Some Cherokee Visions

( – promoted by navajo)

When cultures are undergoing rapid change, the people are often unsure, and sometimes afraid, of the future. At these times, people are more likely to turn to religion as a well of prediction about the future. Divination, often in the form of prophecy, is an important part of many religious traditions. In ancient Babylon divination was based on looking at the skies, in many African cultures it involves an examination of the entrails of a sacrificed ox, and in many Christian cultures it many involve an interpretation of Biblical passages.

During the first part of the nineteenth century, the Cherokee in the southeast were undergoing a great deal of change. In order to deal with pressure from the American government, they were adopting an American-style government; they were converting to Christianity; and they were changing from an egalitarian agricultural economy to a slave-based plantation economy. During this time of stress, a number of Cherokee prophets emerged who utilized the traditional Native vision or dream as their source of knowledge about the future.  

In the 1810, a fundamentalist religious movement began among the Cherokee. The leading prophet, Charley, told the people that the mother of the nation had abandoned them because they had taken up American agricultural practices and grain mills. Charley told the Cherokee that if they returned to traditional agriculture, if they returned to hunting, if they excluded Americans from their territory, and if they abandoned American clothes and material goods, then the Great Spirit would send them sufficient game. Charley appeared with two black wolves, one on either side of him, which were said to be spirits. As he told the people that Selu (corn) had abandoned them because they are now farming in the European way, the clouds parted in the sky.

Charley predicted that non-believers would be destroyed in a hail storm and that those who gathered with him on a high peak would be safe. The storm failed to appear and Charley’s influence faded.

In 1810, three Cherokee reported that they had been visited by a band of Indians who appeared out of the heavens riding black horses. The visitors told the Cherokee to return to the old ways and to give up their featherbeds, tables, and European dress. Corn was to be ground by hand rather than in the new gristmills.

The visitors reported that the Mother of the Nation was unhappy because the Cherokee had let the wild game be killed off. While the message was to return to the old ways, some of the new ways – reading and writing, for example – were acceptable.

When the vision was reported at the Cherokee National Council, Major Ridge, who would later support the American plan for removal of the Cherokee west of the Mississippi River, angrily declared that the vision was false.

In 1811, several prophets reported a vision which showed the Great Spirit angry with the Cherokee. The prophets told the people to turn their attention to reclaiming the sacred towns of Tugaloo and Chota, to restore traditional dances and ceremonies, and to use traditional medicines. Several of the prophets made predictions about world destruction and when these failed to happen, the prophets lost their credibility.

In 1819, Cherokee peace chief Yonaguska died and came back to life 24 hours later. He announced that he had gone to the spirit world where he talked with dead friends and relatives. In the spirit world, the Creator gave him a message to share with the people. As a result of this experience, Yonaguska organized a temperance society and banished whiskey from this people.

During this decade of rapid change, the Cherokee prophesies took on two different forms: (1) a total rejection of the new ways and a return to the mythical past, and (2) a partial rejection of the new ways while incorporating some of them into the culture. In all instances, when the prophets predicted that specific things would happen and these events failed to happen, their prestige in the community failed.  

Northern California Indian Spirituality

( – promoted by navajo)

As with American Indians in other areas, the Northern California Indians traditionally viewed human beings, plants, animals, and objects as living things-“people”-who were basically equals. The relationship between human beings and animals, for example, was not one of exploitation but of reciprocity. Human beings respected the animal people and performed certain rites for them while the animals provided human beings with food and skins.

The non-human people-the trees, the rocks, the animals, the mountains, the springs, and others-are not only alive, but they have certain special powers and these powers can be shared with human beings when humans form a spiritual friendship and alliance with these other people. Traditionally, it was (and often, still is) the job of each individual to seek out and establish relations with the spiritual forces that were to become his or her special ally.

Among the Indian people of Northern California, dreams are the key to the spiritual world. It is in dreams that people meet the supernaturals and the spirits of birds and animals who can give them special gifts of knowledge and power. In some instances young people would go through special training and then seek a vision with the sponsorship of an elder. In other instances, the vision would simply come to people while swimming in a lake, river, or ocean.

The things that happen in dreams are just as important as those things which happen when one is awake. From the perspective of the California Indians, dreaming does not take place entirely in the mind, but is a type of communication, a way of gaining knowledge. Dreams are often more important than the events that happen when one is awake: dreams are the direct contact with the spirit world.

With regard to the ceremonies of the Northern California Indian nations, one of the most important was the World Renewal or Big Time. Among the Indians of Northern California – Karuk, Yurok, Hupa, Tolowa, Wiyot – this ceremony involved a series of complex dances, speeches, and displays of high status items. The purpose of this ceremony was to renew the world and to assure stability between the annual ceremonies. The death and rebirth of the world can be seen in the ceremonial rebuilding of ceremonial structures such as the sweathouse, ceremonial house, and dance areas.  

Among the Yurok, the World Renewal ceremony was traditionally carried out each spring and each fall. The ceremonies were held at specific historic spots along the Klamath River. As a part of the ceremony, the Wogé Spirits (the pre-human inhabitants of the earth) were given tobacco and angelica root which were thrown into the fire as offerings. The World Renewal rites were held to insure bountiful crops, abundant salmon and deer, and to prevent disasters such as earthquakes, falling stars, illness, floods, and the end of the world.

Among the Yurok, the Hupa, and the Karuk the White Deerskin Dance was an occasion for displaying antique obsidian blades and albino deerskins. During this dance albino or oddly colored deerskins were held aloft on wooden poles. Among the Hupa, the carefully prepared and decorated deerskins used in the ten-day ceremony are considered to be tribal rather than personal property.    

The Karok would traditionally hold their Jumping Dance at the place where the salmon had been created. The dance is held to prevent sickness, to bring happiness, and to bring good weather. According to one elder:

“When man and the world become unbalanced, then we must dance the great dances, rhythmically stamping upon the earth, exchanging with it and balancing all that brings health, strength, food, honor, good luck, and happiness for all.”

For the Jumping Dance, the dancers wear elaborate outfits, including headdresses with woodpecker scalps attached to the forehead band and topped with a feathered plume. Among the Yurok the participants would wear a headdress containing about 70 redheaded woodpecker scalps. In addition to the headdress, the dancers also wear dentalia shell necklaces and a deerskin skirt and they carry a Jump Dance basket in the right hand.

The Brush Dance was an important curing ceremony and was given for curing a sick child. During this ceremony, the roof planks were removed from the house during the dance so that people could watch from the outside (houses were dug down into the ground). The Brush Dance is also an occasion for community entertainment and courtship.

An important element in the curing is the waving of sticks of burning sugar pine pitchwood over the baby while singing. This helps the baby grow stronger.  

Yurok House

Earthquakes and Native American Spirituality

There have been a number of major earthquakes recently-Haiti, Chile, Turkey-and, as usual, there have been some religious explanations about why they happened. During the past century there have been a couple of earthquakes here in North America which involved Native American spirituality.  

The most intense series of earthquakes in North America happened in 1811 with an epicenter in Arkansas. It is estimated that this may have been an 8.0 magnitude earthquake. This earthquake is commonly called the New Madrid Earthquake.

Just prior to the earthquake, Cherokee chief Skaquaw (The Swan) had a vision while gazing at a comet. Lightning flashed from the four directions and formed a small light at his feet. He picked it up and found that it did not burn his hand because it was tame fire. A child then approached him from the east and another from the west. They perfumed the air and he fell asleep. While sleeping, the Great Spirit told him to warn the Cherokee that they must leave the St. Francis, Arkansas area before great disaster falls upon them. When Skaquaw awoke he told the people what he had learned and they left the area. In this way, they escaped from the New Madrid earthquakes.

There’s another story about the New Madrid Earthquake from Alabama. Shawnee leader Tecumseh had been visiting the Creek in an attempt to gain their support for a rebellion against the Americans. When he left the Creek village of Tuckhabatchee he told the Creek Chief Big Warrior that when he returned to Michigan he would stamp his foot and that the earth would shake the Creek village. In about the length of time it would have taken Tecumseh to return to his Michigan home, the ground at Tuckhabatchee shook from the New Madrid Earthquake.

In 1870, the Wanapum prophet Smohalla predicted that an earthquake would shake the ground to announce the displeasure of the Great Spirit in the way the people were living. Soon after a major earthquake struck the Chelan in north central Washington. Many in the area, including those who had not heard Smohalla’s words, believed that Mother Earth was angry with them. The Catholic priests used this event as an opportunity to increase their missionary efforts. However, Chief Nmosize, a follower of the traditional ways, burned down the mission house.

In 1873, the Sanpoil prophet Kolaskin predicted that a major disaster was going to happen. On November 12 a major earthquake struck. The earthquake enhanced his reputation as a prophet and increased the number of his followers, including the protestant Indians on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington.

In 1887, the noted Yavapai healer Echawamahu began to spend his days wandering away from his San Carlos Apache Reservation camp in Arizona. He muttered to himself and looked skyward. He returned in the evening, carrying flowers, and then was gone again in the morning. He went to another world, but the Great Spirit sent him back to tell the people about coming changes.

Echawamahu called a number of Yavapai and Apache to his camp and gave them specific instructions. He told them that people from four camps were to approach from the four cardinal directions, then be seated in rows. Four young women would be selected to come dressed in white, wearing eagle feathers in their hair. These chosen women would sprinkle dust on each of the seated participants, and then the entire crowd. One by one, they would sprinkle dust on Echawamahu. If the people believe and do as they are told, then the Great Spirit would restore their lands.

When a large earthquake struck the reservation many Yavapai and Apache were convinced that Echawamahu spoke the truth. More than 1,000 gathered at a spring known as Coyote Hole for nightly dancing.

In 1932, the Paiute prophet Wovoka, whose vision had started the Ghost Dance movement, died in Nevada of enlarged prostate cystitis at the age of 74. Prior to his death he predicted that there would be an earthquake after his death which would signal his entry into heaven. Three months after his death, a large earthquake rocked the Smith and Mason Valleys which had been his home.

In 1959, a group of Cree on the Rocky Boy Reservation in Montana requested a Spirit Lodge ceremony. The Cree were concerned about unemployment and about the general unrest among tribal members. During the ceremony the spirits told the ceremonial leader that the people were forgetting the traditional ways. As a result, the leader reported, there would be an earthquake to remind the people. Within a month, a devastating earthquake shook Montana and surrounding country. It caused landslides, created a new lake, and killed many people. The Cree who had been at the meeting of the Spirit Lodge were not surprised.

Faith-Based Reservations

This is the first in a three-part series on the Dark Ages of American Indian Religious Freedom.

For the past five centuries, American Indians have had their religions suppressed (sometimes brutally and violently) and denied. With the formation of the United States and the adoption of the Bill of Rights which speaks of freedom of religion, this freedom has been denied to American Indians based on the notion that they were not citizens and therefore this freedom did not apply to them. The period of time from 1870 to 1934 can be considered the Dark Ages for American Indian Religious Freedom. During this time, the active suppression of American Indian religions reached its peak.

In this first part, we are going to look the faith-based administration of Indian reservations which sometimes resulted in theocracies.  

In 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant faced a major problem: the Indian Service (now the Bureau of Indian Affairs) was notoriously corrupt. The solution to this problem appeared obvious: to turn over the administration of the reservations to Christian (preferably Protestant) church groups. In his 1870 message to Congress, President Ulysses Grant explained that he had “determined to give all the agencies to such religious denominations as had heretofore established missionaries among the Indians, and perhaps to some other denominations who would undertake the work on the same terms – i.e. as missionary work.” This became the policy known as the Peace Policy.

Under the policy, a single Christian denomination would become responsible for administering all Indian programs on each reservation and would have a monopoly on proselytization. Under American policy at this time, the efforts to “civilize” the Indians required them to become Christian. Therefore conversion, by force if necessary, was an important part of American policy.  

There was no concern at this time for either the existence or validity of any Indian religions. In fact, Indian religious leaders were seen as barriers to progress and could be jailed for expressing their religious concerns.

In accordance with President Ulysses Grant’s Peace Policy, the Secretary of the Interior allocated 80 reservations among 13 Christian denominations. The anti-Catholic sentiment of the time is clearly evident in the allocation of the Indian agencies among the various Christian denominations. By the terms stated in Grant’s policy, namely that missions should be allocated among the missionaries already at work there, Catholic officials expected to receive thirty-eight missions; instead they were accorded only eight, all of them in either the Rio Grande valley or the Pacific Northwest. Subsequently, Catholic missionaries began to be ordered off certain reservations.

In response to the anti-Catholic actions of the government, the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions was created in 1874 to protect and advance the missionary work which was threatened by President Grant’s Peace Policy.  

One of the examples of this faith-based administration of an Indian reservation can be seen in Idaho where the Nez Perce Reservation became a model theocracy and helped contribute to the 1877 Nez Perce War.

While the Nez Perce Reservation was originally assigned to the Catholics, the Presbyterians protested and acquired the reservation. Under this administration, the traditional Nez Perce ways were not only frowned upon, but they were openly ridiculed and prohibited. In the schools, the teachers (who were often missionaries) deliberately made the Indians ashamed of their own traditions, history, culture, and lore. New regulations prohibited plural marriage, gambling, shamanism, and traditional drumming, singing, dancing, and ceremonial clothing. The new Indian agent also condemned long hair on men.

Under the new Peace Policy, each reservation was to be a monopoly. In the case of the Nez Perce Reservation, the new Indian agent ordered the Methodist missionary off the reservation and refused to allow the Catholics to build a mission.

Not only was the faith-based administration of the Indian reservations biased against the Catholics, it also actively opposed missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (commonly called the Mormons). In 1875, for example, government officials not only barred Mormon missionaries from the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho, they also sent out troops to break up Mormon gatherings and bring the Indians back to the reservation.

When the Mormons established an off-reservation farm for the Shoshone, there were demands that the Indians be returned, by force of arms if necessary, to the Fort Hall Reservation. While the Indian agent reported that the Indians at the farm had never resided on the reservation, it was still felt that they should be moved to the reservation and away from the influences of the Mormons.  


The Bear Butte Prayer Gathering will be held from August 1st – 12th on 120 acres of Federal Trust Land managed by the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.  The land is located on the southwest side of the mountain, just north of the Bear Butte State Park entrance. 

After several meetings between a group of organizers from across South Dakota and the Northern Cheyenne tribe, a concerted effort is in progress to make this prayer camp a reality for all tribes who have paid homage to this mountain for centuries past and for those whose spirituality has brought them to this sacred site only recently. 

Special focus of prayer activities are for servicemen men and women, and nations impacted by armed conflict and hunger, as well as for the protection of the mountain and effects of global warming.

A brief history of the Bear Butte issue includes the encroachment of bars and campgrounds onto sacred lands.  “Recently, there has been a push by big businesses and individuals who reap economic gain at astronomical levels during the annual Sturgis Bike Rally to use the sacred site of the northern plains tribes to boost their income by exploiting its beauty and sacredness in return for greenbacks.  It has become evident that federal laws passed to protect sacred sites for indigenous peoples in this country have no meaning.  Money, it seems, is considered more powerful and more important than the creation, the land and its natural people are suffering in its wake,” stated Anne White Hat, member of the Bear Butte Prayer Gathering Working Committee and the Bear Butte International Alliance.

“Many attempts to seek justice and compromise by the tribes with the local Meade County Commissioners have seemed to substantiate this over and over again,” indicated Jay Red Hawk, member of the Working Committee and the Bear Butte International Alliance.  Tribal representatives indicated they have been dismissed, ignored, and treated with disrespect in their attempt to stop encroachment onto sacred lands as the commission continues to grant big business and individuals access to these areas of land for inflated land prices.  “Prices that many tribes or individuals cannot afford, not to mention the blatant treaty violations that continue play a role in any land transactions in the Black Hills as a whole,” furthered Red Hawk.

The most recent development just 1 mile of the north face of Bear Butte is owned by Arizona-based developer Jay Allen who has boasted his intention of building the largest biker bar in the world covering over 600 acres.  Tribes have pushed for a 4 mile buffer zone around the sacred mountain to protect the land and those tribal people who may be praying on the mountain during the time of year that the bike rally takes place.  Just days after the 2005 Sturgis motorcycle rally several tribal members met with Jay Allen to discuss concerns about the potential impact of his development, the Sturgis County Line.  “When Allen was informed about the sacrifices made annually by tribal people at Bear Butte, his response was simply, ‘They should know better than to pray up there during the rally, how naive,'” reported the Bear Butte International Alliance.  Since that statement, Allen has been able to complete construction of a bar with a parking lot to hold over 100 bikes and cars, both of which are within 3 miles of the sacred mountain. 

Smaller scale setups have come to exist even closer, the Free Spirit Campground is actually at the base of the north face and even up the side and houses a small bar to host bands and strippers.  Sacred tobacco ties left on the mountain by native people can be seen around the tents that campers set up to stay at the Free Spirit Campground.  A fifteen minute helicopter ride is made available during the rally so bikers and tourists can fly around the top of the sacred mountain for $85 dollars per flight.  “Many tribal people who pray on the mountain at this time are disrupted constantly and must endure the constant noise of rock bands and the drone of bikes twenty four hours a day,” reported Red Hawk.

Currently tribes are organizing to continue the struggle for recognition of religious freedom and protection of Bear Butte mountain as a sacred site.  Many tribes hold a vast history of homage to this sacred mountain through spiritual covenants and creation history.  Tribal affiliation with Bear Butte dates back thousands of years and various tribes each have their significant tribal name for this mountain that represents their own history.  “Within this history is the instruction to pay homage during a particular time of the year when all of creation is in attention and human beings make sacrifices for continued life on this earth.  This time of year has been dictated for thousands and thousands of years while the Sturgis Bike Rally is a miniscule 67 years old.  Who is being naive here?” said camp organizer Marcella Gilbert.

“Fortunately by creation human nature holds compassion and truth in light even in the most challenging of times and the biker culture has proven that these values can be powerful,” remarked Gilbert.  Bikers locally and nationally have offered support to this issue in many ways, one of which was by the Southern Cruisers who hosted a rally near New Orleans recently to support the efforts of protecting this sacred site from encroachment.  Many bike rally attendees are in support of allowing native people to have their space to pray, and have offered to stay away from highway 79 during the rally.  Simple gestures build big success and community.  “A big thank you goes out to those bike rally participants who support the Bear Butte issue with simple gestures, including deciding not to ride near Bear Butte,” said Gilbert. 

The Bear Butte Prayer Gathering is a spiritual encampment scheduled for August 1-12, 2007.  The first 4 days will encompass setting up camp logistics, which will involve a lot of work.  Anyone who wants to assist in this working process is welcome during those first 4 days of August.  August 5-11th the camp will focus on prayer and August 12th will be the day we break camp.  Tribes are encouraged to attend and all other people who believe in prayer and protection of the earth are welcome.  Please be as self sufficient as possible as there are limited resources for showers and toilets.  Open fires will not be allowed, bring coleman or solar stoves or something similar that is controllable for cooking needs. 

The camp will be set up in traditional camp circles and follow strict traditional protocol and natural law.  Videotaping, loudspeakers, alcohol, drugs, violence, weapons, confrontation, cultural or spiritual exploitation will not be tolerated.  Persons or groups who can not follow traditional protocol will be asked to leave the premises.  This is not a protest camp. 

Media communication will be filtered through the Bear Butte working committee who will have designated spokespersons who will speak on behalf of the encampment.  Please be aware that the weather will most likely be very hot.  Remember to have plenty of water available and be able to find some place cool if need be. 

Children are welcome however please be aware that the open range buffalo pasture is very close to the camp site therefore keeping a close eye on your children is a must. 

The Bear Butte working committee is working hard to attain resources to provide a first aid station in cases of emergencies and minimal comforts for the elderly if possible.  For a detailed list of needs, please visit our website at go to the “How you can help section” for our latest needs list. 

You can also now make your donations via Pal Pal, by visiting our website and clicking on the Contribution Link. Many needs remain to be met and your tax-deductible contributions and donations can be sent to the
Bear Butte International Alliance,
PO Box 4232,
Sturgis, SD 57785. 

Logistics and Preparation
August 1 – 12, 2007

After several meetings between organizers from across South Dakota and the Northern Cheyenne tribe, a concerted effort is in progress to make this prayer camp a reality for all tribes who have paid homage to this mountain for centuries past and for those whose spirituality has brought them to this sacred site only recently. At this time we are calling on those who wish to participate and those who wish to support this gathering to assist us with preparation.

The schedule for the week is as follows:

August 1st – 4th Prepare the Camp – Blessing of the Grounds Those who wish to assist in preparing the campgrounds and setting up the camp are urged to arrive during this time.

August 5th – 11th Prayer Days Those who wish to participate in prayer and scheduled activities should arrive during these days.

August 12th Take down the Camp.

A more detailed daily schedule will be announced.

There are many ways you can help. We are posting various ‘wish’ lists along with a budget for this gathering and respectfully request your assistance to help us provide basic services, including first-aid/medical services and at least one evening meal a day. Thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide this grassroots effort. Any amount of assistance or funding is always appreciated, no amount is too small, it all helps to make a difference!

Water buffalos (large water tanks on a trailer), water tanks, Large beverage cooler,s Bottled water

We are asking organizations, programs, community groups, families, and businesses to consider sponsoring or co-sponsoring one or more meals. Donations of water, food and supplies are more than welcome! We are also asking for monetary donations to rent a refrigeration unit, please refer to the budget if you or your group is interested in assisting with this need.

We are seeking volunteer doctors, nurses, medics, first-response teams, etc. to help ensure basic medical assistance and first aid is available throughout the gathering. Canopy Tent, Cots, snake bite kits, First-Aid kits, medical supplies, water, Gatorade, Powerade, electrolyte replenishing fluids, water coolers.

Canopy tents are needed, all sizes and shapes. Flashlights, Batteries, and solar lighting. There is no access to electricity or open fires so we need creative lighting systems and supplies. Tables, chairs, benches, Tipi’s, poles, tents Propane, propane cookstoves, coffee pots, pots, cooking utensils, serving dishes. Cleaning supplies

Paint, brushes, plywood, banner and sign making materials, fabric or banner material, and volunteer painters and carpenters.

As horse-mounted security will be provided, we are seeking assistance with horse care needs, including, watering tanks, tack, temporary fencing/corral, horse feed and hay. Radio units, flashlights, batteries

As a way to document this gathering from the voices of the participants, we encourage daily journaling by all. Take a few minutes to express your experience throughout your stay at Bear Butte. Please consider donating notebooks, journals, and pens.

We would appreciate your help in providing a youth centered area for children of all ages. This can be a place where we can culturally engage and enrich children and young adults through art, music and storytelling. Please consider donating: canopy tent, shading, storytellers, drummers, singers, artists, teachers, grandma?s, art supplies, journals, seating.

A1 Portables (porta-potties) $27.50/day/toilet x 12 x20 $6600
Dumpsters deposit $2000 3 dumpsters(10yrd) x $175 + 4% tax $546.00
Emptying of dumpsters 2 dumpings x 546.00 $1092.00
Landfill charge $38.11 x 3 tons $114.33
Refrigerator truck (24 ft) $150/day x 12 days $1800.
Diesel fuel $3.00 x 40 gals x 4 fills $480
Food and water 12 days x 500+ persons (estimated) $6000
TOTAL $18,632.33 

We may not need 3 of the 10-yard size dumpsters but estimated on the higher end, as well with the porta-potties.

  Please contact members of the Working Group to coordinate your generous offer of help and thank you again for any assistance you can provide this grassroots effort.

Monetary donations are tax-deductible and can be made payable to:
Sicangu Way of Life Project or the Bear Butte International Alliance Mail to:
Bear Butte International Alliance
PO Box 4232
Sturgis, SD 57785

Remember to mark your gift to the “Bear Butte Prayer Gathering”.

Please visit our website to make an online donation:

Please arrive and be prepared to be as self sufficient as possible. No open fires.

For Information and to Support this Grassroots Effort with Much-Needed Donations please contact Members of the Working Committee:
*  Tamra Brennan 605-347-2061 Tamra[at]
*  Gilbert Brady 406-477-3175 nochey01[at]
*  Marcella Gilbert 605-624-9288 twotails100[at]
*  Phillip Gullikson 605-624-9288 arikaria_king[at]
*  Jay Red Hawk 605-347-4127 cetanduta[at]
*  Anne White Hat 605-347-4127 BBIA[at]