“I think everyone has their own interpretation of the word… but in my experience of my life, I found that it means responsibility, almost a call to action, or an acknowledgment of your relationships that you have in your lifetime. Mitakuye Oyasin translated to English means ‘All my Relations’. So in your responsibility to all your relations you are acknowledging that you are your brother’s keeper, you are acknowledging that you are a relative to the land and to the environment, and to the human beings around you.
We say Mitakuye Oyasin in the beginning and at the ending of our ceremonies. But we also say it in the morning – and in the evening and in those times of hardship and times of happiness or in our own minds. Or you may walk with it in the way of your own life, that people know when they say those words Mitakuye Oyasin, that they may see you in the vision of their mind. They may see that responsibility that you are upholding and that is something very powerful for our community, our families, our loved ones and even our enemies to see that we would humble ourselves and walk in that manner.”
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation Kyle, South Dakota August 2012
I am touched by these words as I sit here in Santa Fe gifted by a friend with time to write in her beautiful home. Mitakuye Oyasin is the overwhelming feeling of sad yet joyful hope that came over us like a cloud as we stopped on the way here and met a Zuni warrior named Quam Medicine Bear on the Mogollon Rim.
He tells us at the rest stop he is taking his sister home after a divorce, and after gazing into each other’s eyes, he tells us about his mother who is at home fighting cancer and about his brother who was stabbed to death over nothing. Quam pauses to thank a Navy Vet who comes by to listen and as he tells me about his girlfriend who does not honor him as a man, tears swell from his eyes. And when he shares about the men’s Rain Dance he just did, I reach silently to him with my heart, glad to know this ceremony lives.
He continues, “In my life, I teach the children our ways and our history. I tell them ‘Yeah, I am a badass warrior… and I FEEL.” He smiles through this and many pains and says, “Now I am a firefighter, fighting to protect mother earth 7 days a week. This is my vacation and it is no accident we meet this way… we are all connected, all of us.” His sister, who till now was quiet, smiles and says, “We never speak these things to anyone unless we feel there is a reason, unless there is heart.”
As I drive away, I think, ‘we are all strangers up until the moment we meet.’ And I remember the story of a special blanket I promised to tell. Because my friends in this story are extremely modest, I am changing the names, but for those who were there, you know who I am talking about.
After the feast, I was asked to auction a blanket for Grace, to help raise funds for her family, and her mother, who I will call Elegance. She is our Grandmother who recently suffered a health issue that made it impossible for her to travel to the annual ceremony that she has come to for many, many years. This year, her daughter Grace blessed our meal, honoring those who have come before, and those who will come in the future, so that this ceremony may continue for the next seven generations.
I asked Grace to tell me about the blanket we were going to auction and this, as best as I remember, is what she told me.
One day, Elegance said, “I want to make a new blanket to bring to the ceremony this year. I see it clearly and I have a vision for it.”
“Mother, you cannot make the blanket this year. You are not strong enough to make it.” But Elegance tells Grace her vision anyway.
“You see on the bottom edge, and across the top, there will be black bands. This is the confusion. All the people are scattered, and they have to travel through the darkness. They are attracted to the light. They come up through the darkness and move towards the yellow bands along the bottom and top. They have to pass through the green bands, where they sacrifice their confusion to come to do ceremony.”
Elegance tells Grace, “I saw many who have come before, who are no longer with us. The white crosses surrounded by blue; these are our ancestors, who paved the way for us to be able to be here to dance.”
“In my vision, there are five tribes. Five different nations who gather. The first tribe is the left side design across the center. This is the Europeans, the Germans and French, the people from all over Europe. The second design from the left represents the African tribes. The third is for the Native Nations, the Hope, Dine, Apache and all the Native Tribes. The fourth is for the Latin people, and the fifth represents all the Asian people. These are the five tribes in my vision. They come to dance to unite all people to live in harmony.”
“If you look closely at the design for each tribe surrounded in white, you will understand the vision of this blanket. In the middle of each of the five tribes, in the center, is a yellow band. It represents corn, food for the people. In the very center of each yellow band across the center, is a small yellow line. This line divides the things we receive from Earth from what we receive from Spirit from the As Above. There are three yellow steps in the So Below, and three for life in the As Above. The yellow corn is also life and light, and it is surrounded by a green design. These are the many laws the people must learn in order to live in harmony with nature. Many people have forgotten these laws, and this is why we must gather in ceremony. Here too, red shapes surround the green. These are the many sacrifices and struggles the people must overcome to find a path towards the light. This is my vision for the blanket.”
It’s true, this year Elegance could not weave the blanket like the ones she has woven for so many years. It was Grace who quietly determined weaves the blanket for her mother, and for us. Elegance, you now breathe through your daughter, and through your grandchildren and through us.
It has become beauty again.
In beauty, Amara Charles
Keeps the Fire
p.s. Many Blessings to the people who will share this blanket to help gather your tribe in Canada.