We’re grateful for the opportunity to feature the writings of Dr. Jerry Yellowhawk, our Respected Elder.
It seemed like only days since grandfather looked at me for the last time. But actually many winters have now come and gone. These memories of grandfather are now inscribed in my heart and mind.
In the summer I would play out in the sun, my face streaked with sweat and dirt, looking like a raccoon. In this state, I would run over to grandfather’s house for a little visit. Sometimes, he would pull out his aluminum “government issue” comb, and run it through my hair. While doing this he would tell me a story. I enjoyed these times so much!
One day the story is about an old buffalo named Ite Kan, pronounced Eetay Con, which means “The buffalo with an old face.” The story goes that one day the old buffalo was walking away from the herd, and the others were calling his name and telling him to turn. back. “Ite Kan, Kawinga yo!” They were shouting, “Old One, come back!” It was a windy day, and the old buffalo couldn’t hear them. So grandfather told me to call out to the old buffalo, and I would stand there and say: “Ite Kan, kawinga yo.” “He can’t hear you,” he would say, “call out some more,” and I would do so. Finally, the old buffalo turned around and looked back, and it’s face was all streaked with sweat and dirt, he explained with a smile. Finally, I realized, the story of the old buffalo was about me.
The happy days of my youth were marred when my mother and I visited grandfather for the last time. It was early evening. The sun was setting low in the West. I remember walking into his room, awed as always by the beautiful artifacts hanging on the walls of his log house. Always, I would look at the sturdy bow and arrows hanging in the old hide quiver.
On certain days, the elders would gather at his house. These warriors each had traditional names. Grandfather Elk Head, and his brother Two Runs also fought at the battle of the Greasy Buttes, better known as the Little Big Horn.
In the early times, just as they are today, names were so very important to the original owners of them. When the reservations were set up by the United States Government, each person was also given a “Christian” name. Without any sense of the meaning or any relationship to the name, names were given out to every person. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, were names now attached to those traditional names. Grandfather became Elias Elk Head, his brother became Ernest Two Runs. Full brothers with separate names.
The Lakota women also have traditional names, my mother’s name was Tasunke Waste Win, in translation, The Woman With A Beautiful Horse. In earlier times those names would endure throughout their life time, unless through ceremony, another name is bestowed upon them through honor. But in this new system of western thought, a Lakota woman would lose her identity through marriage. She must take on her husbands traditional name as a sign of ownership by the man. Which was not a Lakota value.
Going back to grandfather and my last visit. I remember sitting there and my mother tending to her fathers comfort. My mother looked to the window facing west, and I looked toward that direction, and I saw grandfather’s old riding horse. It was a grey horse, grandfather would do his hunting and other chores around his place. The old faithful friend seemed to sense the time is near for grandfather to begin his journey, and came to the window and looked in on his friend. It turned and walked away. Grandfather closed his eyes for the last time, and from that time on the old grey horse was retired.
Many winters have passed since that day. The grandchildren have all become responsible adults.
My days at the community along the old Owl Creek were happy times. The elders have placed in my heart the values of the old ways, and I have never forgotten those teachings. I was happy and have never considered myself unfortunate nor poor. There were too many positive values that were placed in my heart and those have outweighed all things.
The old home site where I spent those happy years is still there. But not one piece of evidence that would suggest a home was there at one time. My mother and father, as well as all my relatives are gone now, some days I feel all alone. But then I remember my dear companion and my children and grandchildren, and they are still with me and that has lifted my spirit high. And I must share these stores with them.
Ho hectu welo, that’s the way it is.
Still Following The Son,
Eyapaha Wakan, in translation, The Sacred Herald