time! So Strawberry was ready to be a Medicine Man that was Pat’s plan for the bird.

When it came time of year for Blue Jay ceremony over at Flathead country, Pat arrived and made a great stir when he introduced Strawberry to the Flathead Medicine Men. The bird was a Chief, the Boss Medicine Man, a High Priest, whatever you want to call it. Strawberry learned to mimic the drumbeats to the sacred songs, and if a medicine man was praying over a bowl of berries for the ceremony, the bird could help himself from his perch on the rim of the bowl. The Flathead medicine men wanted to keep Strawberry, but Pat would not let the bird go. So a deal was struck: that Pat had to bring the bird to ceremony each Blue Jay dance season.

It worked out that way for a couple of years. Strawberry was a traveling medicine man  and visited ceremonies in Flathead, Ojibwa, Cree and Blackfeet country. Strawberry became a master of ceremonial drumbeat. But as the way of the world will have things, Pat’s main medicine man friend at the Blue Jay Dance ceremony had passed away, and so Pat set Strawberry free back at my house, and I was not home at the time.

One morning I was up and outside doing chores, when, from a fir tree in my yard, not twenty feet away, I heard the perfect cadence of a Giveaway Dance; a ceremonial song was being tapped out. As the hair stood on the back of my neck, I tried to look out of the corner of my eye to see what on earth was happening. The bird finished off the song perfectly, right to the staccato ending, and made my skin crawl. Then I saw it was a Jay, and he laughed at me and flew off. I went into the house and had a long, quiet cup of coffee at the kitchen table, where I could see the tree through a window.

A couple of days or so later, it was early spring, I noticed a large gathering of Jays in a Cottonwood tree not far from the house. The tree had buds, but was not yet leafed out. I sat on a stump and only watched. There were well over 100 Jays in that tree. Every Stellar Jay for miles around must have been present. One Jay was apparently telling a story, anyway he was the only person speaking for the most part. Every now and again this Jay would pause and the rest of the these Jay people would briefly make a collective racket. Then Strawberry was speaking again and next thing, there it was, he was tapping out a recognizable ceremonial beat for the rest of the birds.

I would not be surprised if, twenty-five years hence, some naturalist notes the peculiar ‘drumming’ of the Stellar Jays in Glacier National Park. The old time Indians would know better.


Chelsea Nied photo credit


Life in Indian Country

Collected stories, folklore and anecdotes concerning my many years life with Blackfeet Indians and traversing Native American territories

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