Winter Solstice

December 21 is a sacred day. It marks the first day of winter as well as the solstice. It is an appropriate time to address spirituality.

Winter solstice is a sacred day for many cultures. It is a powerful time to offer prayers of thanks for all we are blessed with. I believe that Christmas Day – which supposedly celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ – was actually created as a way to turn Indigenous people away from our own way of worship on the winter solstice.

The Lakota people did not celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 before the reservation churches were established. I believe the real day of prayer was observed on the winter solstice by the Oyate with ceremony, food and family. When the people were blessed with abundance in preparing for the harshest season of the year, it is appropriate our ancestors would pause on a sacred day to give thanks for having enough basic necessities to get them through another winter.

Our ancestors were keenly aware of their surroundings. As people of the Earth they knew when to act when it came to preparing for fall and winter. Food had to be obtained and stored away for when the blizzards hit. Firewood had to be stockpiled for frigid winter temperatures. A dependable source of water had to be nearby.

Even though our Lakota ancestors were busy every day of their lives making sure there was enough water to drink, food to eat, appropriate clothing and warm shelter available for everyone, there was still time for daily prayers. Nature and the stars were monitored carefully to help with preparation for whatever time of year was upon the people.

Then the wasicu arrived. They decided our ancestors were uncivilized savages without any kind of spirituality who obviously needed salvation. So, the wasicu began building their churches to provide their religion to us so we could join them in heaven when we made our journey.

I often wonder why they want us in their heaven with them when most times some of them act like they can’t even stand us here on Earth. I suppose it all goes back to having religion. Still, organized religion isn’t always right. In fact, religious organizations are often very judgmental. This is wrong.

A newsletter published by a local church was brought to my attention. The publication is called the “Eyapaha Ki.” The Baptist International Outreach lists a PO Box in Mission as a local mailing address. They have at least two churches on the Rosebud Reservation. Kevin and Stacey Berg are listed as as serving in Mission, South Dakota.

The following is an excerpt from the March-April 2011 issue where the writer refers to several funerals he attended here on the Rosebud Reservation.

“The people here are dualistic in their world view. Some claim Christ while holding on to their tradition. We have had some who come to church then go to a ceremony and talk to their dead relatives, who were just demonic spirits. That is why we preach Jesus as the only way to approach God and be accepted by Him. It’s hard to know where people are spiritually even though they might make a profession of faith in Jesus. When I last visited Marvin, he showed me his pipe that he prayed with; which is what the traditionals do. There is a lot of confusion here.”

An excerpt from the July-August 2011 newsletter states: “All of the experiences with spirits and speaking to the dead cannot bring peace but only fear, it cannot bring hope but only despair, and it can not bring light but only darkness. I have been trying lately to use the Lakota language to make a bond with some of the more traditional people. It is a way to befriend them and get an opportunity to speak to them of their greatest need. One man I went to visit recently began to tell me how we all worship the same God, ‘Wakan Tanka Wanjila-hci’, ‘there is only one God’, he kept saying in Lakota. I let him talk for about an hour in Lakota until my head was spinning and then I asked if I could come back later. I have given him the Gospel before, and I got the same reaction.”

Personally, I believe the references to demonic spirits, confusion, fear, despair and darkness stems from what some of the religious leaders carry in their own hearts and minds. They believe they must save us. The churches initially established here on the reservations viewed our ancestors as dangerous. We cannot let our grandchildren forget how the wasicu reacted to the sacred Ghost Dance.

Many church-goers here on the Rosebud, including many of our own Lakota people view those of us who pray as our ancestors did as people who worship demons.

I personally believe that Jesus Christ brought messages of love and forgiveness. He encouraged people to refrain from judgment. He was a role model. But, like our Lakota ancestors prayed in the sacred Ghost Dance, Jesus was judged as dangerous. He was crucified.

How sad.

So when I read something published for the public by a local church labeling the powers we pray to as “demonic spirits” it only proves to me that these people continue to judge a way of life that has existed for centuries, just as the belief in Jesus Christ has existed for centuries.

Those of us who chose to embrace our own Lakota spirituality are often labeled as devil worshipers; sometimes by our own family members. I have written about spirituality in the past and it has always been to encourage our young people to not buy into the fear tactics engaged in by the local churches and their representatives regarding our own Lakota ways of worship.

As Lakota people who pray in the traditional manner of our ancestors, we are not confused nor do we worship demonic spirits. I believe my prayers with the sacred instruments used by my ancestors will bring me everlasting life.

Mitakuye Oyasin.

Vi Waln is Sicangu Lakota.

(c) 2020 Vi Waln et all. All rights reserved.