Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

I live in “Indian Country”. Saskatchewan. That’s how I think of it anyway. When I walk these lands I sense being in the presence of the ghosts of ages past. The land is full of songs and stories waiting for a singer to sing them. And although I am of “settler stock” and, in a sense, a visitor here (aren’t we all really just visiting?) I feel a strong spiritual bond to this land. I am conjoined. I have heard the grandfathers and grandmothers sing to me in the sweat lodge. They sang the song of Creation. Perhaps only a native can understand what that means.

The thread of my life has been interwoven with the fate of the land’s aboriginal peoples, the Plains Indians, since my childhood amongst the Bush Cree at Île-à-la-Crosse in Northern Saskatchewan, also called in Cree “Sakitawak” — “Where The Rivers Meet”. How fitting. The conjoining. The “spiritual” and the “natural” are never far apart. Nor really, at root, the “settler” and the “native”. I was born into the mystery — the myth.

In later life I became a communications consultant for the Aboriginal Healing Project. The meeting of the rivers again. I wasn’t looking for such a role. The winds fortuitously blew me in that direction and I very suddenly found myself being a “communications consultant” for the Aboriginal Healing Project. I was asked to try to explain and interpret the settler to the native, and the native to the settler, as well as help build a bridge between the older and younger generations of aboriginal people who had become estranged from one another as a consequence of the disastrous Indian Residential School system. “Intercultural communications” is the rather dry formal term for what is really healing, integration, an overcoming of divisions. Peace-making is integration. Integration is healing the divisions of time and space, peace between the generations, peace between the nations. Peace within. Peace without. My Indian friends call this process “healing the Sacred Hoop”.

In fact, that is what the word “integration” means — “to heal”, to make whole, to mend. My task was made a little more difficult by the fact that, in aboriginal languages, there are no words for “culture” or “nature”. And that, as it turns out, becomes very significant when we speak of “consciousness structures”. “Settler” and “native” are simply short-hand terms for divergent consciousness structures. My task was to bring them into convergence —  the place “where the rivers meet”.

But first, I had to solve a riddle and a mystery. What did it mean “to speak from the centre of the voice”? My principle contacts in the Aboriginal Healing Project were haunted by this question. It expressed the ideal of the ancestors, even the very meaning of life.  They no longer knew what it meant, but sensed it was the key to healing and restoring the Sacred Hoop. It is. But even the fact that its meaning had become lost in such a short length of time was evidence of the thorough destructiveness of the Indian Residential School programme, the shattering of the Sacred Hoop, and the demoralisation of the aboriginal consciousness.

I knew what it meant, which is why I was drawn into the project. And what I have been trying to teach you here in The Chrysalis is likewise how to “speak from the centre of the voice”, which is the place of integrity, “the integral consciousness” which is, in fact, the truth of the Sacred Hoop.

Now. It must be emphasised again that there is a great deal of difference between this

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

Perspectivism: The pyramid of vision

and this,

Sacred Hoop Symbol

Sacred Hoop Symbol

These do, in effect, represent different consciousness structures. And when native people speak of the Sacred Hoop as broken, or the need to “mend the Sacred Hoop”, it refers to the breakdown of the aboriginal consciousness structure that we call “shamanic” or the magical. The Sacred Hoop is shattered as much as we might speak today of “the shattered mirror” of the mental-rational consciousness structure, that is, of the “reflective” consciousness structure, and I’ll speak more about meaning of “the shattered mirror” as the meaning of the breakdown of the mental-rational consciousness in future.

My concern here, though, is with the Sacred Hoop as it pertains to the meaning of “consciousness structures”, and this is the significance of the Wounded Knee Massacre. You probably have heard of “Wounded Knee”, the site of the 1890 massacre of perhaps up to 300 Lakota Sioux by the U.S. cavalry in South Dakota. Wounded Knee remains seared in the memory of all aboriginal peoples regardless of whether they are Sioux or not. It has been the subject of books, and films, and song, such as Buffy Sainte-Marie’s very moving “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, which always moves me to tears.

Wounded Knee was hardly the only massacre of native people. There was also the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado and The Trail of Tears. But it is Wounded Knee that remains iconic for different reasons. It was the seminal episode in what is called the Ghost Dance War, in effect, the decisive shattering of the magical consciousness structure, when magic failed and the aboriginal consciousness structure dissolved in demoralisation. That is the tragedy of Black Elk, and the seeming failure of his vision as recorded by John Niehardt in 1932 in the book Black Elk Speaks, which is also very moving. Wounded Knee was the event in which the Sacred Hoop was shattered, the day when the magic failed. The Ghost shirts did not stop the soldiers’ bullets and the Hotchkiss guns.

Does that mean that shamanic consciousness was false and the Sacred Hoop powerless? No. It only means it was weak and vulnerable in relation to the mental-rational consciousness. Demoralisation of the aboriginal consciousness structure more than anything was the meaning of Wounded Knee. It failed not because it was wrong, but because it was incomplete.

“Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” speaks of this demoralisation — the heart — of the shamanic consciousness structure represented by the Sacred Hoop. This loss of heart or faith comes through most forcefully in Black Elk Speaks. It is the chronicle of the breakdown of a consciousness structure, which is why we speak of the Sacred Hoop as “broken”.

If the Sacred Hoop is broken, then it makes sense that “to speak from the centre of the voice” cannot be interpreted, because to “speak from the centre of the voice” is to speak from the centre — the heart — of the Sacred Hoop. “The Sacred Hoop is in language” is the key to solving the riddle of the “centre of the voice”. The centre of the voice is the centre of the Sacred Hoop. From the centre of the Sacred Hoop, the voice reaches out to the past and the future, and towards the inner and the outer worlds. These are represented as North, South, East, West directions of the arms of the cross, the fourfold world and the fourfold human. “To speak from the centre of the voice” is to integrate these four into a whole. The Sacred Hoop is, in other words, also what we call “grammar”. To “speak from the centre of the voice” means to speak as an integral being, as a whole — from the heart, the head, the stomach, and the groin, too.

Or, we may put this another way — when one speaks from the centre of the voice, the whole man or woman is engaged — metabolic system, respiratory system, circulatory system, and nervous system. Earth, air, water, and fire, the primordial elements, are honoured and made to be at peace with each other within the human body and the cosmos. That is to say, “homeostasis”, or dynamic equilibrium, sacred balance. That is to say, that a human being is a multiform entity of thinking, feeling, willing, and sensing, and that these different faculties or powers must be brought into proper relationship with each other in order for the human to be whole and well.

So, it is no small thing to say that the Sacred Hoop is broken. It means loss of integrity. It means dis-integrate. It means incoherence of the whole man or woman. Restoring the Sacred Hoop is the meaning of “integral consciousness”. “To speak from the centre of the voice” is, in fact, the contrary of dualism and the exact opposite of “the forked-tongue”.

So, it is with some interest that a refined agent and representative of the mental-rational, Dr. David Suzuki, sports the Sacred Hoop symbol as his emblem, as you see here,

Dr. David Suzuki

Dr. David Suzuki

Or, for that matter, that Rosenstock-Huessy’s proposed new “quadrilateral logic” or “grammatical method” — his “cross of reality” — bears a striking resemblance to the Sacred Hoop,

Rosenstock-Huessy's "cross of reality"

Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality”

Or, that, indeed, this model bears a striking resemblance to Carl Jung’s representation of the integral “Self”,

Jung's four psychological functionsIt all reflects “convergence” — a “meeting of the rivers”. And it represents a profound paradox and a deep irony. In order to triumph, the Sacred Hoop had to be defeated first, to die and be reborn in order to render up its secret; the secret of what it means “to speak from the centre of the voice”, which is the root.

Convalescence, one might call it. If you come to understand what it means to “speak from the centre of the voice”, you will also understand what Rosenstock-Huessy means when he says “God is the power that makes men speak”, which is otherwise not intelligible.



4 responses to “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”

  1. Nicolas Rojano says :

    This symbol is similar to the Mapuches (Native Americans of Chile)

    This reminds me of the cross of Native Americans of my land. The cross ” Chacana ”
    Although the word ” chacana ” source Quechua as the dancer and scholar Kajelo : Aymara origin is – clearly refers to the concept of “ladder” , the symbol itself is a ” tawa chakana ” meaning a straight four (sides ) . In Quechua chinchay , tsakana means useful or material for use as a bridge or link between two elements or divided parts . In Andean provinces of Huanuco , in the twilight known with tsakaana in the afternoon ; and in the morning , tsaka- tsaka , implying the link or connection between ‘the world’ night with the ‘world’ of the day. The link between light and darkness. This symbol “four steps ” has become popular in the Andean countries under the name ” chakana ” or ” chacana ” .

    The etymology of the word ” chakana ” born Quechua root chaka ( bridge , union ) and the ” na ” ( instrument) , and ” chakana ” as a symbol suffix represent a means of union between the human world and the Hanan Pacha ( what is up and what is great ) .

    • Scott Preston says :

      that’s quite interesting. Thank you. Although I note that the meaning and origin of “chacana” (or chakana) is quite controversial, after I looked it up.


      There seems to be a reasonable explanation for this, perhaps. As you note, the etymology of the word “chakana” signifies a “bridge” or “ladder” (and the “na” as instrumental). That would have the same significance as the Greek word “symbol” — syn + bolon signifying to “throw together” or “to bring together”. In effect, the symbol itself is a bridge or ladder that conjoins the light and dark, or the higher and lower. So, “chacana” may translate more generally as “symbol”, and not specifically as the Inca Cross.

      Now, that becomes important when we know the contrary of the meaning of “symbolic”, and that is “diabolic”. “Dia-bolon” has the meaning of “divide” or “separate” (literally “to throw across” — as, to put obstacles in the way, to hinder or inhibit).

      This tension between “symbolic” and “diabolic” is the parallel to the integral and the disintegrate, of course (“parabolic”, as it were), as in what brings together and what thrusts apart — forces of attraction and forces of repulsion, forces of creation and forces of nihilism, forces of affirmation and forces of negation, Yes and No, love and hate, in other words.

      “Chacana” may not signify the Inca Cross specifically, but the “symbolic” more generally.

      • Nicolas Rojano says :

        Do you speak Spanish ? It is difficult for me to convey some concepts . You may be right. Of course the Christian cross does not have any meaning for these people . I speak in symbols , as almost everything in the Andean cosmovision south of here is symbolic . They were esotericism .

        Something that caught my attention when studying the people of my country , I realized that there was no denial ( ie not exist Yes or No) For example : They do not say : ” I do not love you for X reason.” They say : My eyes are not prepared even to contemplate your dawn ” This is interesting because they see the problems inside the outside world and not the other way Do not blame others

        Lived in a holistic consciousness. . . .

        • Scott Preston says :

          My Spanish is not very good, but I know Latin. So feel free to use spanish words if you need to. I can probably figure it out from my meagre knowledge of Spanish and Latin combined.

          I don’t think we even have a decent Mexican food restaurant in this province, so not much call for Spanish at present. In Canada, we’re still trying to figure out French. 🙂

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