Manataka American Indian Council
PETER V. CATCHES
Lee Standing Bear Moore
This is a story about the meeting of two men --- from different places but with one heart.
Peter V. Catches, Jr. (Zintkala Oyate) is Keeper of the Spotted Eagle Way of Lakota medicine, its oral history, sacred rites, and experiential teachings. Peter has conducted the Spotted Eagle Sun Dance at his home on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for 28 consecutive years. He is the descendant of 37 generations of medicine men. His family name, Catches-the-Enemy, was shortened a few generations ago.
began his acquaintance with Peter during a ride from the Houston Airport to the
Rothko Chapel. Their hostess and mutual friend, Ingeborg Hayes,
also known by many as She
Who Brings Cultures Together, was driving. Both Zintkala
and Standing Bear know her as "Sunshine." She is International Administrative Coordinator at
the University of Houston at Clear Lake.
Peter Catches and Lee Standing Bear were asked to officiate sunrise services the next day during a Peace Vigil at the Rothko Center near downtown Houston. Event organizers decided the ceremonies should be led by American Indians and this prompted Ingeborg to suggest Peter and Lee for this honor.
The drive to the Center took nearly an hour. Sunshine and Peter sat in the front seat as Bear sat in the back. They all chatted about the reservation, Manataka, Houston, the upcoming event and a dozen other topics, but the back of Peter's head caught Bear's eye. His attention was drawn away from the conversation several times as Bear stared at the beautiful spotted eagle feather hanging from Peter's long black hair.
Bear was mesmerized and could not help but sneak a quick touch. Then another and another. Careful not to be seen, Bear stole one more brush along the edge of the magnificent specimen. Bear was nearly caught when Peter moved his head with a quick jerk. Somehow the situation struck Bear funny, so he gave the feather a sharp little tug pulling his hair. Again, Peter moved his head but said nothing. This was fun for Bear!
Throughout the trip, the beautiful feather mysteriously moved from place to place on Peter's back as he absent-mindedly shook his head or brushed away little spirits. This is the way the two men began their weekend visit.
The Rothko Chapel is an internationally known, non-denominational peace, worship and meditation center. Dignitaries such as President Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, His Holiness Dali Lama, and ambassadors of many nations have participated in ceremonies and events at the Rothko. In 1966, the site was consecrated by the Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox Catholic, and Protestant religions. According to its brochure, the Rothko is a Tree with many branches with "...mysterious beauty…" and "...hospitable shade to everyone".
Sunshine escorted Bear inside the large chapel while Peter rested in the shade to get off a bad foot. He was wise to check things out before going inside. The building is an octagonal cement edifice with large all-black paintings covering most of the gray cement walls inside - "better to meditate by" they said. The subdued lighting and air conditioned coolness made the walls sweat slightly. Rows of small unadorned concrete benches stretch across the bare floor.
Bear's throat was full of ooohs, mmms, and ugghs throughout the tour. He could not wait to get outside to the yellow sunshine, blue skies, green trees and brown earth. Once outside Bear said to himself, "That place gives me the willies. Gray cement and black to meditate? White would have been better." Deeepressssing.
In a few minutes, volunteers began to gather to discuss plans for the event set to take place at 6:00 a.m., Saturday. Peter and Bear sat around a make-believe Fire Circle to relax. Between swatting mosquitoes and shaking hands with visitors, Pete whispered to Bear, "You know that place gives me the willies." "Me too!", Bear growled softly. Then both men had fun as they proceeded to mentally and sometimes verbally to take the building apart to allow Mother Earth to see what is inside.
Their first meal was a light lunch at a fancy deli near downtown. It was made more enjoyable with good conversation. Sunshine pointed out the namesake of the Center was a wealthy artist, Rothko, who committed suicide before the building was completed. Peter and Bear retired to the sidewalk patio to smoke and talk while the others discussed the upcoming event. The two men talked about working with people in South Dakota, Lakota and Kituwah ceremonies, the birds, Manataka, water, and Pete's book.
"Sacred Fireplace" (Oceti Wakan) was written by Peter and his late father, Pete Catches Sr. (Petaga Yuha Mani - He Who Walks with Hot Coals) who is credited with reviving the traditional Sundance ceremony among the Lakota. In 1964 Pete Catches Sr. was named Sundance chief by the Oglala Sioux tribal council, the only such distinction in tribal history.
Following the first meal, Sunshine became a magician and made bountiful amounts of food appear of out thin air that kept Peter and Bear full and sleepy throughout the weekend. Both men look like they enjoy eating. In the evening a group gathered at the Olive Garden Restaurant. It was during these pleasant interludes that the two Indians really began to know each other. After meals, they sat around a table and told stories, sang to the drum and allowed little glimpses of their hearts to be revealed.
Ceremonies the next morning went fairly well. Prayers were given in the Circle by a Buddhist monk, a Muslim teacher, a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, a Baptist minister and a host of others. Peter performed the sacred Pipe ceremony and Bear told the story of Manataka. The event was a beautiful affair and the circle of friends joined there brought many blessings and good spirits to the occasion. The crowd was small and they had to stand or sit on the concrete for nearly three hours. That's dedication to the idea of peace!
Bear later recalled the beautiful faces of the people gathered there. Wearing many different colors they stood and prayed, holding hands in the sacred Circle. Their countenance was sweet and airy as a field of wildflowers. Their prayers were real, honest and powerful. This was a event to remember. Too bad we do not do this on a daily basis wherever we are.
It was hot by 8:30 and the mosquitoes began to pester Peter again. Bear knew Pete was wondering why the little buggers did not bite Bear.
They ate, slept, drummed, told stories, ate and lounged around the rest of the afternoon until evening when it was time to go eat again at an exciting seafood place on the bay. As Sunshine drove into the parking lot, Peter caught site of a brightly lit Ferris wheel and insisted everyone go for a ride. "I want to say I did something while in Houston…," he said. Sunshine, Peter and Bear climbed aboard and swung at the top under bright stars while looking out over the black ocean water. "That was fun," Bear said.
That night, the two men sat alone outside under the stars in Sunshine's backyard and spoke of creation and the blessings they had received. Peter did not really sit still though. Slapping mosquitoes and itching broke the silence between words. Finally, in the darkness Bear said, "Ya know, I brought them…" Peter's head quickly jerked in Bear's direction and a glint came to his eye. He smiled... and swatted another one.
"When you journey to Manataka honored brother, well will show you mosquitoes ten times bigger than these little squirts," Bear said. "Uggggh," Peter grumbled. Their talk wandered over a dozen subjects in search of the unknown. Indians are curious folks you know.
The next morning Peter and Bear enjoyed a large breakfast and guests. Afterwards, they sat speaking quietly. Peter shared more about his path and Bear spoke of the deep mysteries and read a poem and prophecy about Manataka.
When it came time to depart at the airport, Peter looked at Bear's big black hat with seven feathers and said, "That one sure is nice, what is it?"
"Aha, it comes from the wilds of Central America," Bear said plucking the blue, orange, yellow and green feather from the hat and holding it in his hand. "It came to me by way of a Mayan priestess and wonderful lady who knows some secrets of the Manataka Stone," explained Bear.
The Guacamaya feather is given to a person who speaks with spirit in their heart. It is the most sacred feather of the Aztec and Maya and the bird is nearly extinct. The Guacamaya bird is huge and aggressive when approached, but if the bird is respectfully asked for a feather, she will remove a feather and fly away leaving her present.
"The Guacamaya has rainbow colors to remind you of Manataka. When it speaks, it repeats what the spirit is saying. This feather is now yours in remembrance of our meeting, the honor and respect I felt in your presence and the blessings you will bring to Manataka in years to come," Bear said tearfully.
A week later Bear mailed Peter a quick thank you note with two very large mosquitoes hawks taped to a note saying, "Baby Arkansas Mosquitoes" Two weeks later a package arrived from Peter. Inside was a beautiful, perfectly formed Spotted Eagle Feather used in the Oglala Lakota Sundance for seven years. Bear proudly slid the new feather into the brim of his big black hat - a new friend had been won. Today, that eagle feather rests enclosed in red cloth in a honored position on Bear's gifting table. Mitakuye Oyasin!
Some might say the Bear disrespected Peter as he pulled on his hair and joked with him about mosquitoes. Bear recognizes the awesome privilege of meeting Catches-the-Enemy and will forever remember the quite words they spoke. Besides, Zintkala Oyate knows a few jokes too.
Peter shares the wisdom of generations and his open heart to anyone who can read. If you are interested in learning about the special ceremonies and paths of the Spotted Eagle way, click below to order this inexpensive book, "Sacred Fireplace". Every morning I read a passage or two to start the day. -- Bear SACRED FIREPLACE
By Ingeborg Hayes (ICH and MAIC member)
He sang his new made song for the earth in the Lakota language. I could hear the rhythm of the drum even though there was no drum present. His voice was powerful yet gentle going from high to low tones. It was a long time since he made a song and the spirit of this one reconnected us with the sacred earth.
That afternoon I invited Pete Catches, an American Indian 37th generation Medicine man from Pine Ridge Reservation to meet my son and his future bride. Patrick had questioned my relationships with “all those Indians”. He had seen for himself that my values had been shifting the last twenty years. I was learning hard lessons in response to my yearning to return to the way of the spirit and the earth.
From the moment Peter arrived in Houston, he shared story after story. Almost as a way of communicating. Patrick enjoys sharing fishing and scuba diving stories, they were a good match. Pat’s Dad had Indian blood, and it is said that his great grandfather returned to the reservation, possibly Broken Bow in Oklahoma. Pat has friends in other cultures like the Netherlands and the Mayan Indians in a remote part of Guatemala. He also lived in the thick jungle of Indonesia. Borneo was Pat’s domain as a toddler, where he had no fear of snakes, insects or the oversized moths that were his constant companions.
“So why don’t you put some cattle on the land or farm it for agriculture?” Pat questioned Peter about living on the Pine Ridge reservation. “Why is there such poverty, so much alcohol and no progress.” Ready with many suggestions what “they” should do with all the land to make it prosper he politely challenged Peter over and over again about the traditional way of life.
Peter calmly explained the governmental interference and how it comes to pass that there is a divide within the reservation between the Indian full bloods and those who are part Indian. He made a distinction about when Patrick was talking political and when not. He explained that the values and goals of those in charge on the reservation were aligned with the government and away from respecting the deep values and connections with the land. It was made sure that people with those visions would be in charge.
I was thankful for the exchange between Peter and Patrick. I know from experience that each inch we separate ourselves from nature, we are more drawn into the never ending economic strife, becoming less and less human focused. Peter mentioned the difference in thought about the little ones, that they are born sacred in contrast with the western view of born being in sin. The Natives teachings are not to spank a child ever.
This dialogue beyond our own culture united a little more the circle of humanity . Now more than ever we need to have dialogue to take the moral highroad so to speak and connect and attempt to understand each other – and not only focus on our economic connection but instead become human-focused – relationship focused.
So how do we return to a human circle? Let’s teach our children. We must encourage them to become curious and make the walk to at least one other culture.
If we want to be successful in the future, we have to create an open society with schools and employment, where people feel comfortable with difference and diversity and their expression, indeed respect them.
Starting in our own country, receiving the wisdom of the natives, the American Indian, with grace, we can join hands across the world, welcoming people from foreign countries and equally going there to be welcomed by them. And not just in areas of business also in knowledge of the humanities, history, anthropology, sociology etc.
The study of other cultures needs to make up a significant part of the curriculum in schools if we want to respect and understand them. There needs to be national and international diversity of staff and teachers.
The American Indians, through their legends have wisdom stories and songs hundreds of years old. Living close to the land they can teach us a rhytm of life that generates harmony. Inspite that for many years they were forced to speak the English language, only, and in boarding schools learned a curriculum solely based on the white way.
I encourage schools and businesses to foster open communication, greater interaction, cultural and international experiential teachings. It is said that fifteen percent of international students is the crucial mass for learning.
Observing the dialogue between Patrick, a young man educated the western way, and Peter a Lakota Medicine man and teacher affirmed that their cultural encounter fostered a dialogue about generalizations made about Indians living on the reservation.
Peter Catches lives on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. For the past 25 years, he has conducted the Spotted Eagle Sundance near his home on Pine Ridge. For decades he and his father have healed and instructed both Natives and non-Natives near their home and off the reservation.
father's book Sacred Fireplace (Oceti Wakan) is the life and teachings of a
Lakota medicine man. It describes his father's struggles to embrace the medicine
way. This book shares legends and the Lakota ceremonies, and reflections on the
history and culture of his people and on his dad's life.
If anyone is interested in this book, please click here: Peter Catches
Ihanktonwan Wakantanka Tunkashida,
Pidamayayedo he aheyo.
Pidamayayedo he aheyo.
Canupa wankan can maya kuwedo.
He aheyo, Pidamayayedo he aheyo.
Wicosani wa maya a kuwedo, Pidamayaye, Pidamayayedo he aheyo.
Canupa wakan can maya kuwedo, He aheyo, Pidamayayedo he aheyo.
Wicosani wa maya a kuwedo, Pidamayaye, Pidamayayedo he aheyo.
--- Ihanktowan Oyate [Dakota Nation]
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