By Susan Johnson
The 19th Annual “Honor the Mounds” got off to a slightly delayed start last Saturday, Aug. 9. But other than that, everything went mostly according to schedule. The sacred fire was lighted, and prayer was done. Lakota elder Terry “Standing Buffalo” Reynolds gave the opening prayer, as arranged by the Native American Awareness Committee.
While everyone waited for the opening ceremonies, head male dancer Ronnie Preston (Apache) entertained the audience with a song and stories. He told the significance of the Hoop Dance. “We use it as a beginning point; we are all from Mother Earth. Our area here is a circle,” he said. “We use the circle with this hoop. We believe we have a point where we are born; we grow from children to adults, to parents and grandparents. At the end of our life, we will meet elders who welcome us back. That is why we call the hoop the circle of life.”
Preston said he would use the hoop dance to represent different types of animals. He told the story of a penguin who was walking through the woods crying because he couldn’t fly. On his travels, he met various animals who gave him advice that didn’t really help as he was told to jump off a rock and flap his tiny wings. Each little episode explained how these animals got their distinguishing marks and how the penguin finally ended up in a very cold place.
Since the drum group Night Eagle Singers was delayed, the Grand Entry with color guard and flag bearers was held at 11:20 a.m. The audience stood for the sacred ceremony. MC Bill Brown Jr. explained that the Native Americans had served in greater numbers per capita than any other ethnic group in the U.S. armed forces. Eagle staff bearers preceded those bearing the flags of the United States, Illinois, the Native American Awareness Committee, and POW/MIA.
Head dancers Ronnie Preston and his daughter, Emma, and all veterans were then called into the arena to be introduced. Also invited were first responders, EMTs, police officers and civil defense people.
Ronnie Preston pointed to the four directions indicated on his hoop. Each represented the different ages of life of a person. The arena and the drum are circles. The sky is our grandfather; the drumbeat is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. He then performed the Hoop Dance, which was followed by two intertribal dances.
Hoo Haven Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center offered a presentation of live animals, introduced by Executive Director Karen Herdklotz. Hoo Haven is the only wildlife facility within 75 miles. They take in injured and orphaned North American wildlife to rehabilitate them and get them back into the wild. But some cannot be released. “We do over 850 mammals and birds a year,” said Herdklotz.
The organization is totally dependent on volunteers and donations. “Broccoli,” a white pelican, was introduced to the audience. “She was found floating in the water almost dead after Hurricane Katrina and was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Many migratory birds were thrown off their paths, and one of these was the pelican,” said Herdklotz. “Her feet are healed now, but she suffered severe frostbite. We also do reptiles. We do snapping turtles and snakes”
Hoo Haven has two corn snakes. “One of the reasons we started bringing snakes in is because people either like them or not. They are almost considered evil,” added Herdklotz.“We started bringing in snakes to show they are not slimy and have good qualities — they are excellent for rodent control. They are normally different shades of brown so they can fit in. They normally grow to be 24 inches long. They are called corn snakes because their underbelly resembles Indian corn.”
Another volunteer introduced a barn owl. “They are endangered in Illinois and Wisconsin because habitat has been destroyed,” said Herdklotz. “They like to live in barns or outbuildings. The farmers try to tear down old buildings and fence rows where the owls’ prey live — mice and other rodents. The owl shown is named Echo, a female about 2 years old. Hoo Haven has two barn owls. The more spots a female has on her breast, the more desirable she is to the male. They will have four to six eggs, but they can lay up to 11 eggs. There are a couple features the barn owl has. One thing is the heart-shaped facial disc on the front; other owls have round discs. This helps direct sounds to their ears. The right ear is higher than the left ear. This gives them three-dimensional hearing. They also have eyes fixed in their sockets. They cannot see to the side or upside down. They can turn their heads to 270 degrees. They have to be able to see their prey and hear with their ears. The other thing they have that most birds do not is that the beak looks like it is smashed into her face. She likes to eat six to eight mice a day, and they swallow the mice whole. Twice a day, they will expel an owl pellet — what is left of what they cannot digest — bones, feathers, fur. Students sometimes dissect owl pellets in schools.
“Owls have feathers clear down to their talons, which helps them remain quiet while flying. Their bones are hollow, which makes them light. This bird does not weigh more than 1-1/2 pounds.”
A question was asked, “How long do they live?” Herdklotz said they live about eight years in the wild or possibly 15 in captivity. In the 30 years they have had the facility, they have never had a barn owl. These were purchased. The last barn owl sighted in Winnebago County was more than 15 years ago.
Midwest SOARRING reflections
In place of Joseph “Standing Bear” Schranz, who could not be present, Wamblee Loux, an Oglala Lakota, spoke on behalf of Midwest SOARRING. He had once been a prisoner of war. “We call them reservations nowadays,” he said, “a designation by the U.S. government. Even in our own land today, we are still prisoners of war. We have fought in every conflict this country had, honorably and with distinction. But we’re only 1 percent in our own land. The great Holocaust did not happen in Germany; it happened here in 500 years — over 500 million died since the occupation started. Today, we are just a couple million in a land that once held 200 million. These are things we live with in our bodies every day.
“One of the things I see is the way the dominant society treats their women. Going back to the black book, the Bible, in your creation legend it says a man was created, and there was no woman. In most of our creation stories from all the 553 tribes, in most of them, the woman was created first, and a woman should be honored and respected because women are the only ones who can bring life into the world. In the dominant society, the Christians look at it the other way. Women are not respected; they are trampled, causing a lot of abuse over the world through the propagation of these teachings.
“It is hard for me to see this and watch this because I was taught to respect my elders and women. No tribe, no nation can ever be defeated until the hearts of their women are on the ground. What’s wrong with this society — women, take your path, vote, do things because things need to be changed. Going the way we are, we’re headed to an end and will collapse. This holds true even though some of the societies are matriarchal and some are patriarchal. We have to keep the families strong. Among the Lakota teachings, the way it was done years ago when a chief was selected and given his war bonnet, the back of the bonnet was split so he could not put it on until he had made the women happy. The community made the decision that he deserved to have that bonnet, and then the back was sewed up by the women. But he first had to prove himself to do that. That required listening to the community and the women.
“These are some of our cultural belief divisions that we carry with us. We try to teach and share them. But we do not go out knocking on doors trying to shove our beliefs down people’s throats. That’s how we were treated in the boarding schools, and the mass murder of our women and children. It was carried out by the U.S. Cavalry; 243 dead at Wounded Knee. Those were my relatives, my ancestors. They gave up their arms. So you see how this all ties into current events and what is going on in politics. But a lot of it stems from the disrespect of women, and it plays in the world. Aho!”
The women’s viewpoint
Some of the women elders were called to the circle to share their comments. One told how her sisters in a native women’s society had helped her recover by staying with her and drumming while she was in a hospital. Another said, “We hope this educational gathering will help show you who Native Americans are. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been, so I can only be who I am. I’ve had a chance to meet some of you, and I hope you have had a chance to learn about Native Americans today, and the things we do are connected to the earth and who we are.”
An older woman named Wendy, from New York, said: “We are all equal, sharing with each other on spirituality. Everyone we meet, we have something to share. Hopefully, we will have good and bad in us, and we learn to accept and take the good and bad. Our spirituality is not a religion; it’s how we live.”
A modern parable for living
Terry “Standing Buffalo” Reynolds recalled the settlement of North America from the Native American perspective. The Pilgrims came to the New World starving and helpless. The Native Americans took them in, gave them food, showed them how to plant crops and survive on these shores. They were willing to share. But the invaders turned on their benefactors, took the land, wildlife, fish, forests, gold, silver, furs, and in return gave the natives hawk bells and trinkets, alcohol and addictions. Today, the invaders’ weapons take the form of education, along with money, greed, power, hatred and envy. “These are what the invaders use today to deflect you from your primary purpose in life,” he said. “Many years ago, I went to see a holy man who gave me many hawk bells back. He said, ‘There is one thing no one can take from you — your spirit.’ I walk today as my ancestors walked and hope you will walk with us step by step.”
To be continued …
From the Aug. 13-19, 2014, issue