With grant funding made possible by the supporters of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, the Afraid of Bear – American Horse Tiospaye (extended tribal family) was able to hold Rites of Passage activities and ceremonies for Afraid of Bear granddaughters and create film records of the ceremony and its preparation.
“We feel urgency around reviving not only the sacred ceremonies but reviving our youth,” stated administrator Lynn Van Housen. “The film project is part of this new program, a first step to creating a ‘House of Knowledge’ so that the possibility for Oglala youth to connect with their cultural richness remains available to them.”
She explained that among the goals of the program are to help “give Oglala youth dignity and pride, create films that capture ancestral knowledge of our sacred ceremonies and inspire Native and non-Native youth to understand our cultural contributions and knowledge of the natural world and Mother Earth.”
Lynn noted that the unemployment rate on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota is “extremely high (over 80 percent) as is the poverty rate” with limited access to fresh foods.
But, as she points out, “Our community’s strengths come from a connection to a rich past and culture. While economic wellbeing is very challenging, we find that our traditions around ceremony, caring for one another and helping each other open up an important space to create confidence and goodwill that translates into pride and dignity.”
Among the ceremonies which took place was “Toss the Ball,” part of their seven sacred ceremonies which Lynn explained is “meant to celebrate the ‘Age of Understanding’ when we guide girls to womanhood, connecting them to female elders who pass on knowledge and explain Lakota traditions and spirituality.
“As more girls take part in this ritual, we will grow this initial cohort of girls, women and elders and forge inter-generational bonds that these girls can continue to rely on as they grow and navigate new challenges.”
Among those who participated in the ceremonies was 12-year-old – Gianni Molina (Lakota name Ohinniyan Tokahe) who described the “Toss the Ball” ceremony as “an amazing experience.
“It made me feel good and proud that I could get through it,” she said, explaining that she fasted for a whole day “and it taught me how to be more grateful for little things. It helped me mentally and it helped me feel closer to my family.
“I’m grateful that my Uncis (Mothers) can teach me these sacred ceremonies,” says Gianni. “I feel that it’s important to continue teaching young women and men our traditional ways. I want others to learn the way our ancestors prayed.”
Another is Tamia Lucio-Evans (Lakota name Wiyaka Ohiyesa Win) who told of experiencing her first Humblechya, or vision quest, “when you go into a lodge and stay for two nights and pray in the lodge while you fast.
“The next day’s ceremony is known as ‘Toss the Ball.’ What you do at ‘Toss the Ball’ is make these balls with sacred medicines.
“These teachings were taught to me, and I want to learn how I can keep our culture going so I can pass it on to more little girls so they can learn,” Tamia told us, adding “It is very needed for the boys, too.”