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.

Jerome Kills SmallI’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 the memory of what I was told, and I still live that way.

Every chance I get, I like to show off my ancestral name. A 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 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 sagebrush, 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), they’re 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, kind of knock 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 them 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.