Breaking a Fast

February 21st, 2018

Yamada is from Japan. He has a close relationship with the Native American peoples. He has often walked with them. Yamada plans to make this entire walk. He started fasting at the very beginning of the walk, and he only broke the fast this evening, after we finished the walk to Sauk-Suiattle country.

The folks on the reservation greeted us eagerly as we approached the long house. They drummed and chanted as we formed a circle on front of the wooden structure. They invited us into the building. An old man with a rattle told us to walk four full circles around the interior of the long house. He shook his rattle as we went around and around.

The chairman of the tribe, Joseph, greeted all of us. Then Yamada started a ritual to celebrate the end of his fast. In the middle of our circle, he laid out the chanupas (peace pipes) and the other medicine. Jeremiah, the Shoshone youth, sang and drummed. Yamada took up his pipe and slowly filled it with tobacco. Yamada turned to face each of the cardinal directions as he filled the end of his pipe. Finally, he lit it.

Yamada passed the pipe around to the members of the circle, both walkers and the people of the tribe. He started with Chairman Joseph, and then moved clockwise around the sacred circle. He had to relight the pipe repeatedly as he walked around. I was unsure about sharing the pipe. I hadn’t smoked anything for over forty years. I was afraid that I would gag or cough. Yamada offered me the pipe. I took two shallow drags on it, and blew the smoke out. It tasted sweet, and good.

As Yamada made his circuit, the old man also went around the circle. He held a smoldering bundle of sage and a large bird wing. He was “doctoring” us. I found out later from him that walkers pick up bits of evil on their journey. He was cleansing our bodies and spirits of the accumulated bad energy. I noticed that he spent a lot of time working on me. The man see the smoke from the sage and the bird’s wing to brush the darkness away from me. He took the wing and touched parts of my body, and then he shook the invisible contents of the wing on to the floor.

I talked later with the old man. His name is Ernie. He has a weathered face and a long, black braid of hair. He wore a white t-shirt and jeans. He was more than willing to speak to me. I asked him about the ritual.

“I was cleansing you. Walkers pick up evil as they travel. It wasn’t me that took the evil away. It was God. I don’t do anything. He does it all”, and Ernie pointed to the ceiling.

“Do you pray?”, he asked me. “You can do it. All you need is your tongue and eyes and ears. God gave you all those things. That and your common sense. Ask Him for whatever you want. Years ago, in this house, when we needed food, we would pray for a deer, and a deer would come inside and offer its life for us. Ask God. You have ears, eyes, and a tongue. You have your common sense. What do you want?”

“I want my kids to stop suffering.”

I told him that, but he didn’t hear. He went on,

“We were a people that gathered. We never needed money. We had fish and other food. We lived in our long houses. Then the Man came. He took our land and our culture. Our language. He took it all. Now it just starting to come back. We have to teach our children the right way. We have to make it right again.”

Wounded Knee talked to me yesterday. He asked me,

“Do you know how to pray?”

I told him that I do, but maybe I don’t really. I don’t know. With each passing day, I feel like I know less. It’s confusing.

A word about the Sauk-Suiattle. They have lived here, under the gaze of the Whitehorse Mountains for longer than anyone knows. In 1924 their numbers had dwindled to only eighteen people. They have rebounded somewhat. They are still a tiny group. They survived.










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