By Susan Johnson
Tribes gathered for the 20th Annual “Honor the Mounds” celebration under a cloudy sky at Beattie Park last Saturday. Rain held off as visitors toured the park, took in activities, sampled the food and bought from vendors.
M.C. Terry “Standing Buffalo” Reynolds (Lakota) welcomed the group at 10:40 a.m. After an opening prayer, he called veterans to come forward to take part in the Presentation of Colors. The veterans carried the flags of the U.S., Illinois, P.O.W. and the Native American Awareness Committee, which hosted this event. This was followed by a special dance to honor the veterans. Music throughout the day was provided by singers on drum, Singers of the Rainbow (Cherokee).
Head male and female dancers were Rudy Vallejo and his daughter Shirley (Apache). They led the group in an intertribal dance, after which Rudy announced the Buffalo Dance. He explained that after the hunt, the Native American women would take all the hair off the buffalo to use for clothing. They sewed about 15 hides together for tipi covers. The meat was eaten, and the bones were used for cooking utensils and weapons.
Dancing around a buffalo hide was considered good medicine. A buffalo hide was then spread in the center of the circle, and people were invited to come out and join in the Buffalo Dance. Traditionally, this was done before the hunt to bring out the spirits of the buffalo.
In a special interview with The Rock River Times, Rudy Vallejo said he does what he does today because of his grandmother, who was Potawatomi-Kickapoo. Vallejo said that when he was 9 years old on the reservation in Kansas, he was given his Indian name, Ship-Shewah,no, meaning “vision of a lion” in Potawatomi. This tribe was located around the Chicago area.
Significance of the eagle feathers
Denver, Colorado is the eagle repository where all eagles that die of natural causes or accidents are kept. That’s where the Native Americans request either one feather or the whole eagle.
“I received the whole eagle,” said Vallejo. “I wanted to do something special with the feathers, so I did the Eagle Dance. It’s an honor dance for all the veterans, all the elders.”
He explained the significance of the eagle feathers. As he learned it, the eagle has 12 tail feathers. The two middle feathers are called the chief feathers. The outer feathers are called dance feathers. The feathers represent honesty, truth, majesty, strength, courage, wisdom, power and freedom. That is why the bald eagle is our national symbol.
Vallejo said that if a feather falls to the ground, the Kickapoo will take it to the river and clean it. A mature bald eagle is at least 8 years old when it gets the white head and white tail feathers. An immature eagle has all brown feathers.
Furs and weaving displays
P.A. “Autumns Fall” Toms (Cherokee) had a display of fur trading items. He showed two maps made of deer and goat skins. The deer skin was of poorer quality to discourage thieves. Some furs he exhibited were skunk, raccoon, fox, coyote, goat, deer and badger.
The maps highlighted points of interest in the western and eastern U.S. up to the Mississippi River. They might not be entirely accurate but would have been valued by explorers. One map showed the East Coast to the West Coast and down to the Gulf of Mexico, including the Alamo, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. It also showed battle sites from the 1700s and 1800s. These maps were used by British armies and explorers.
Cari Szczesniak demonstrated finger weaving with jute, which would have been used originally not only by Native Americans but worldwide. It is used to make burden strap belts. She was working on a tump line or burden strap.
Karen Herdklotz of “Hoo” Haven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, based in Durand, Illinois, had two animals on display – a white pelican and an African Sulcata tortoise. “Marshmallow,” the 7-year-old pelican, was a rescued bird from Streator, Illinois. He lost 97 percent of one wing in an accident and is now used for wildlife education. “Bowser,” the tortoise, is of a species that is native to the Sahara Desert.
The Medicine Wheel prophecy
Thunder Ruthen, by the sacred fire, told a story about an ancient prophecy that said all peoples would eventually come together, illustrated by a handmade hoop called a Medicine Wheel. The story was shared by many cultures.
“The Medicine Wheel is a circle with the axes that run through representing the four cardinal directions,” said Ruthen. “For this teaching, red is east, yellow is south, black is west, and white is north. These colors represent the original races of man. One elder says there is only one race – the human race. Back in the long-ago time, all Grandfather’s children lived as one people.”
However, “man forgot his way, and contentions grew between the different nations of man. Grandfather got tired of the anger, the hate and violence, and decided to separate his children. He sent Red nation to the east, Yellow nation to the south, Black nation to the west, and White nation to the north. But with this punishment, he also gave a blessing. Red nation, sent to the east, was given guardianship of Mother Earth. Yellow nation in the south was given guardianship of the wind or air. Black nation, sent to the west, was given guardianship of water. White nation was sent to the north and given guardianship of fire.
“Grandfather’s intention was that each of his people would learn and expand their guardianships to the best of their ability, and at some point come back together again sharing their information and learning how to live in harmony with each other and Mother Earth. When White nation first came to this land, it symbolized the beginning of the end of the way things were. But even though many bad things would befall the Native peoples, they stood at the beginning of the prophecy coming to pass.
“Their white brothers were home. Originally, the White nation intended to use the Red nation as a cheap labor force. But diseases we had no antibodies for decimated the population. They needed another cheap labor force, and Black nation was brought over – another step in fulfilling the prophecy.
“When the railroads went west, Yellow nation was brought to this land – one step closer to the prophecy’s fulfillment. We have a lot of young ones that are becoming interested in these old stories, and when they hear this, they ask the elders if all the nations are here, why hasn’t the prophecy come true? The elders recognize that the young ones wish to put blame somewhere, so they point out how each nation has fulfilled their guardianship.
“Red nation and their understanding of the understanding of the biological world have enabled most, if not all, of the medicine we use today. Yellow nation developed their guardianship of the wind and air; they created the kite. They also came up with gunpowder, an early form of propulsion, which led to air and space travel. Black nation was given guardianship of the water. From them we get irrigation, and modern medical uses have enabled African-American doctors to further our understanding of plasma as well as help create the first mechanical heart.
“The White nation developed their guardianship of fire. Through them, we have the Industrial Revolution, the internal combustion motor as well as space and air travel, [which helps in] sharing our knowledge with other nations.
“When the children hear these stories and how all the guardianships were developed, they still have the same question: who dropped the ball? Why didn’t the prophecy come to pass? The elders say that each nation has spent so much time in its own course that they have gotten comfortable with their own way of thinking – thinking theirs if the only way… In reality, they have the pieces of the puzzle that we can handle.
“The elders say that we are living in a time that is very violent – a lot of anger and hatred. We are in a place where we are learning to communicate with our other brothers and sisters. Once we let go of the nation that our way is the only way and understand that all knowledge from all parts of the sacred hoop is important, we will learn that the subtle differences that are currently used as points of contention are really intended to accommodate the individual needs of the person, the place, the community. Those subtle differences are really the Velcro that will hold us together in the future.”
Woodland Mounds culture
Frank Schier, Editor and Publisher of The Rock River Times, and founder of the Rock River Trail Initiative, presented a program about the Woodland Mounds culture, illustrated with maps and charts.
The Rock River Trail extends through 11 counties in Wisconsin and Illinois. Some of these areas contain mounds of the Woodland culture, and other mounds occur father south in Illinois. Schier made specific mention of the Cahokia and Aztalan mounds and burial practices of those cultures. Of particular interest was a sarcophagus linked to a princess of the Aztalan civilization.
Schier also referred to points of historic significance such as Prophetstown, Keokuk, Lake Koshkonong, Macktown, Kishwaukee, and the battle of Stillman’s Run in 1832, in which Abraham Lincoln played a part in the defeat of Black Hawk. A number of other sites are being investigated today as efforts are being made to preserve them.