He had been a conscientious objector and a medic in the Vietnam War. Unwilling to carry a gun, he none the less carried the stain and shame of being part of that war on any level. He had tears in his eyes as he showed me the sacred eagle feather given to him at Standing Rock by Chief Arvol Looking Horse, direct descendant of Crazy Horse. He said, “When Looking Horse handed me this feather something happened. I felt like a whole and honorable man for the first time in my life. I felt healed. I feel like I’m living a new life.”
I was blessed to be a Standing Rock when the veterans showed up in droves. They came to stand with the Tribes and all Water Protectors on the day of the eviction notice when the military and police had warned us they were coming in to round up everyone in camp. Instead, thanks in no small part to the veterans groups and countless others showing up, the Dakota Access Pipeline had to back down.
I cannot begin to relay the pain in the eyes of many of the veterans as they entered the camp. Some were openly weeping. Many appeared to be deeply affected by being in camp at such an auspicious moment and by the opportunity to do so much good in such a genuine, heart-felt way just by showing up. The Elders brought one of the first handful of veterans to the sacred fire and created a circle of honor where we could greet and thank each person. Many could not let go of the hug I offered. I kept telling them it was an honor to meet them and feel their good hearts. Many said they were just doing their jobs. I said, nonsense, they were now doing their hearts.
In several of the ceremonies it was deeply moving to watch healing taking place on both sides of the equation. The 7th Cavalry veterans gave a white horse to the Sioux Nations as a gift of peace to finally end the conflict that occurred leading up to and at Little Big Horn – where the same cavalry division was defeated by the same tribes. Yet as much as the veterans gave to Standing Rock, it could be argued that the tribes gave more.
In raw and emotional ceremonies, several veterans listed countless acts of suppression and colonization that the military has committed against the Native Americans over many centuries. They begged forgiveness. Not only was the forgiveness offered, but those gathered realized they had much in common – as warriors and the fact that so many from both ‘sides’ suffered from PTSD and could offer compassion and understanding to each other. Then the Lakota elders explained that the Eagle feather is an incredibly sacred symbol in their traditions. That they were only offered to those who had passed through many trials and sacred tests. That to carry an Eagle feather indicated unquestionable honorable status. They also explained that in the Lakota traditions the person or tribe who had the greatest wealth and honor showed it by giving away their greatest treasures. (A delicious spin on western culture stating that the one with the most wins. In much of the indigenous world, the one who gives the most demonstrates the most worth.)
At this point, the spiritual leader of the Sioux tribes, Avril Looking Horse, direct descendant of Crazy Horse, brought forth a bundle containing Eagle feathers that he and the tribes had been gathering for more than 13 years. He said that this was the greatest gift that the people could give as it is their deepest treasure and can only be bestowed onto a person of the greatest worth and honor. Looking Horse then personally gifted an Eagle Feather to every veteran present as a badge of that level of honor.
I later met a veteran who received one of the feathers. He had been a conscientious objector and a medic in the Vietnam War. Unwilling to carry a gun, he none the less carried the stain and shame of being part of that war on any level. He had tears in his eyes as he showed me his sacred eagle feather. He said, “When Looking Horse handed me this feather something happened. I felt like a whole and honorable man for the first time in my life. I felt healed. I feel like I am living a new life.” Warriors healing warriors. A Ho!
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