Manataka® American Indian Council
FEATURE STORY 4
About the Lakota Sacred Red Stone C’anunpa
Traditional Lakota Spiritual Leader and Head Man, David Swallow, Speaks Out on the Lakota Sacred Pipe
Edited by Stephanie M. Schwartz
(June 4, 2009 Porcupine, South Dakota) The c’anunpa is Wakan, very sacred, and it is used only for prayer and good things. We don’t call this c’anunpa a pipe because in the English language the word, “pipe,” has many different meanings. Steel pipe, lead pipe, plastic pipe, sewer pipe, water pipe, there are many kinds of pipes.
The English language has often gotten me into trouble. It is a very dangerous language, like a sponge with too many holes, too many ways to interpret it. It’s easy to get misunderstood.
But I want to make it clear. This c’anunpa has this name and this Lakota word, c’anunpa, comes from the Creator. That’s the only name for this sacred object; that alone, nothing else.
I’m also not talking about the Sacred White Buffalo Calf C’anunpa which was brought to the Lakota people nineteen generations ago. I’m talking about the red stone c’anunpa which is even older. It is very ancient, from the days of the sacred spotted eagle, wanbli gleska, and it is the oldest c’anunpa we have here. It is the blood of our ancestors, the Lakota.
Whenever you see a red stone c’anunpa, it is a Lakota ceremony. By Lakota I mean it is only with the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota [Sioux] Nations. Other American Indian Nations may have their own traditions with prayer pipes or peace pipes or ceremonial pipes which are made of a different stone. But the red stone c’anunpa is Lakota.
Today, I must speak about the c’anunpa because now everyone seems to have one. If people are going to have one, they must understand and follow the laws and commitments which accompany the c’anunpa. Unfortunately, many people do not know these things and do not follow what the c’anunpa says.
The C’anunpa Way is the Lakota Way. You carry it for the people, to pray for their health and help, to pray for the healing of the body, mind, and spirit. It is very wakan, it is very sacred, and it is not for selfish or greedy use.
So, we must know our original instructions for the c’anunpa. We have to know them and we have to follow them. There’s a way to carry a c’anunpa and there’s a way not to carry a c’anunpa.
A little child should not be given a c’anunpa or carry a c’anunpa. They do not know or understand. Moreover, they themselves are innocent and sacred.
Additionally, if a woman is in her time of menstruation, she is going through her own personal purification ceremony and she is in her sacred time. She should not be near a c’anunpa or other sacred ceremony. This is because you do not cross ceremonies; you do not perform two ceremonies at the same time. If you did, they would cancel each other out.
As I said, the c’anunpa itself has its Way. Its original instructions were given to us in the days of the winged people by a holy woman sent by Creator. It is the c’anunpa that is going to teach us this Way and it will also bring us back to our own original instructions as humans.
It is through the c’anunpa that we are going to survive. But as long as we fail to follow it, that survival will never happen. We’ll end up simply existing in a “guess” world, an uncertain world filled with pain and confusion, that’s all.
Yet, if you are not willing to follow the original instructions, then it is better not to carry a c’anunpa at all. It would be better not to accept it in the beginning. Because, once you carry it, you may try to put it down physically but you are always going to be a c’anunpa carrier in the eyes of the Creator, the Four Winds, and Unci Maka, Grandmother Earth. You cannot turn back. It is a lifetime commitment to Creator and it can be very difficult.
When you are given a c’anunpa to carry, you are asked these four questions:
You have the c’anunpa and you pray and you think you are safe and that you belong to Creator. But what if a person comes and hits you in the face? What are you going to do? Do you pray? Or do you put the c’anunpa down and start fighting back? If you do that, it means you are weak and cannot carry a c’anunpa.
So you get past that, and you think it’s done, and you are standing right there praying. But what if a dog comes and urinates on your leg? What are you going to do, kick it away?
This dog symbolizes other people. So the question really means, you’re praying well and doing things right but people are making fun of you or they intimidate you or they misjudge you or judge you unfairly. Or it means people make fun of your half-side or your children and laugh at you and your family. That’s what it means. What will you do then?
So you think that is all in the past and you’re ok and still standing there praying. But what if somebody came and beat up your loved ones right in front of you? It could be your children or your wife. It could be your dad or some loved one that they beat up right there in front of you. What are you going to do? Are you going to use the c’anunpa to curse them? No. If you do that, you are weak and cannot carry a c’anunpa.
So you think you got past everything and you’re in the clear and you’re still standing there praying. But what if they kill or brutalize one of your loved ones right in front of you? Are you going to quit the c’anunpa and get angry with the Creator? Are you going to leave everything and walk away? If you do, you are weak and cannot carry a c’anunpa.
They ask you these four things before you accept the c’anunpa. They tell you all these things and then ask you if you still want to carry a c’anunpa. Four times they will ask you. If you agree all four times, then ok.
Then they will say, “You are really unsica, you are a really pitiful human being, but you want to do this.” They will sing an ancient song to you and say, “So now, here is the c’anunpa. Carry this and don’t fool us again. Carry that c’anunpa in a good way. You are now a c’anunpa carrier.”
But remember, you carry that c’anunpa for the people, not for yourself. There’s no private c’anunpa. You help pray for the people who need prayers. You are a strong person. Even though you are pitiful, you are also a strong person and that is why you carry this c’anunpa.
That is why you need to stand like the buffalo against the snow storm or thunderstorm, with your head into the wind.
You do not misuse this c’anunpa in any way or any form. There are seven laws to abide by with the c’anunpa. You must abide by these laws. If somebody doesn’t believe me, hold the c’anunpa bowl, sit someplace by yourself and listen. Then it’s going to repeat these things to you.
When you make the oath and accept the c’anunpa, you have to have a true wounsila, a true compassion. Not from the mind but from your heart, you must have wounsila.
You must act with honor and respect towards your mother and father and all living things.
When you carry a c’anunpa, you also have to have the forgiveness. You have to first forgive yourself for what you did to yourself, not what somebody else did to you. Then you forgive your relatives. Then you forgive the others.
You cannot kill when you carry the c’anunpa. You cannot carry the c’anunpa if you have blood on your hands. That means, you cannot carry the c’anunpa if you murdered somebody in cold blood, if you murdered a defenseless and peaceful human being.
Having blood on your hands does not apply to those who must kill as warriors, as soldiers in a war. Killing in war is war and there have been wars throughout history. A soldier is not a murderer. My grandpa always said, “When you are a warrior fighting in a battle, kill your enemy without hating them. That way, if they happen to kill you in the battlefield, your spirit will go into the heavens like an arrow shot into the sky.”
You cannot hate anything or have an angry heart. This means that you cannot participate in things that create hate like gossip, lies, jealousy, and envy.
You cannot steal or cheat.
You must not use the c’anunpa for selfish, hurtful, or greedy reasons.
It all comes down to one little phrase: “Mitakuye oyasin,” we are all One, we are all related in the sacred hoop of life. To have true Mitakuye oyasin, then you must follow these things and carry the c’anunpa in a good way, in the right way.
So, whether you are awarded a c’anunpa or the spirits give you a c’anunpa, it doesn’t matter. Everyone has to follow these original instructions, the protocols as they call it. If they do, then the c’anunpa will continue on for the next generation and the generation after that.
Ho he’cetu yelo. I have spoken these words.
David Swallow, Wowitan Yuha Mani
Porcupine, South Dakota - The Pine Ridge Reservation
Stephanie M. Schwartz
Freelance Writer www.SilvrDrach.homestead.com
Member, Native American
Journalists Association (NAJA)
President, Link Center Foundation www.LinkCenterFoundation.org
Member, Native American Journalists Association (NAJA)
Published at www.SilvrDrach.homestead.com/Schwartz_2009_Jun_04.html
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