Arvol Looking Horse does not have a computer or access to internet. He is also careful with his spoken words – he has to be, as he is Chief of the Great Sioux Nation and is not allowed to use foul language.
He earned his eagle feather in 1990 by riding on horseback for 191 miles – from Standing Rock Reservation to Wounded Knee – in the middle of winter, for the annual Chief Big Foot Memorial Ride.
“I was chosen by my own people, because I rode with my Big Foot Riders,” says Chief Looking Horse, who rode annually from 1986 through 1990. “We did a ceremony in 1990 – wiping the tears of seven generations.”
Chief Looking Horse resides on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, a total land area of 4,267 square miles created by the United States government in 1889. It is currently home to approximately 8,500, according to the 2010 Census.
“Since I was 12, I have been the 19th generation keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe – an ancient spirit bundle that was brought to us by a Buffalo Calf Woman,” says Looking Horse, now 63. “We use the sacred pipe in ceremonies. We make treaties with the U.S. government. We use the bible and the sacred pipe.”
He explains that in Sioux culture, each generation is counted by 100 years, and that 19 generations ago, “the great spirit” told them a certain way to live.
“Two scouts were sitting on top of the hill, a woman came to them, carrying a bundle. And one of the scouts looked at her as a woman to take home. When she approached him she said, ‘I know what you’re thinking.’ As he approached her, a cloud enveloped him, and when it lifted, she was a skeleton. She taught how we are supposed to pray and live in peace and harmony. When she left, she went up the hill and changed into four colors, a young buffalo calf, a red buffalo calf, a yellow buffalo calf, and then towards the top she turned white. When people are not living that life anymore, she will return to the earth as a white buffalo calf.”
He says a decade ago, a white buffalo calf was born in Janesville, Wisconsin, signaling turbulent times. According to the National Bison Association, the odds of having a white buffalo are one in millions.
“This was the beginning of big changes with the environment and climate changes,” says Looking Horse. More white animals will be born because man has gone too far. The reason we are having so much sickness is that everything is about money. We are having a hard time bringing that message to the people. The message is that we have to return to a place of prayer.”
On June 21, Chief Looking Horse will be heading the World Peace and Prayer Day – an annual ceremony he founded for all “people of the Earth.”
He asks that everyone go to their own sacred site or place of faith on this day to join together to pray for healing of the world’s sacred waters.
“I pray that our sacred sites can be protected, and that our people can live in peace and harmony, and the water of life can be there for our children,” says Looking Horse. “Right now, the most important thing is the water. Man has gone too far, and now we have to go back to the spiritual way – it’s all about prayer in the end.”
Looking Horse says many changes have occurred for his people over the past 100 years.
“They put our people on the reservations – they were concentration camps,” he says. “There were a lot of massacres. Back in 1890, during the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, they killed all the buffalo and horses. They killed our spiritual leaders…our people were being wiped out. Children were placed in boarding school. They are the grandfathers today. So a lot of them just speak English, but our language still survives. Today, we are trying to teach our culture and language to our children.”
He explains the Sioux people have three dialects Lakota (spoken in Nebraska), Dakota (spoken primarily in North and South Dakota), and Nakota (spoken in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada).
“The year I was born, we had to have a permit to leave our reservations,” he says. “When I was born Indian people could not drink whiskey. There was a sign on a bar that said, ‘No dogs or Indians allowed.’ Now there’s a resolution to allow alcohol on the reservation. To us, that’s bad, because we talk about a good mind. We pray to have a good mind. We have to eat traditional food – like buffalo. Since 1990, we have been praying for the buffalo to return, and clean our body…But today, people are trying to say marijuana is a medicine, but we say ‘no,’ we can’t use marijuana or alcohol in our body.”
The Chief adds that before the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978, his people were not allowed to talk about their spiritual ceremonies in public.
“We would go to jail,” he says. “But today, we are faced with a lot of sickness. We are now trying to protect our water. We use water in ceremonies. The pipeline is trying to go across our lands. We are trying to maintain our environment through ceremony. [At the start of] the four seasons we do ceremonies. In spring, on March 21, we do a welcoming in the Black Hills – they are shaped like a heart – that’s the heart of mother earth. It’s like a heart that is pumping.”
He’s thankful that his people are able to legally pray and conduct their ceremonies for the health of their future generations.
“It’s the corporations we are surrounded by – Monsanto, fracking, they are pushing everything on us. If we are to survive with our children, we have to hold our day of prayer for healing with the water,” says Looking Horse. “Our main source we are trying to protect is the water of life. We have some young people that ran from North Dakota to Omaha to bring the message to engineers. They called it Running for Our Life. Our people used to live along the river, and they put a dam for electricity there and the river got polluted. We are still drinking that water from the mining of the oil companies. We have a lot of sick people on the reservations from the chemicals. Our elders say it’s like a chemical warfare. We used the buffalo to eat, now they give us cows. Milk is not good for us.”
He considers the fact that many are becoming Christian on the reservation positive, because more people are praying.
“We pray together,” says Looking Horse. “Ten or 15 years ago, we were having problems, but now people ask me to go to church to pray in my own language.”
“When I was young, our people lived in a dark time when we couldn’t speak about our culture, now the youth have the opportunity to carry on the wisdom and knowledge of our ancestors – to carry on the teachings to help our future generations…”