Tell us about the Sage ritual
Look what the people use: plants and nature. And look how we relate to the world. Look how we relate to good and bad things that happen to us. When we’re working with women, whether they come to us in the shelter or we’re responding to an emergency situation, we use the knowledge of the plants that was passed down through generations. One of the plants that we like to utilize is sage. Sage naturally grows in this area and certainly across the plains. Sage comes in different types. The sage in the Southwest is different from the Sage that grows here. But we use Sage in a way to expel any negativity or harm that’s been done to somebody.
A lot of the women that we serve have suffered multiple traumas. If they’re coming to us for help it’s usually during an emergency situation, where they have been beaten or raped. When we use Sage, it’s not going to solve all of their problems, but it does have a very calming effect. We use it to help reduce anxiety. When someone is traumatized their adrenaline is at a high level and Sage helps balance that out. What we do when responding to emergency situations is we will give them some sweet grass, some sage, some lavender the shell in a little packet and tell them how to use it so that they can take it with them. Even if we never see them again, they will at least have something to help them with their healing.
The process of the Sage Ritual:
You can use it in a variety of ways. We like to put it in an Abalone shell, we crumple it all together and then we light it. We surround the person in the smoke of the Sage. It’s called smudging we smudge ourselves using our hands to make the smoke cover our bodies, cover our head, and cover our hair which is a sacred part of us. We breathe that in. Even our young children are taught how to sage ourselves off. It’s very natural. We don’t just use it in emergency situations. It’s always used in prayer, when people are praying as a group and at any of our ceremonies. But we also use it in another way. If I have a woman who has been severely traumatized, I will take the sage and rub down her body. Starting from her head, her hair, her back, her front, her arms, her legs, her feet. I just pray with her and ask our grandfather or our relatives, to help give her strength. To remove some of the anxiety. To help her begin healing.
Then we like to give it to them, and not everyone knows how to use it, so we give her instructions on how to use it. Public places don’t like you to light up Sage, so you can also take the Sage off of the stem, rub it in your hands, and rub it all over yourself. Rub your hair down, your face, your arms, the rest of your body. That is the same thing as actually lighting it and smudging yourself. I’m not an expert on it, but we use it as a regular practice in our shelter. We sage every morning, both the staff and the children. And when things get tough, if there’s been something really traumatic happening to our women or to our staff that just feel the burden, we’ll say, “ let’s just smudge it off.” And we will light some sage and take it around, and it’s just almost an instant calming affect. It’s important not to pull it out by the roots. We want to make sure there are plants left so the seeds will be there so we can have more.
Is Sage the only plant used?
There are other things we use, like lavender. That’s not a traditional plant to us, but we know and have learned from other people that lavender has that same kind of effect of anti-anxiety. So we can put that in a shell and show the women how to use that to smudge off. The aroma, and it’s the same way with sage too, is anti-anxiety. We also use Cedar and sweet grass, which is a plant that grows in moister areas, like in boughs. We use that also.
Can you tell us about the Sweat Lodge?
It’s something that we offer. We try to do it at least once a month. We use wood and rocks that are heated outside in a fire pit. We have a covered lodge that we use. There’s rituals to it: like the way you go into the lodge, and how you sit down. I am not the leader, we usually have someone come in that has the experience and the knowledge about how to run a sweat. They come in and support the women. And it’s really about prayer, the whole thing is about prayer. You go in there, and it symbolizes the womb. We are taken back to that place and it is cleansing because it’s like a steam bathe. They take the hot rocks, put it into the pit and there’s all kinds of rituals that are part of that, and then we use water to pour over the rocks and then there’s steam. The steam cleanses you. There’s usually four different rounds of prayers and it’s done differently depending on who is running it. We don’t do mixed sweats, we have purely women or men sweats, some people do but we don’t. But everybody in the circle gets an opportunity to pray. If they don’t want to say anything out loud they can pray in their own way.
Did you grow up doing Sweats?
That’s not something that I grew up with, but I’ve learned through the last 30 years that participating, when I do, you just can’t describe it. When you come out your heart is lifted, your heaviness if you go in there with heaviness it helps lift your spirit. I think it’s also because everybody else in there is praying for you too. Especially if you’re struggling or have grief or trauma you feel the support of everybody else in there with you. It’s uplifting in that way too. Whether it’s in grief or trauma we often feel we’re alone, but its’ a place where you can feel that you’re getting support. As a Lakota person who didn’t grow up traditionally, it’s very special to me. I know people that sweat every week, that participate in ceremonies all the time, I don’t necessarily participate that way, but when I do need to it’s awesome that we have the ability to help our staff and the women and children that we serve. That’s really part of our cultural healing so we’re so glad that we have the ability to do that.
Can you talk about the state of the women when they come to you?
I’m going to speak hypothetically about the women because we really try to maintain confidentiality. But, women come to us probably at the worst times of their lives. Some are severely injured, I mean we have women that have come with broken bones, legs, arms, backs, necks. They may not report their injuries to the police. They need stitches, they’re bruised. Sometimes they’re unrecognizable because they’ve been battered so badly. The honor that we get from being there and serving them every day is that we get to see the changes in them. We get to see this woman who has been terrified and harmed from so badly by someone who they believed loved them. We get to see her grow. We don’t always succeed. They will go back to their batterers and situations. A lot of the women we serve have mental health issues so they’re easily victimized and re-victimized. And that’s across the board, across the country. Mental health issues are unfortunately horrific for women in this country because people take advantage of them. Drugs and alcohol addictions are also really high which can also lead to re-victimization.
How important is work in their recovery?
It’s so difficult to watch the trauma, but that’s what gives us the push to go on when you see a woman really trying to succeed and struggling to get on her feet. Because we don’t have a lot of economic opportunities here on the Rosebud, it’s hard for them if they’ve never held a job or haven’t learned job skills, then it seems insurmountable to them. I’ve worked my whole life, but I know how fearful I was when I was in my 20s and 30s and didn’t have a college education and small children and working menial jobs. Also being a victim of domestic violence myself, I know how stuck you feel economically when you can’t support your children by yourself. That’s a reason why women go back to battering situations too because they don’t have financial independence.
If you don’t have money in your pocket or the ability to pay rent or buy food or put gas in your car, it makes you feel stuck. This community is so wide. Our communities can be 40 miles apart from where a job site could be. If you don’t have gas money, it’s horrible. So, working with By Grace for us really means a lot to the women that we work with. It gives them an opportunity to use their talent, because they are so talented, and using the cultural aspects of our talent too. If you go to pow-wows or see our traditional regalia we’re very colorful and joyful. We love to laugh, we love humor, and I think you really see that in the things that we’re able to create.
Our women come in and that’s how they survive. They sit up until midnight, take care of their kids and bead all night so that the next day they go out in the community and ask, “will you buy my earrings? Will you buy this beautiful item that I have made?” and they’re able to get by. This is an aspect of our service: that we can provide a really safe space for them to be able to be the artists that they are and promote the wonderful things that they are trying to do with their lives. I’m telling you, I’m seeing transformation. I know that one of the ladies that was here today, a couple of months ago she was so low in her life. Just watching her joy today, seeing how excited she was about what we’re doing, she didn’t look like that when she came a couple months ago. Seeing her grow and feel good about herself, you could just see that.
Is there something your Mom told you that has inspired you?
It wasn’t what she said, it was how she lived. She became an attorney because she wanted to help people. She knew that she wanted to serve, and that’s what she did. She maintained such a level of integrity and so powerful in the way she walked her life. No matter what life threw at her, she overcame it and believed that everybody could do that and believed that we should always give back without expecting anything in return. Her life was all about service, not just to the community but to her family. She was our matriarch and gave not just to her daughters and grandchildren but to all of our extended family. She believed that it was important that she passed on whatever knowledge she had. And family was very important. And it was important for us a Lakota people to be proud of who we are. She lived that, she never had to say it. It was the way she walked her life.
Bianca (Janet’s granddaughter) has been here all day. She’s watching you and watching us and watching all of these women make a living for themselves. Is there one thing you want her to take away from today?
I hope that Bianca, even though life is not easy, I hope that when things are hard that she will remember that we will always be standing with her and by her. We will always support her. I hope she never feels lonely. I know that she’s just going to be an awesome woman.