Loretta Afraid

Preserving Lakota Heritage: Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook and the Seven Sacred Ceremonies

“Future generations of Oglalas should know everything their ancestors believed and practiced; and so that all the world will know of the Oglala Gods!”

            George Sword – Mi Wakan 1896

Loretta Afraid of Bear Cook is an activist, cultural, and language bearer, an involved Oglala Elder, and a loving grandmother. Loretta has served on the Running Strong Advisory Board for many years and, with her husband Tom, has been an integral part of bringing healthy foods to the Pine Ridge reservation by overseeing the Slim Buttes Agriculture Development program. Loretta has been working to help her Lakota people preserve their culture for decades, traveling the world, sharing her culture, and even creating and championing legislation to serve Native Americans better. Growing up on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Loretta was immersed in Lakota culture, spiritual traditions, and ceremonies, eventually becoming the female Sundance Leader for the Afraid of Bear/American Horse Sundance. Loretta is one of the few fluent Lakota speakers and is highly dedicated to passing her cultural knowledge to the next generation.

The following is a transcription of handwritten documents in which Loretta describes sacred Lakota Ceremonies:     

Seven Sacred Ceremonies

  1. Boys and girls each have a coming of age/puberty rites ceremony:
    1. Isnati-  “Puberty Rites of Passage” for females
    1. Howakanpi- “Changing of the Voice” for males
  2. Tapa WAKAL EyAyApi – “Toss the Ball” for females
  3. Hanblecheyapi – Crying for a Vision, Vision Quest
  4. Wiwang Wacipi- Sundance
  5. Hunkayapi – Making of relatives by choice.
  6. Inipi – Purification, wiping off in Sweat lodge
  7. Nagi gluha Manipi- Keeping of the Soul, Releasing of the Soul

Male Rite of Passage – Ho Wakan – Ho Tokica Different Voice/Sacred Voice

Males are considered “gifts” to our females. We are blessed when we have a male born into our families. We take care of them and treat them with respect accordingly. When their voices change at their puberty rights – 12 years and older- it is time for them to receive their sacred items , learn the men’s prayers, dances, rituals to begin preparing their medicine bundles.

Eagle bone whistle is prepared for them. Then whistle is blown, it commands “attention” so it is only used during ceremonies.

Pipe and Pipebags are made for them and taught how to care for these special items.

Eagle Wing fans are given to them to use in ceremony. Ceremonial feathers are only used in ceremonies.

Bows and Arrows are made for them and taken on hunting experiences to get wild game for food consumption. Fishing is taught.

Stewardship practices are taught. Know your homelands and all that it contains.

Be in service to one’s community. Knowing your community needs. How many families, men, women, children, elders, medicine people.

Female :  Tapa WAKAL EyAyApi- Toss the Ball

In Women’s language the word “TA” or “Tah” refers to something very important that may belong to someone. The action word would be “TA + WA – It’s theirs” It is also the root word that refers to the “amniotic fluid” our babies grow in women’s wombs. “Ta mni”- Special Female Water or as a traditional midwife Katsi Cook states: “Women are our 1st environment” As we prepare ourselves to receive our babies we begin preparing their medicine bundles for their life journey(s).

Rights of Passage – Female – Oglala

Traditional teachings include preparing and executing a Toss the Ball Ceremony for our little girls from their ages of understanding – 5 to 10 years old- and older it seems in these modern times.

A ball is prepared from buffalo hide, or deer skin and decorated with paints and beads on porcupine quills and stuffed with Buffalo hair would be lovingly prepared by grandmothers for their granddaughter’s “coming of age” ceremonies.

A gathering of the relatives would be called to ritualize/ceremonialism their young females in the Nation’s House Circles.

The people gather around her in a circle and prepare to receive her blessing as she tosses the sacred ball in all of the 4 directions, starting in the West, North, East and South, up to the Cosmos/Universe, down to Earth Mother and lastly remembering 1st Grandfather- Inyan (or the rock, a God in Lakota culture who resides at the center of Earth Mother burning alive and centering us in gravity answering the blessings of hear, warmth and gravity from the burning sun).

She is given instructions on her stewardship practices for her place on Earth Mother. Know how to take care of all that grows, flows and the seasons in their time of replenishment. Preparations she needs to make for being in these seasons. Learning to use medicines, their locations, and their rules for harvesting and replenishment.

She is taught “how to get along” with others. She is given rituals applications. How to prepare for ceremonies, the things that are needed to conduct, teach, and bring to fruitful conclusions by being fully engaged in ceremonies.

She is given hands-on instruction for preparing “sacred foods” used in ceremonies. Grandmother’s teachings: “one cannot do Ceremony without sacred foods.”

For preparing these special foods, our young women are honored by grandmothers ways. Thre are family ceremonies that are part of the preparations for Toss the Ball. A knife ceremony should be made available to our little girls around the ages of understanding 5-10 years old, how to handle and take care of knives. Our grandmothers always told us: “A well-dressed Oglala women is never without her knife.”

Grandmother’s Teachings

Grandmother and Grandfather Authority are given/passed on to grandchildren in ceremonies.

These rituals are life-altering and lifelong practices passed through “Elder Wisdom Transfer to Youth” ceremonies.

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