FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Pilgrimage Among the Crow Creek Sioux & Ancient Missouri River

As fate would have it, the pilgrimage’s odyssey across Turtle Island first began as a one year sojourn among the Hunkpatina people on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation, located near the Big Bend of the Missouri River at Fort Thompson, South Dakota.

The Hunkpatina at Crow Creek were the descendants of Chief Long Crow and his people who had been transported against their will from their earlier homelands in Minnesota following the Dakota Uprising of 1862 that they had waged against the U.S.

Government and invading immigrant farmers who had stolen their lands and were utterly destroying the Hunkpatina culture and way of life. Crow Creek became a virtual prisoner-of-war camp. By the time I arrived, their camp’s more recent school, hospital, burial grounds, farm gardens and Missouri bottomland homes had all been either physically destroyed or drowned by an Army Corp of Engineer dam. Witnessing the living native spirit of the Crow Creek people began as a love affair with the Missouri River or Mni-sose (Minneshoshay, ‘Muddy River’) as it’s referred to in the region’s native Siouan dialect.516wg5cjgol-_sx327_bo1204203200_

Even from the window of a jetliner at 30,000 feet, that first hazy glimpse through the clouds at the ‘Big Muddy’, the world’s second longest river, was like coming into the presence of a wise, venerated sage. As the jet swooped down to make its final gliding approach to Pierre, dipping one wing low over Mni-sose, I caught an eagle’s-eye view of a scene that could have jumped right off a 19th century George Caleb Bingham canvas. There, in a quick brushstroke of my eyes, lay the sparkling Missouri, framed by lazy Cottonwoods draped in dewy-morning air, as an Indian man and young boy with long braids paddled their canoe.

It wasn’t long after arriving that I met up with one old Crow Creek elder who at once dubbed me – Jerry Vista – because I was coming to him as a Vista Volunteer who was then engaged in the War Against Poverty. “Jerry Vista”, he quipped, “Your White Man’s teachin’ books got it all wrong! ‘Cause it’s Mni-sose, not the Mississippi, that flows in tah th’ Gulf of Mexico. Tell ’em it’s just ’cause they saw th’ Mississippi first that made ’em get it all back-asswards! HE! HE! HE!

As his chuckle trailed off into a low murmur, the elder – tapping two fingers in the palm of his hand as if they were a drumstick softly beating a drum – began to sing an old Dacotah Water Blessing song. Before even realizing it, I joined in, humming under my breath the chant spontaneously made to the Mighty Missouri upon first spying her 4,000-mile long, muddy-brown, serpentine body through that lofty stratosphere portal.

With our eyes fixed upon Mni-sose in the distance, the elder’s blessing and my impromptu chant – laced with elements of an immigrant Irish grandfather’s once hopeful ‘Shenandoah’ hymn – slowly melded. In an instant, the body, mind and souls of an old Dacotah Indian and one young Irish-Tyrolean Celt fused into one sweet, sonorous song of love.

All at once, my senses were caught up in an intense affair with the shifting moods of Indian Summer light and smells that played upon the plains and prairies paralleling Mni-sose on its western and eastern banks. Subtle shades and sweet scents highlighted the magical spectacle of the land’s great physical expanses as huge, bilious, cloud-filled skies splayed out from her in all directions, from horizon to horizon; this palette of Mother Nature’s chiaroscuro enhanced by the romantic hues and changing dispensations of those first sun-filled autumn days and night-time moons.

Setting out alone on still, luminescent, moonlit nights, I walked for miles as if in a somnambulistic trance, plying prairies and plains high above Mni-sose, mesmerized by the thoughts of those unknown legions of past generations and the rich legacies they embodied who once passed along this same sinuous waterway.

For hours on end, I just sat as if a daze, upon a high bank under the blazing-hot sun, hypnotically staring out across the wide Missouri as its slow-moving eternal waters boiled and churned up great, surging whirlpools of rich Dakota silt, moving ever southward towards some unknown distant place of rest. At one point, with paper and pen in hand, out-flowed a poem:

– IN THE SPAN OF A HEARTBEAT –

Once Upon A Time –
While gazing longingly
Upon a placid Mni-sose,
Enveloped by warm amber field
Bathed in golden sunlight
Set against a still, crisp,
Crystal-blue Indian Summer day,
A sacred sound was heard.

Its Origin –
The distant thunderous roar
of tens of thousands of Canadian honkers,
Massing overhead,
Like an airborne Niagara Falls.

Their ‘V’ formations
Everywhere emerging upon the horizon
Like ascending, swirling currents
Of feathered wings,
Each seeking
To play their own small part
In drowning out the noon-day sun.

The sheer majesty of their cacophony
eloquently heralding-
“Lad! Look, Listen and Behold!
For Life’s Circle Dance
All Around You
Has Begun Anew!
The Dance –
Turning One More Turn
Upon The Timeless-Spaceless
Medicine Wheel of Creation!”

Having arrived at Crow Creek, I was drawn back to that spot time and again, like an iron filing being drawn to a magnet, just for another chance to quietly sit beneath a new deciduous mentor that had called me to its side. Reveling amidst sweet scents of native buffalo grass, wild grapes, prairie roses and chokecherries, I fitfully tried to imagine the whole gamut and panoply of the human and natural worlds once intertwined there.

Images pondered since youth: of a raucous, lawless, Wild West Leadville, Colorado birthplace; the mysterious cliff-dwellings of the Anazazi of Mesa Verde and even more mysterious Yelamu Indians of San Francisco’s San Bruno Mountains, who had all disappeared with nary a trace; flashed into thought; each image conjuring up yet another unanswered question about the transitory nature of life and why it was that I’d been sent to this lonely Crow Creek place along the Missouri.

“What Answers, Lad, Does Your LIfe Owe Me?”, telepathically asked Mni-sose one day, as I sat staring at her off in the distance. “What answers indeed, Lad!”, cried out The Voice inside, amidst the heralds of ten thousand cicadas, ‘will you learn from the Crow Creek people themselves?”

*This excerpt is from Volume 1 of the three volume literary project, The Wild Gentle Ones; A Turtle Island Odyssey. It is meant to compliment the op-ed, Wall Street’s Destruction of Sacred Sioux Burial Grounds.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 22, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Karl Grossman
Star Wars Redux: Trump’s Space Force
Andrew Levine
Strange Bedfellows
Jeffrey St. Clair
Intolerable Opinions in an Intolerant Time
Paul Street
None of Us are Free, One of Us is Chained
Edward Curtin
Slow Suicide and the Abandonment of the World
Celina Stien-della Croce
The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People 
James Bovard
Pro-War Media Deserve Slamming, Not Sainthood
Louisa Willcox
My Friend Margot Kidder: Sharing a Love of Dogs, the Wild, and Speaking Truth to Power
David Rosen
Trump’s War on Sex
Mir Alikhan
Trump, North Korea, and the Death of IR Theory
Christopher Jones
Neoliberalism, Pipelines, and Canadian Political Economy
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Why is Tariq Ramadan Imprisoned?
Robert Fantina
MAGA, Trump Style
Linn Washington Jr.
Justice System Abuses Mothers with No Apologies
Martha Rosenberg
Questions About a Popular Antibiotic Class
Ida Audeh
A Watershed Moment in Palestinian History: Interview with Jamal Juma’
Edward Hunt
The Afghan War is Killing More People Than Ever
Geoff Dutton
Electrocuting Oral Tradition
Don Fitz
When Cuban Polyclinics Were Born
Ramzy Baroud
End the Wars to Halt the Refugee Crisis
Ralph Nader
The Unsurpassed Power trip by an Insuperable Control Freak
Lara Merling
The Pain of Puerto Ricans is a Profit Source for Creditors
James Jordan
Struggle and Defiance at Colombia’s Feast of Pestilence
Tamara Pearson
Indifference to a Hellish World
Kathy Kelly
Hungering for Nuclear Disarmament
Jessicah Pierre
Celebrating the End of Slavery, With One Big Asterisk
Rohullah Naderi
The Ever-Shrinking Space for Hazara Ethnic Group
Binoy Kampmark
Leaving the UN Human Rights Council
Nomi Prins 
How Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression
Robert Fisk
Can Former Lebanese MP Mustafa Alloush Turn Even the Coldest of Middle Eastern Sceptics into an Optimist?
Franklin Lamb
Could “Tough Love” Salvage Lebanon?
George Ochenski
Why Wild Horse Island is Still Wild
Ann Garrison
Nikki Haley: Damn the UNHRC and the Rest of You Too
Jonah Raskin
What’s Hippie Food? A Culinary Quest for the Real Deal
Raouf Halaby
Give It Up, Ya Mahmoud
Brian Wakamo
We Subsidize the Wrong Kind of Agriculture
Patrick Higgins
Children in Cages Create Glimmers of the Moral Reserve
Patrick Bobilin
What Does Optimism Look Like Now?
Don Qaswa
A Reduction of Economic Warfare and Bombing Might Help 
Robin Carver
Why We Still Need Pride Parades
Jill Richardson
Immigrant Kids are Suffering From Trauma That Will Last for Years
Thomas Mountain
USA’s “Soft” Coup in Ethiopia?
Jim Hightower
Big Oil’s Man in Foreign Policy
Louis Proyect
Civilization and Its Absence
David Yearsley
Midsummer Music Even the Nazis Couldn’t Stamp Out
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail