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By Sarah Eagle Heart

Cante Waste ya Nape Ciyu zape ye (I greet you from my heart). This morning my Oglala Lakota grandmother called me upset because a group of people in Martin, South Dakota (a town bordered by Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Rosebud Indian Reservation) intend to bring back the “Warrior Homecoming Ceremony” at Bennett County High School. To hear this news is deeply unsettling, as I believed we had come far in cultural understanding, only to see we are back where we began. But then again tribal nations, along with many secular and non-profit organizations, are still protesting the NFL team Redskins. So this leaves me joining with other voices in explaining why.

This so-called “Warrior Homecoming Ceremony” was 57 years old when my twin sister Emma Eagle Heart-White and I began a protest in 1994 (at that time, we used the paternal side of family’s name of Trimble). The “ceremony” consisted of a “Big Chief”, a “Medicine Man” and five “Warrior Princesses” who were chosen as the most popular in a high school racially divided between native and non-native students. The majority of those living in the town were non-native. We grew up in an Oglala Lakota tribal housing community called LaCreek Sunrise Housing, located a mile outside of the town of 1100 people.

We attended Bennett County schools all of our lives. We were very involved in extra-curricular activities, including band, choir and cheerleading. At the time of our junior year in high school, we watched the “homecoming ceremony” drama play out in which the “Medicine Man” chooses a “Warrior Princess” for the “Big Chief” by inspecting her ears, mouth, hair, clothing and weight. The “Medicine Man” wore men’s traditional regalia complete with a roach and eagle feather bustle. The “Big Chief” wore a war bonnet. At sixteen years old, we knew this event was wrong and we knew no one else would do anything about this sexist and culturally degrading event. We knew we had to.


In early 1994, we began researching ways to protest. We began by telling people about the event. We went on KILI radio and told the story to Indian Country Today. We found that because the community was so racially segregated, neighboring tribal communities had no idea of the event. Soon, tribal groups came to support our protest. By September 1994, the racially divided town was racially charged and we received threats of violence as the homecoming approached. Still, we felt spiritually called to end this event.

We held an educational forum in the town park cumulating with a peaceful protest down main street to the auditorium where the “homecoming ceremony”. We formed a circle around the audience, holding hands the people chanted until we were kicked out by police officers for disturbing the peace.

As college students, we returned to the small town annually for four years to protest. Finally in 1997, Bennett County High School Board voted to remove stereotypical “Indian Theme” from the Homecoming Coronation Ceremony. Bennett County High School Board requested a meeting with us. At that board meeting they informed us of their decision to discontinue the “Homecoming Ceremony” immediately and to phase out the mascot in the next few years. The school still has not phased out the mascot.

It is now 2014, when I tell this story today many are aghast that its actual history in this lifetime. But on the other side, almost twenty years later, there is still ignorance about why this protest happened in the first place. As well as why there are protests against “Redskins” NFL football team today.

In my career I have worked for military assistance programs in Pensacola, Florida; advertising at Viejas Casino in San Diego; and today I work as a Program Officer/Missioner for Indigenous Ministry of The Episcopal Church. I have been very blessed to travel the world personally and professionally to learn about cultural perspectives in Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Ecuador, France, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Italy, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, and Venezuela. And yet, Martin, South Dakota will always be my home.

I have witnessed the impact of colonization and the crucial need for healing. While our history as a nation is complex, just as our history as a church is complex, in 2009 The Episcopal Church (along with many other denominations) have repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery acknowledging the wrong in Manifest Destiny. Earlier this year, several denominations passed resolutions in support of tribal nations effort to discontinue “widespread exploitation, misuse and abuse of the cultures, symbols, identities, personalities and spirituality of individuals, tribes and nations… by some popular sports franchises”. Today, many denominations have dedicated their work to reconciliation and education, including advocating for accurate American Indian history education in all schools with revitalization of language and culture of American Indians.

Working with clergy, tribal leaders, and counselors actively combatting issues related to poverty, alcohol and drug abuse, violence and suicide in Indian Country has taught me something else… ignorance is directly related to these epidemics.

People who are ignorant to our history as a nation do not understand the impact these “Indian Themed” fantasies have on our people. They do not understand “playing Indian” as either an ugly pig-faced “Red Skin” or a sexually objectified “Warrior Princess” not only insults our proud tribal histories and culture today, but also denigrates the self – esteem of our native youth. It shows all indigenous people, we are not human to you. It shows us you don’t believe we deserve respect, nor do you wish to learn an accurate history, because the truth hurts.

Today we live in an instant gratification society where everything is fast paced… and we want everything yesterday. It takes time to learn about history and culture. It takes time to build relationships with spiritual leaders and tribal communities. It takes times to being invited to experience traditional tribal ceremonies.

Yet I’ve seen it done. I’ve seen non-native clergy working in tribal communities with tribal elders to teach all youth tribal creation stories. I’ve seen native and non-native clergy working with tribal leaders and elders to tell accurate histories as a way to reconcile past wrongs. I’ve seen these true leaders working together to better their communities and build partnerships for shared goals. One major goal is to keep our youth alive, help them to celebrate their identity, and teach the youth to walk on their own spiritual path.

We are not living in the past anymore. It’s time to live in the present. It’s time to face the past, heal through education, and walk hand in hand for a better community today.

Mitakuye Oyasin (All my relations).


Virginia Theological Seminary Sermon – November 28, 2012
Observance of the Full Communion Accord between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Episcopal Church
Psalm 131 & 132
Zechariah 13:1-9
Luke 19:11-27

Anpetu Waste my good friends. Good Morning, my Lakota name is Wanbli Sina Win or Eagle Shawl Woman. I am Oglala Lakota from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

I admit had a very hard time relating to the readings of Luke 19: 11-27 as a Lakota Christian.

I know, I know… in a general sense you could say WELL they were speaking of servant-hood. RIGHT? Yeah, I guess so. But to me THIS type servant-hood was done in all the wrong ways. JUST MY PERSONAL OPINION.

I can relate more to the bigger picture in the beginning of Luke 19, where Jesus pardoning a sinner Zacchaeus who displayed COURAGE to climb a sycamore tree over the thick crowd to see Jesus. He was rewarded by Jesus going to his home. Zaccheaus promises to give half of his possessions to the poor, and repay it four times over anyone he has extorted anything from. Luke 19:9, “And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

LOST can be interpreted in a variety of ways, as well as SIN and in both passages are seeking salvation in two VERY different ways. Yet the last verse of Luke 19:26 has the KING calling his servants to BRING THOSE ENEMIES OF MINE WHO DIDN’T ME TO BE KING…BRING THEM HERE AND KILL THEM IN FRONT OF ME.

WOW… kill them in front of me. Today we can barely imagine what that must be like. Yet, this has occurred in our history of Church. MOSTLY, these readings reminded me of how wrong man can be. And how wrong intentions and actions can be interpreted.

If you look in history you see this same violence played out, in the name of God, countless times. The Doctrine of Discovery, or Manifest Destiny, in the 19th century gave the government and churches the “inherent right to conquer and rule”. This Doctrine was also the justification for expanding beyond the Louisiana Territory, justified the War with Mexico, and even justified slavery…besides pardoning the GENOCIDE of Native Americans through massacres and executions.

One of the most significant, historical and largest US mass execution was the Hanging of the 38 Dakota Indians in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862. As we approach Advent, a time I cherish…I also remember that December 26, 2012 will mark the 150th Anniversary of this day where Abraham Lincoln initially condemned 303 Dakota and Ojibwe Indians to death. Death by hanging for the crimes of theft resulting from desperate people confined to reservations by the government as they faced starvation.

A little known fact is Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple, intervened writing to Abraham Lincoln, as well as coming here to Washington, DC to plead for their lives. Lincoln reviewed the cases and reduced the condemned to 38. HOWEVER you may be a surprised to learn that of the 38 executed, 37 were baptized. As they walked to their death, they sang a Christian Hymn in the Dakota Language.

Hymnal #385
1. Many and great, O God, are thy works,
maker of earth and sky;
thy hands have set the heavens with stars;
thy fingers spread the mountains and plains.
Lo, at thy word the waters were formed;
deep seas obey thy voice.

2. Grant unto us communion with thee,
thou star abiding one;
come unto us and dwell with us;
with thee are found the gifts of life.
Bless us with life that has no end,
eternal life with thee.

Everytime I hear this hymn I think of these men…condemned to death and singing their death song…a Christian hymn as they were BROUGHT TO BE KILLED IN FRONT OF thousands of CHRISTIANS…the day after Christmas, 1862.

But this isn’t the only evidence of an mass killing right after Christmas…On the morning of December 29, 1890… troops from the US 7th Cavalry came to disarm the Lakota on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. One version of events claims a deaf tribesman was reluctant to give up his rifle, claiming he had paid a lot for it. A scuffle over rifle escalated and a shot was fired which resulted in the 7th Cavalry’s opening fire indiscriminately from all sides, killing many unarmed men, women, and children as they fled. By the time it was over, at least 150 Lakota men, women, and children had been killed…some estimates placed the number of dead closer to 300. The dead lay on the plains for 3 days, as a blizzard came. When the snowing ended, they were gathered and buried in a mass grave at Wounded Knee. One of the most chilling images is one of these troopers posing in front of the open grave with their guns. At least twenty troopers were awarded the coveted Medal of Honor for their part in this event.


So yes…everything I was taught is the exact opposite of Luke 19:11-27. As a Lakota I was taught to value:
1) Wacante Oganake, “To help, to share, to give, to be generous.”
2) Wowa-unsila, “Pity, Compassion.”
3) Wowauo-nihan, “To Repect, to Honor.”
4) Wowa-cin-tanka, “Patience and Tolerance.”
5) Wowah-wala, “To be Humble, To Seek Humility.”
6) Woohi-tike, “To be Guided By Your Principles, Disciplined, Bravery and Courage.”
7) Woksape, “Understanding and Wisdom.”

We must remember our values, even in the most dire of times. We must also remember our church has a past. A past that SHOULD NOT be forgotten, a past that STILL LIVES with us today. A past that had led to many contemporary issues Native Americans face today due to poverty.

Like Zaccheaus, we know we are all sinners in some way or another… as we move forward as Christians we also seek SALVATION through the Son of Man and knowledge…and then we are no longer LOST. In contrast, Native Americans would say they were never LOST.

So this week after Thanksgiving, we can give thanks for that we are not ignorant of these events… we can give thanks for our church’s repentance for the Doctrine of Discovery… we can give thanks for those who have COURAGE to open their minds to the truth so they can continue to heal a people still struggling with this outright WRONG done to their ancestors… we can give thanks for our partnerships in ministry in dioceses and with our relationship of full communion with the ELCA through our “COMMON MISSION”. This mission includes a partnership with projects surrounding poverty beginning to address this injustice to Native Americans, and many others.

Psalm 132 cries out “Lord, remember David…and all the hardships he endured…” And so as we begin Advent, we remember those ancestors who displayed COURAGE in the face of death singing their death song. We remember those children, who became my great-grandparents, who continued to uphold their culture to the next generation so that together, as servants of one Creator Tunkasila, we can move forward with wisdom and compassion.

Pilamaya, Mitakuye Oyasin. Thank you, all my relations. AMEN.