Black River Falls, Wisconsin (September 22, 2011) — In this pristine, hilly section of Wisconsin, near the center of the state and a little to the west, dark clouds were rolling in.
Lance Long of the Ho-Chunk Nation Buffalo Clan, the MC for this totem blessing ceremony, joked that his Indian name means, “He for whom the thunder waits.” The thunder definitely waited for the morning ceremony at the Andrew Blackhawk Pow Wow Grounds, and the rain and lightning, too. In fact, the sun shone brightly during the most sacred part of the Ho-Chunk ceremony, the smudging. More about that in a moment.
One English translation of Ho-Chunk is “People of the Big Voice.” The impassioned voices of the Ho-Chunk were in fine form today, as the Hiwas`ipi Singers offered songs of blessing and honor, and a tribute to flags, all to lively drum accompaniment. Three members of the Andrew Blackhawk American Legion Post displayed the eagle staff and flags as the ceremony began, and removed them at its end.
Robert Mann (executive director, Ho-Chunk Nation Heritage Preservation Department), master carver Jewell James, Samanthi Hewakapuge (Consumer Health Coordinator, Greater Midwest Region Regional Medical Library , University of Illinois, Chicago, an arm of the National Library of Medicine), Ho-Chunk Nation President Jon Greendeer, Freddie Lane (Lummi Nation) and Ho- Chunk Elder Gordon Thunder pause for a photo after the blessing ceremony
(Photo: courtesy of Melanie Modlin)
The crowd of about 50 heard an invocation by Elder Gordon Thunder. This community leader also performed the smudging ceremony, to bless the totem and all assembled. He wished his blessing would send the totem safely on its way to Bethesda, Maryland. Thunder added he hoped his blessing would foster healing to all assembled at the ceremony, plus all in need of healing in the Ho-Chunk community and beyond.
Thunder sprinkled the Four Sacred Herbs, sage, cedar, sweetgrass, and tobacco, onto the ceremonial fire — giving an earthy aroma to the damp morning air. After these had burned, he took a wand made of bundled sage and gently caught the end of it on fire. He held the smoking wand above his head and, saying blessings in the Ho-Chunk language, moved it slowly in the Four Directions in tribute to ancestors everywhere. He then passed the wand and its smoke over all areas of the totem, and walked around, sharing its powers with every person in attendance.
Robert Mann, executive director of the Ho-Chunk Nation Heritage Preservation Department, said in his welcome address, “This is a very special occasion and a real honor. We’re the halfway mark of this totem’s journey and we’re proud that we can be blessed by it. Its blessings aren’t just for those who are here but for all people, everywhere.”
Ho-Chunk Nation President Jon Greendeer also spoke. “I’d like to drive this truck [that the totem is traveling on], just to see folks’ reactions, when they see it passing by. Most people don’t know its meaning, though. This is not just a decoration that will be installed someplace. It is a symbol of our tribe’s connection to other tribes, and a symbol of universal healing.”
Greendeer described several ways the Ho-Chunk people are involved in improving their community’s health. Their efforts include an active Mothers Against Drunk Driving group and as well a teen suicide prevention initiative. “With Indian people,” Greendeer explained, “it doesn’t take long for somebody to do something amazing.”
(Photo: courtesy of Melanie Modlin)
He added carver Jewell James’ healing totem to a list of amazing things. “In the Ho-Chunk way of life, we believe that the work that goes into something is honorable and sacred. The hands that crafted this totem [James was aided by others of the Lummi Nation] created something that is part of the elements. Our tribe has always honored traditional medicine and healing, but today we must also make healthy choices in our lives. I can’t think of a better place for this totem to come than here. Its journey and this effort carry a powerful message of healing to all.”