Interview (part 2)
by Jean Holmes
Ed McGaa "Eagle Man", is the author of Native Wisdom, Perceptions of the Natural Way, and Mother Earth Spirituality. This interview by Jean Holmes won a prestigious award from Social Issues Resource System (SirS).
Holmes: Why was it important to go back to doing Sun Dance?
Eagle Man: Because it was one of our major ceremonies. We have seven major ceremonies and it was the main one. All ceremony is simply an expression to your concept of your higher power. It is a ceremony where we express our thanksgiving. We are thankful that we live, so we express it for four days as a tribe. It's a tribal expression, whereas a lone vision quest up on a mountain as a lone person is not so much expressing his appreciation of life, that's always part of it, but he or she is more into where am I going to go with my life, my future. So there are different concepts within a ceremony that you get out of. But the tribal Sun Dance is the annual coming together of the tribe, and it also fortifies the tribe. It brings them into closer contact to their concept of their higher power. Ours happens to be Wakan Tanka. We don't try to describe Wakan Tanka, we try to say Wakan Tanka is simply a mystery. We don't want to say what it is because we don't know. We want to be honest.
Holmes: And that's what you refer to in your book Native Wisdom as the "Great Mystery."
Eagle Man: Wakantanka means "Great Mystery." "Great Holy." We do not even put a gender on it. Some of these Indians put a gender on it, but I think that's the influence from Christianity. The farther East you go the more influence from Christianity you'll see amongst these tribes. Some tribes even have devils and evil spirits and I think that comes from the Christians.
The Sioux, our Great Spirit is so big and so vast and so powerful, it has no need to make such a thing. It has no need to make a devil. It has no need to make an evil spirit. To us evil is ignorance, not knowing. The Great Spirit is all-knowing. We brought back our religion, our spirituality mainly through the Sun Dance; of course, we had the conflict with the missionary and I was the main young guy who would conflict with them. I was also in law school, so I would use some of the White man's legal principles right back on the White people that were trying to stop us.
So that put me pretty strong into Indian religion and the holy men communicated quite strongly with me and I would take them around, mainly Bill Eagle Feather. I would drive them around and we'd go do ceremonies. He would do them and I would assist him. So I've been in close contact with some really powerful holy men that the young guys in my day totally ignored.
Holmes: Sweat Lodges, for the sake of those who do not know, what are the purposes of them?
Eagle Man: Sweat Lodges are usually a ceremony of a group that seeks to express their appreciation, their beseechment to their higher power, their respect to their higher power. So we build a lodge and we cover the lodge, we build a fire and we put red hot rocks into the lodge and we sit and we put water on the rocks. That's the mechanics of it. We sing and we say prayers. Most everybody does the Sweat Lodge a bit different. Mine, I do it in four parts. A lot of people do it in four parts. I beseech the four directions.
Holmes: Why would you beseech the four directions and what do those mean to you?
Eagle Man: The Great Spirit is unknown. It is a maker, a creator. We could see that Creator has made four directions. It's obvious. The north and south are totally different. East and west are totally different directions. Look what happens, everything. The cleansing white snow and cold teach you endurance, strength, truthfulness, honesty. That's the north. Then you go to the east power. The sun comes up every day, providing you look for it. We think Creator allows you to see things and learn things every day because the sun comes across to bring us knowledge.
When the sun goes down it's a rest. You should rest. But we do a ceremony at the night time because there's less distraction for the spirits. We do actually believe in spirits too, but we'll get into that later on. The south power is warming right now and it brings growth and we eat and live. The West Power, the life-giving rains come out of the west. Without those life-giving rains we wouldn't be alive. 80% of our body is life-giving rain. There are two other powers, too. Mother Earth and then there's Father Sky. We are not afraid of our Creator because Creator made us.
Holmes: And the function of those two? Would you describe them a little for us?
Eagle Man: Mother Earth is very simple. We actually think of her as alive. We are upon her. We are made from her. 20% of our bodies is actually made from the earth. The other 80% is fluid, so we can move.
You can't move unless you're fluid. Mother Earth is a mother, she's our home, we have to take care of her. She takes care of us. She is a power. She's a living entity. The Great Spirit made her that way. Of course, Father Sky, Chante, the heart of Father Sky is the sun. A mysterious force comes from that sun that is unexplainable. Without that sun you would have no life. That sun is in daily communion with Mother Earth. We are actually sun power, we are earth power, and we are the life-giving rain power actually as physically made up. Then in our minds we have the characteristics of the other three directions.
As I said, honesty, truthfulness, endurance, strength, cleanliness from the north. Knowledge, wisdom, understanding [from the east] because when that sun comes up you can get that if you look for it. If you don't look for it you'll be ignorant. We actually put this into your disk of life. Whatever we say it makes sense because you do put that in your disk of life and when you die that's the only thing you would have with you and that goes on. Of course, from the south, growth and medicine. It is so very simple. Our religion is very simple - we have learned how to see it daily and that is why the missionaries are so totally afraid of it. Because if people get to know our way they'll see what the missionaries are talking about doesn't make sense.
Holmes: You have no need to try to control anyone with your religion.
Eagle Man: You never should control, never. You try to control someone, somebody tries to control me, I'll chastise forever when I get into the spirit world. If anyone does bad to you, don't worry about it. They're going to come into the spirit world and you're going to be - there's no size, you don't work for them, there's no power, there's no money, there's no good old boy system, and it's straight-out truth. Whatever they do bad to you, you can chastise them forever. When somebody does good for you, you can honor them forever, too. Everything you see here in life is a reflection of the spirit world that lies beyond.
Holmes: What about the Medicine Wheel? How does that figure in this?
Eagle Man: That's the four directions, or the six powers of the universe. The Medicine Wheel is just a symbol that you use. When we do a ceremony we mention these directions. It places us closer to the great spirit. That is just a symbol for expression.
Holmes: How do the drums, pipes and trees and that sort of thing figure in your belief structure and your inherited beliefs?
Eagle Man: A drum is just a sound maker. In ceremony at times, at Vision Quest I have no need for a drum. At Sweat Lodge I like to have a drum inside the Sweat Lodge because it just kind of heightens the expression. The peacepipe. Many tribes use the peacepipe. They use that to express to the four directions, or the six powers.
Holmes: Do you know the background of the peacepipe, where it started and how?
Eagle Man: Nobody really knows for sure because the Sioux had pipes before they came westward. We think we evolved, I've traced our tribe back to North Carolina and I've talked with the tribal chairwoman of the Waccama Tribe. We eventually migrated out of the Carolinas to avoid the early, early white people, the first Europeans coming. It was the best thing we ever did because it allowed us to live free for a good 300 to 350 years.
Holmes: And you didn't get the treatment of the Trail of Tears that the Cherokee did.
Eagle Man: Yeah. If we'd stayed there, they'd have Trail of Tear-ed us and we'd have died out and we'd all be down in Oklahoma and they would have made Christians out of all of us.
Holmes: Right now Floyd Hand is very concerned about the buffalo situation. Would you explain to us what buffalo mean to your particular culture?
Eagle Man: Buffalo were simply, when we came on the plains, the main provider. It was everything to us, it kept us alive probably a good 200 years or so. It kept us free from the European hordes coming. So it is an all-provider, that's how I look at it. Now it's a symbol and these white buffalo, I have to quote Floyd. Floyd says that this is a sign that the Great Spirit wants us to share our knowledge with the White man. There was a Mr. Brown Bear, I forget his first name, but he was a holy man also. They went to see these buffalo calves that were white. They made these statements. Fortunately the Associated Press picked it up and said what they said. I'm glad Floyd went there and said that because he said it's time to share our knowledge.
Holmes: That takes a lot of courage, I understand for some of you, because of your belief systems and the elders of your tribe.
Eagle Man: Most of my elders are dead. There are a lot of Catholic elders out there. There are a lot of Catholic Christian elders out there that don't want you to share it. If you go out and share Christianity, then it's fine, but they don't want you to be talking about any religion because it's too powerful. Then you've got these young guys who are just shooting their mouths off and they're saying that so they get some attention. If they had read Black Elk Speaks they would have seen that Black Elk shared his knowledge in 1930 and they would have had tremendous respect for Black Elk. If they really would study that vision they wouldn't be shooting their mouths off.
Holmes: Tell us a little about who Black Elk is.
Eagle Man: Black Elk was a great prophet and he had a powerful vision before the Battle of Little Big Horn, several years before of that. It had nothing to do with the Battle of Little Big Horn, it just happened to be in the same area. It was about the six powers of the universe. Joseph Campbell said this is the best example of spiritual imagery that he ever knew. Spiritual imagery. He went into the spirit world and there the six powers appeared to him and spoke to him and this is from a young boy who could not have made it up. These six powers directly under the Great Spirit spoke to Black Elk and conveyed to them this knowledge of themselves. Then they told about the Blue Man. They predicted the Blue Man and showed him the Blue Man of corruption, destruction, greed, lies, jealousy and deceit, actually saw it. Six powers went down to kill the Blue Man after they had conveyed their knowledge to Black Elk. Each one spoke to Black Elk individually and told him about themselves, so therefore Black Elk had this knowledge.
Holmes: Who was this Blue Man?
Eagle Man: Blue man was what we have got now. We see the politicians in Washington, your corporation presidents, everyone who's killing the earth. You see Blue Man amongst Indians. You've got tribal council members, council chairmen, we've got two of them up in prison, they belong in prison because they took the money away from the people. I see the Blue Man. Some of these young guys say "don't share, don't share." They're doing that just for attention for themselves. They really haven't - they're saying bad things about Black Elk. They are Blue Men also because they're telling lies. It's keeping the people down. There's inequality. You know the whole mess that this world is in now is the Blue Man.
Holmes: What I would like to touch on is a personal thing. I understand that you wrote a book, an authorized biography of Red Cloud. I wish you'd touch on just a little bit about some of these more prominent people who have influenced your culture and ours in the past.
Eagle Man: I've already listed Frank Fool's Crow and Bill Eagle Feather and Ben Black Elk as my main influencers. Red Cloud was an Ogalalla chief that killed about eight soldiers for every warrior lost. His men, his warriors did that. They were very effective. We had better horses. The Army didn't want to be out there where there was torrid heat and arctic storms. It was sort of like Viet Nam. Our troops did not do well because they did not want to be over there. The Viet Cong did real well because it was their home and they were defending it.
Holmes: You were in that war, were you not?
Eagle Man: Oh yeah. I flew 110 combat missions over in Vietnam, so I know what I'm talking about. I've been there. The Viet Cong were very, very effective fighters, and the NVA. The Sioux were very effective. We had better horses, and our horses were trained, and could go a long distance, where the Army horses could go only so far. They'd string them out, turn them around and get them all strung out and you could very effectively kill them off. So we wagonboxed fought. We took the good guns away from them. So the Army kept us supplied.
Holmes: So you got them with their own weapons, so to speak.
Eagle Man: We won the Treaty of 1868 and the Army burnt the forts down on the Bozeman Trail after we signed that treaty. So I'd say we must have won it.
Holmes: Was Red Cloud effective in that?
Eagle Man: He was the one that won it. He was the most effective chief. Now along comes Ted Turner with his television show and tries to pit Indian against Indian, pits Crazy Horse against Red Cloud. That was no way. He didn't trust the government and the Treaty says "all the land west of the Missouri River past the Black Hills would be land for us forever, for as long as the grass grow, for as long as the rivers flow, for as long as the dead lie buried."
He said, I will not take up the sword when he signed that treaty. He expected the Army would be the same way. So he thought that if he would have taken up the sword, and if he would have joined that battle at Little Big Horn, then they would have said, well this cancels the Treaty. He wanted that land for the Sioux forever. So he couldn't fight. But Ted Turner never mentions that at all because he had to make Red Cloud look bad. It was insulting. It was like somebody trying to make George Washington look bad for the White People.
Holmes: Sometimes, when we have that kind of polarity consciousness of us against you, we must do that.
Eagle Man: They wanted to put a polarity there between Crazy Horse and Red Cloud. Crazy Horse was just busy fighting for survival. He didn't have this big animosity going with Red Cloud. Anybody who kills eight soldiers for every warrior you lose, and fights battle after battle and fights in the wintertime, you've got to give Red Cloud tremendous credit. He did this. He won it, hands down, that's that.
Holmes: What about Crazy Horse, how did he differ from Red Cloud and some of the others? How did some of these people differ from one another, like Red Cloud and Crazy Horse?
Eagle Man: They were basically pretty much the same because they were all spiritual. They were all religious. They all believed in Creator. They all had to endure to become a warrior. They had the common goals. I think they had a very, very strong commonality.
Holmes: I understand Crazy Horse learned how to teach you all to fight against the White people by watching the White people. Is that true?
Eagle Man: Red Cloud proved that he was the most effective of all when you did what Red Cloud did. I'm sure Crazy Horse learned from what Red Cloud's tactics were. I'm sure Sitting Bull was the same. Yet they were good warriors in their own right. They just perfected. The Sioux were always adapting. They always took what they learned, and then they perfected it.
Holmes: A lot of people like to think of indigenous people in these tribes as warlike to start with, like they like war.
Eagle Man: It's the biggest lie in the world. We were very peaceful people. We had to fight to survive because we were pushed back upon each other. I could take 100 White people, put them in an airplane and crash the airplane in the ocean and have only one opening and they'll all be clawing and fighting to get out of that one opening. That's exactly it, we were pushed back upon each other.
For thousands of years, we never overpopulated the land. We never evolved beyond the bow or the spear because we didn't have to. Had we been so warlike we would have evolved like the White man evolved in his weaponry. He was so warlike that he perfected and perfected his weapons over and over, and now we've got ourselves a hydrogen bomb that can wipe out the Earth.
Holmes: Which obviously the Native Americans did not want.
Eagle Man: Here we go back to plain fact in evidence. We perfected our spirituality. We perfected our living, so we came up with democracy. The White man copied our democracy.
Holmes: Where do you see from your ancient times you developed this, simply because you were land and nature-oriented beings to start with?
Eagle Man: Sure. The greatest teacher in the world is nature because it's made directly by Creator. You don't have to go through anybody. It's directly from nature to you. When I have to go through some black book written by hundreds of White men and reinterpreted by them, there's no education in there for me out of that black book.
Holmes: Some scientists say there is no life elsewhere in the universe.
Eagle Man: They have to say that because they're probably Christians, they're too hung up on their religion. But if they really look at plain fact in evidence, a star is made the same way. Just about every star probably has planets surrounding it. The Great Spirit makes everything for a reason. Every star has this mysterious life energy in it. The sun. And it's surrounded by these planets. It's obvious that the Creator has made them for life. Also we have millions of years of existence. Billions of years of existence going on. Some stars are way ahead of us or way behind us, so you get different time spans here. It's very hard for a European to think this way because they've been so brainwashed by Christianity, they can't think in any other way. Some of them think that we're only 5,000 years old or something. They get all these crazy myths. It is very difficult to talk about this to a Christian audience because their minds are so blank and so locked into fallacy.
Holmes: We are a Freethought audience. We have a little bit more open concept, I hope.
Eagle Man: This would have to be for all more open-minded people. If you look at creation, you can see it from Hubble telescope. Now this creation has a commonality to it and it replicates and it duplicates. Creator makes everything in duplicate, replicate. Look at all us humans running around. We're all replicates of each other, my different skin, yet we all have a duplication and we still get our individuality. It's possible we could have come from the stars. Or we could have evolved out from creation right here. I'm not going to argue about that because I don't know. I think it's foolish to argue about it. You are foolish and narrow-minded if you exclude all the possibilities.
Ed McGaa "Eagle
Man", is the author of Native Wisdom, Perceptions of the Natural Way, and Mother
Earth Spirituality. It is recommended that those interested in contacting Eagle Man
try through his publishers. You may also visit http://members.aol.com/eagleman4/ Jean Holmes' interview won a prestigious
award from Social Issues Resource System (SirS). a repository of outstanding reference
articles from newspapers, magazines, government publications and journals that are made
available to schools and libraries in the United States. SirS website is www.sirs.com.