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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jerome Kills Small - Sisoka Luta

We Act Out the Creation Story

I'm Jerome Kills Small from the Pine Ridge Reservation in western South Dakota. My Lakota name is Sisoka Luta (shee-sho-kah Loo-tah), which translates to Red Robin, but I always say Cardinal .

I'm from the Red Star side of the family. My ancestral grandfather is Man Afraid of His Horses, and Young Man Afraid of His Horses. Young Man Afraid of His Horses had three other brothers. The first one, his name was Black Mountain Sheep, and they called him Chinska (sheen-sh-ka), Spoon, because we make spoons out of the mountain sheep horn. We boil it and make it soft, and we make ladles and spoons, and I have mountain sheep spoons and buffalo horn spoons and ladles. I keep them for memory of what I was told, and I still live that way.

Every chance I get, I like to show off my ancestral name. Man whose horses are feared was one of my grandfathers. Young Man Afraid of His Horses, one of his brother's names is Tashunk Kokipa pi (Tah shoon-kah Ko-kee-pah pee). In English the name is translated as Man Afraid of His Horses. Another one was Clown Horse and these came all from a dream. The old man named all of his relatives through Hambleceya. He went to the Gray Horn Butte, what we know as Devil's Tower. He did his fasting there and named each of these boys, and the last one's name is Red Star, and I'm a direct descendant of Red Star on my mother's side. We're a matriarchal society, so we generally take the last name of the mother. So my name on the tribal rolls is Red Star, and Kills Small secondary, which is my father.

When I was a small boy I remember being blind. When I was healed and I came to, I was in Kyle (Medicine Root), South Dakota, Medicine Root District, they say, and it's Peji Haka (Peh-zhee Hka-kah) They always say there's a lot of medicine in that Yellow Bear Canyon. It's a big canyon down there by Allen, South Dakota. Well, we lived on the edge of Yellow Bear Canyon in Kyle, South Dakota. That's where I knew that I was alive and the first time my mind started to record, I started to know these people. They were Grandma and Grandpa Louisa and Edward Spotted Crow. They were in their nineties when I was a small boy. They're the ones that helped to heal me when I was blind.

A medicine man by the name of Jess Steed is the one that made me see, and I like to say his name because I'm his document, I'm his doctoral thesis. I'm his doctoral dissertation. I'm the example. I'm the document of that medicine man. So it's up to the people to say who's the medicine man not the medicine man himself. It's the people who are the documents. If many documents say that that person healed me, then he must be the right person to go to. Then we know, by that circle of people, of how our stories run, through individuals.

They would tell a lot of things, and I'd just sit there and listen, and sometimes I would hear about their travels all over this land. They even talked about the depression. When there was no food, nothing could grow, a lot of grasshoppers, they tell about that. They used to say they went all the way to Wyoming. There was a store over there where things were very, very cheap, and they said that it was the Gray Medicine, Sage, Peji Hota (Peh-zhee-Hko-tah) that means Wyoming. It's called the sage land because of the sage brush, and they said when they went over there, they would remember when they used to go to the He Ska (Hke-skah). the Rocky Mountains. They used to go over there to look for medicine. We get the mountain sage and a lot of the medicines over there. They would come back through the Scotts Bluff area, back this way. They would tell all the places where they roamed, just to complete their shopping (you-sh-taahn), their going around and bringing things home for the winter.

So they were in touch with other tribes. We have relatives in Montana, in Lodge Grass, from the old days we went through. My great-grandparents went through adoption ceremonies over there, and we're related to the La--LaForge over there in Lodge Grass, and I go over there and they welcome me. I met a lot of those people over there. We go over there for Christmas powwow, when holidays were starting to become popular, when I was a small boy. So I started to see the land, where we traveled, and see those kinships. They were not of our tribe, but we had Hunka (Hoon-kah) or making of relatives ceremony with other tribes a long time ago.

So the textbooks, it kind of knocks it on the head that we were traditional enemies. It just doesn't work with me, as a traditional person. I think that's propaganda. I don't think it's true because we intermarried through those big trade fairs. I said, "At least they'll peek into the window of the ancient ones, the ones who had created that foundation of respect." That foundation was not written. The foundation of our life is written in our hearts. We have oral traditional history. It's written in each and every person, and that's the comfort because it's in each and every one of us. We are the ones that tell the stories by acting it out. We are the ones who, if we say "Genesis, Creation," it's written down in the holy books that we have, and if they're written down, they're for everybody.

For us, the Lakota and many tribes who are like us, what we do is act out creation through the purification lodge. Each time the man, who is the spiritual person, pouring the water on the stones, the breath of life licks you in there, and it comes to you. It licks you, and you feel refreshed. They put different types of medicines on them, so they're able to, during that nostalgia of the old ones, if you lived this way, and your ancestors lived this way, for time long lasting, then it's probably in our DNA because some medicines, when I smell them, I would say, "You know, I smell this someplace, but where?" I forgot, on the surface level, but my say deep structure, or this collective unconscious that we all have together, in there someplace it's informing me that we had done that before, or our ancestors did. So it's good to see that happening to my body. My body is being reminded that somebody did this for you before, and it brings that good feeling back. So now, when I sing in the Inipi (ee-nee-pee), the sweat lodge (ceremony), and they put certain medicines on the stones, and I smell them, all of a sudden my grandma and grandpa feel like they're in there in that dark, because I went through this with them, too, in that dark. It feels like that spirit's there, through that smell and it feels so good to know that I'm doing the same things they did, and I'm hoping that somebody else will remember me that way. We pass on that spirituality through even smells and sound. We pass it on.

And so when they put the stones, and then the water on the stones, and the mist comes to us, I always, as a scholar of spirituality, remember even in Genesis, it says that God breathed life onto man, but we didn't write it. We act it out. We breathe. We made it breathe onto us, and we act out the creation story all over again, the soup of life. This is how it was, a long time ago, when it wasn't written in the books. This is how it was. We did it for time everlasting, to be able to know that it feels human. Ikce Wicasa (Eek-cheh Wee-chah-shah), ordinary man.


Jerome Kills Small, Red Robin, of Pine Ridge, South Dakota is Oglala Sioux. Jerome's great grandfather's name was Old Man Afraid of His Horses. He had four sons; Young Man Afraid of His Horses, Red Star, Black Mountain Sheep and Clown Horse. Red Star is the father of Jerome's Mother. Old Man Afraid of His Horses chose his son's names by experiences he had during Hanbleceya (vision quest ceremony) at Grey Horn Butte (known as Devil's Tower). He is the oldest of eight children and was always raised by his grandparents. He was blind as a child until a medicine man, Jess Steed, healed his eyes. He attended Holy Rosary Mission and spent summer vacations in Porcupine, South Dakota. Originally the Oglala occupied land west of the Missouri to the Big Horn Mountains south to the Platt River and north to Montana. The Lakota treaty land gradually shrank to the Black Hills area for a short time until the discovery of gold and then the reservation system was developed. Today, the reservation is next to the Badlands. The terrain consists of range, valleys, meadows great for alfalfa, fields of corn and sugar beets, creeks and streams and the hilly higher altitudes have lots of pine trees.

Jerome is the recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award from South Dakota Humanities Council, Reconciliation Award from the Governor of South Dakota, George Nickleson, University of South Dakota Poet of the Year in 1994, and he has awards and certificates for speaking at Red Road Retreat and the Building Bridges Conference. He has been in several videos for Iowa State University.

Jerome has many talents and as a traditional storyteller and oral historian, he presents workshops for both adults and children. Presently he portrays Tecumseh and Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, the first medicine doctor of the Lakota people, for the Nebraska and South Dakota Speaker's Bureau and Chautauqua Series. He knows the origins and stories behind the flag song, patriotic songs of the Lakota, ceremonial songs, songs of the Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee and Big Foot. He is an arena director, conducts ceremonies, and explains cultural protocol. He makes drums and drum sticks, does feather work, made the staff for the first sun dance at Vermillion and constructs sweat lodges. Jerome and his wife grow and harvest foods and medicines in the Lakota tradition.


Trickster Stories

Jerome tells funny stories of the trickster, Iktomi. Jerome acts out the story to make up for the expletives that are lost in telling a trickster story in English. Expletives are spontaneous sounds made to forecast the content of a sentence in the Iktomi story. So if Iktomi was to do something shameful a fitting Lakota expletive would be uttered at the beginning of a story line. The sounds are absent in writing a Lakota story that were necessary to set up an expected response.


In a deep forest, far from the villages of his people, lived a
hermit. His tent was made of buffalo skins, and his dress was made
of deer skin. Far from the haunts of any human being this old
hermit was content to spend his days.

All day long he would wander through the forest studying the
different plants of nature and collecting precious roots, which he
used as medicine. At long intervals some warrior would arrive at
the tent of the old hermit and get medicine roots from him for the
tribe, the old hermit's medicine being considered far superior to
all others.

After a long day's ramble in the woods, the hermit came home late,
and being very tired, at once lay down on his bed and was just
dozing off to sleep, when he felt something rub against his foot.
Awakening with a start, he noticed a dark object and an arm was
extended to him, holding in its hand a flint pointed arrow.

The hermit thought, "This must be a spirit, as there is no human
being around here but myself!" A voice then said: "Hermit, I have
come to invite you to my home." "How (yes), I will come," said the
old hermit. Wherewith he arose, wrapped his robe about him and

Outside the door he stopped and looked around, but could see no
signs of the dark object.

"Whoever you are, or whatever you be, wait for me, as I don't know
where to go to find your house," said the hermit. Not an answer
did he receive, nor could he hear any noises as though anyone was
walking through the brush. Re-entering his tent he retired and was
soon fast asleep. The next night the same thing occurred again,
and the hermit followed the object out, only to be left as before.

He was very angry to think that anyone should be trying to make
sport of him, and he determined to find out who this could be who
was disturbing his night's rest.

The next evening he cut a hole in the tent large enough to stick an
arrow through, and stood by the door watching. Soon the dark
object came and stopped outside of the door, and said:
"Grandfather, I came to--," but he never finished the sentence,
for the old man let go his arrow, and he heard the arrow strike
something which produced a sound as though he had shot into a sack
of pebbles. He did not go out that night to see what his arrow had
struck, but early next morning he went out and looked at the spot
about where he thought the object had stood. There on the ground
lay a little heap of corn, and from this little heap a small line
of corn lay scattered along a path. This he followed far into the
woods. When he came to a very small knoll the trail ended. At the
end of the trail was a large circle, from which the grass had been
scraped off clean.

"The corn trail stops at the edge of this circle," said the old
man, "so this must be the home of whoever it was that invited me."
He took his bone knife and hatchet and proceeded to dig down into
the center of the circle. When he had got down to the length
of his arm, he came to a sack of dried meat. Next he found a sack
of Indian turnips, then a sack of dried cherries; then a sack of
corn, and last of all another sack, empty except that there was
about a cupful of corn in one corner of it, and that the sack had
a hole in the other corner where his arrow had pierced it. From
this hole in the sack the corn was scattered along the trail, which
guided the old man to the cache.*

From this the hermit taught the tribes how to keep their provisions
when traveling and were overloaded. He explained to them how they
should dig a pit and put their provisions into it and cover them
with earth. By this method the Indians used to keep provisions all
summer, and when fall came they would return to their cache, and on
opening it would find everything as fresh as the day they were
placed there.

The old hermit was also thanked as the discoverer of corn, which
had never been known to the Indians until discovered by the old

*Hiding place.
This etext was created by Judith Boss, Omaha, Nebraska.
The equipment: an IBM-compatible 486/50, a Hewlett-Packard
ScanJet IIc flatbed scanner, and Calera Recognition Systems'
M/600 Series Professional OCR software and RISC accelerator board
donated by Calera Recognition Systems.
Myths and Legends of the Sioux
by Marie L. McLaughlin

October, 1995 [Etext #341]

The Project Gutenberg Etext of Myths and Legends of the Sioux
by Marie L. McLaughlin.

The Shape of Nature

The Colour of Infinity - Arthur C Clarke

About Me

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Kansas City, Missouri, United States
Having followed many Paths, Teachers, Traditions & Leaders, I now describe myself as an Elder, Caucasian, Inka, Buddhist, Dervish Medicine Man, struggling to integrate power and humility, or, more simply, how to get out of the Way. Now, my Guru is my bulldog, Charlie, the Bonnie Prince.

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