The Journey of Deus Providebit
Updated: Jul 25, 2019
As David Bailey and I have been re-reading and analyzing the information from our interviews on masculinity and femininity with the Native Americans, I wanted to share with you his experience of our time there.
Thank you once again to David and for all of you for accompanying me on this journey. My hope is to begin to post from the interviews in this next week, to allow you to join ever more closely in this tour of femininity and masculinity throughout the world.
There are trips and there are journeys. We are on a journey into the realm where road and sky meet. This eight-day foray into the lives of North America’s indigenous peoples is more than a trip, it’s a voyage into the depths of spiritual reality. All of us are traveling through experiences and perceptions that compose the infinite symphony of life. In most cases, it’s the journey, not the destination, which is most important.
I spent the last 20 years working among Native nations from across the US and Canada. I’ve slept on couches and prayed in sweat lodges all across Indian Country. When I entered seminary after a ten year hiatus in Ireland, it was made very clear to me that I was being called once again to resume my previous relationships with First Nations people.
After too many years away, I finally made my way back last summer. I went to the Pine Ridge reservation, home of the Oglala, Lakota, where I had meetings at Red Cloud Indian School. I came away determined to do everything I can to help them continue. I then drove north and west to the Northern Cheyenne Nation in southeastern Montana where I visited old friends and met new ones at their annual 4th of July Powwow. Indians from across Montana, the Dakotas; from as far north as Saskatchewan and Alberta, Canada, and as far south as Arizona and Oklahoma, gathered together for three days of celebration. I was gripped by the instant recognition that, after so much time away, I needed this connection. I need it like breathing. I floated away on a high back to my home diocese and prepared for another year in seminary.
When Dr. Miller told me she was interested in meeting First Nations people at home before traveling abroad, I spent months planning every detail. No matter how much time you spend planning, you have virtually no control over how things turn out. Ultimately, it’s in God’s hands. I kept thinking of a line that wove its way into my mind. God knows what we need, and he knows when we need it. It’s in vulnerable moments where you have no control when God dispenses graces which reveal traces of his hand directly involved in your life. For us in this instance, so many things came together so quickly we both concluded, “It’s like God wants this to happen.”
Things beyond our control arranged themselves so perfectly, it was as though they were orchestrated intentionally by the divine planner. For example, on our fourth day, we drove from the heart of the Black Hills -- land sacred to all Indians in the northern plains -- through Powder River country and the traditional hunting lands of the Cheyenne, Lakota, and Crow. With the Black Hills to the south, we passed herds of deer and throngs of antelope as we journeyed north and west into Wyoming, then Montana, and then the eastern border of the Northern Cheyenne Nation. On the reservation, we went to check into Guest Housing at St. Labre Indian mission. We had an 11:00 meeting with their Cheyenne language teacher. Our arrival coincided with a student protest over issues which were never made clear. The campus was on lock-down with security and police closely monitoring the situation. We were told in no uncertain terms, our 11:00 was cancelled. We’d have to come back that evening.
With more time than I wanted before our 1:00 interview on the neighboring Crow reservation, I decided to give Dr. Miller a tour of a reservation I have always loved. Suddenly, I started thinking about our scheduled meetings at the tribal college the next day. I decided we’d stop by, introduce ourselves to the gentlemen we’d be interviewing, and double-check to make sure they were still available when we’d agreed to meet. Thank God we did.
The first person we spoke to, George Nightwalker, a professor of Cheyenne History, told us he wouldn’t be available at all the next day… but he was available in exactly ten minutes. What transpired moments later was an encounter which lasted over an hour with a gentle, soft-spoken man who told us stories of growing up listening to his grandfather pray every morning in Cheyenne. As a child, he asked his dad what his grandfather was praying about. His dad translated, “He’s praying for you and he’s praying for me. He’s praying for our Cheyenne people, and he’s praying this country will never see another war. He’s praying for peace, and he’s praying for the whole world.” Had it not been for the forced alteration of our itinerary, our encounter with George never would’ve happened.
The next day was equally providential. We returned to Chief Dull Knife College in the center of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, for a meeting with Burt Medicine Bull, their Cheyenne language professor. I was immediately impressed with Mr. Medicine Bull, and so I was quick to take his advice when he told us, “Talk to Teanna Limpy in the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO).” She hadn’t been on my radar, so I was grateful for his recommendation. After our interview, he told me where to find Teanna.
Rather than going straight over, my instincts told me to wait. Dr. Miller and I made our way to the THPO building almost two-hours later. Inside, we were told Mrs. Limpy was unavailable. She’d been away on business all morning and they had no idea when she’d return… At that exact moment, her car pulled into the driveway and she came inside. It was more than perfect timing. It was divine timing. Dr. Miller and I then spent the next hour talking to a young, strong, energetic, and vibrant woman who faces men, government agencies, and vast array of opposition every day. We both came away inspired. Deus Providebit.
Earlier in the week, we trekked into the Black Hills after three days on Pine Ridge reservation. It was Mother’s Day. At Mass that morning, two Lakota girls received baptism and First Communion. They were reborn. The theme of genesis, on a day set aside to honor mothers, continued throughout the day. At Mass, the presiding priest expertly interwove Lakota language into the liturgy. He spoke during his homily about a time when all tribes and all nations will be together in Heaven. Hours later, we went to Wind Cave, the place believed by the Lakota to be their birth place onto this earth.
That morning, during the Office of the Readings, my thoughts rested with Mary. Mary came to the Western Hemisphere as a Native. More accurately, she was a mixed-blood. She was the lowest of the low, a woman who would’ve been an outcast to both Native and Spanish communities alike. In the Nahuatl tradition, the double braids of Our Lady of Guadalupe denote an unmarried girl in her middle teens. The black sash around her wrists indicates pregnancy. If you turn the image on its side, you see the silhouette of what the Natives in Mexico called their sacred mountain. Before the end of the day, Dr. Miller and I prayed at Bear Butte. Tho it’s not an exact rendition, there are features of that sacred mountain which look surprisingly similar to the sideways image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In taking Dr. Miller to Bear Butte, I didn’t want to oversell it. I explained the historical-cultural significance of the holy mountain and simply said, “You’ll know it when you see it.” On the mountain, we went in separate directions and prayed for those we encountered, for First Nations people, for those at home, and for those around the world.
I said I’d be a tour-guide on this journey. I was wrong. I was just the driver. It was God who led our tour. Our trip culminated in two days spent at the Montana Native Women’s Coalition annual conference in Billings, Montana, where we heard heartbreaking stories of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. We listened to the wounded survivors of church-run boarding schools, were briefed on the plague of sex-trafficking in Montana, and learned that 85% of Native women in the US and Canada will personally experience abuse in their life-time… and 70 percent of the time it’s at the hands of non-Native abusers.
After the conference, we drove back for one last night in the Black Hills. On the western edge of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, there’s a family I have known and loved for at least twenty years. Their patriarch is a mentor of mine. So much of what I know about Cheyenne ways, language, history, and spirituality came from him. I began to think I wouldn’t see him on this trip. I’d tried and failed to connect with him until that last evening. Carrying heavy the heartache we’d encountered at the conference, God proved, once again, that he knows what we need, and he knows when we need it. Waiting for us when we arrived back on the Cheyenne reservation was this elderly man, his wife, and a house full of laughing grandchildren. The reception Dr. Miller and I received in their home was the perfect ending to the perfect trip. After an amazing eight days, we spent over an hour in their company and I did not want to leave. On our way out the door, they said to us both, come back. Anytime. Come back. I hope I always will. Deus Providebit.