By Ghost Dancer
Honoring Beloved Elders
They Recognized Me, Touched My Life, and Helped To Guide My Path
Part 1 – Early Childhood
I would like to begin by sharing some things that may or may not resonate with something inside of you. I speak to the thousands who know they have an American Indian bloodline, however distant it may be, or Native blood you can never prove. You feel you will never belong, and a big part of who you are is so missing in your life. You may have tried to fill this emptiness, going through the motions, but no one knows what to tell you or how to teach you to truly connect.
You have a Native heart or Native spirit inside, just begging to come out, to be accepted, freeing you to enjoy your true self. You may have read a stack of books, some written by people who may be full bloods and enrolled in a federally recognized tribe and yet the words don’t feel right and they may even put down people like you – half-breeds or others with less “blood quantum,” especially those who don’t “look” Native and cannot prove their heritage. Where do you turn?
For many years I did not understand my true path in life. I could not figure out why I had to go through so many ordeals and I often wondered what the lesson was that I must learn. But learn I did and in time I knew for certain. I have lived my whole life as Native. This is who I am from my very core even though I may not look like anyone’s idea of what Natives are supposed to look like. Now, to those who are ignorant of the true Native beliefs, this may be a problem. But those who truly walk the nene-cate, the red path, know it is not appearance or degree of blood that matters, but the truth revealed through a person’s own heart and spirit.
See, being Native means being true to who you are as you learn the many different layers of life that you truly have within you – the way many of you have already lived and will continue to live. We are all special beings and we all have many gifts. All we have to do is accept who we truly are and begin living it – not just on one day or for a few hours, but every single day and every moment.
Most people believe they already know everything about being Native. They have read something or been told something and accept it as fact. They cling to the superficial and never discover the wealth that lies beneath the surface. We all must learn how important it is to grow in each experience. If a cup is full, no more can be put into it. But if the cup is emptied, then it can be filled again and again. This is what I mean by the layers of life. First, we must begin as a child, an infant fully open and able to absorb life’s teachings, Spirit teachings each moment of each day. When we open our minds and hearts this way we allow ourselves to grow, to discover higher and higher meanings of life each day. As we begin to see and understand things so much more clearly, we move ever more closely to truly understanding how we are all connected and part of everything. I hope each of you will find your true path.
I have been blessed with many people in my life who have loved me, taught me, challenged me and supported me in a thousand ways as I sought to travel my true path. In my youth I had so many elders to look up to, my parents, step parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, as well as great Native elders and spiritual leaders – how I love and respect them all. I would like to share my memories of a few who stepped in at different stages of my journey, just at the moment I needed their wisdom and guidance.
Many folks don’t know about my childhood, so let’s just say I was very adventurous. Well, actually, I was as wild and headstrong as could be. When I was very young, we went to Silver Springs, not far from my Florida home. I was fascinated by the Seminole Village at Silver Springs and went over because I wanted to talk to the young boys there.
At first it was awkward because the part of the village I went into was private and not a part that the tourists could come to, so the boys looked at me like I didn’t have any business there. An elder woman sitting under one of chickees saw me and motioned for me to come over, so me being me, I did. I first learned to call her Grandmother Ruby. Much later I would come to know this woman was none other than Ruby Tiger Osceola, beloved matriarch of the Seminole people, and to fully appreciate how deeply she would affect my life.
That first day, she looked at me for the longest and then motioned for me to sit. I sat down near her and soon came to know she saw me like no other person ever had. She said to me, “Many don’t understand what you are, but I do.” I asked her if she lived there. She told me she didn’t, but that she visits. Then she asked me where I lived and like a dummy, I remember pointing up the hill toward the place where my family’s friends lived.
This was my first experience with Grandmother Ruby and her acceptance of me broke the barrier with the kids of the village. I began spending more and more time with them. I loved hearing Grandmother Ruby talk and the stories she told about the Creek and Seminole people. She made me feel like I was right there, experiencing it all. I could feel her heart glowing with love for all the people. Even though Grandmother Ruby didn’t live there, she opened the door for my acceptance at the village. This became my second home and Silver Springs was our playground. My years spent there were some of the best of my life and I would return as often as I could. Off and on Grandmother would come and when she did it was a big occasion.
Grandmother Ruby called me a star child. Once I asked her what she meant and she told me a story about the blue-eyed Native children. She said we would be different because our own Native people would look at us strangely and so would other races, but we are all star children. She explained that we are meant to learn as much as we can and remember everything. “One day,” she said, “You must pass all this on to others.” She told me life would not be easy, but it will make you strong and help you in what you will become. When others say things that hurt you, it only hurts if you let it. Just be you and don’t let anyone stop you from being who you are. Then she said, “I see you as you truly are; a beautiful heart and spirit. Now go have fun with others.”
Her words touched me so much as she looked at me. They vibrated throughout my body. I wanted nothing more than to make this Beloved Grandmother proud and love me. Her smile could do that to you. I know I will always do my best to honor her and her words to me. In Gratitude, Ghost
Grandpa Edgar David Beavers
My Grandpa Edgar Beavers was a full-blood Cherokee. He was blind and had been since before I was born. He was still kind of wild even then and I grew to know him well when he visited my family in Florida and I got to see him when we visited family in Alabama. Grandpa Beavers was a big man and I so wanted to grow up to be big like he was.
Grandpa was a wake up for me to know who I was and what I should be doing. He would talk late in the night, telling me stories of our Cherokee people and their history and spiritual beliefs as well. He instilled in me the knowledge that I had a destiny and a duty to step up and do what I needed to do. He talked to me as if I were a grown person, valuing my ideas, questions and opinions. He told me little ones like me all have rights from our people; that we are people too, and many times see things that others don’t. So, everyone learns from everyone and when people stop listening to others knowledge is lost.
Grandpa gave me my first crystal. It was a beautiful power wand crystal, and he taught me how to use it. He spent time teaching me other things too, like the reading of the hands and how to understand these things I must practice more and more. He told me about my great grandmother who had these gifts.
Grandpa Beavers loved being up late at night. I guess because he was blind, he didn’t mind the darkness of the night and I stayed up with him. It wasn’t always easy, especially in the swamps where we lived at that time. Mosquitoes were biting me and Grandpa said, “When you want that to stop, I’ll tell you the plant you need.” I told him I wanted to know now. He laughed and told me I had to look for a wax myrtle. I asked what that was, so he described it to me so I would know what I would be looking for in the morning.
Sometimes Grandpa got out his corn cob pipe and while he smoked he told me about the stars and how the Ani-yun-wiya know where they all came from. On one clear night, he told me to look for a cluster of stars to the south. I did and he asked if I had found them. I said yes! And he told me they were the seven sisters and they are called the Pleiades and we all came from there. Then he told me to close my eyes and feel myself travelling up to them. Grandpa also told me the stories of Selu and so much more. Always, Grandpa said I must never forget my Cherokee history, my blood and my clan.
Like others of my family had told me, Grandpa talked about how rough it is being a Native when we have to hide who we are because people are scared of us. They don’t like to see us because of what they did and they are ashamed. So they hate us for living and reminding them of what they took from us. He told the majority are influenced by those who have this in their heart but assured me not all are like this. There are many, he said, who have beautiful hearts and I should never forget that.
Grandpa also told me that he could see how different I was than his other grandkids. He said I had a spirit in me that was as wild as a wolf, independent as an eagle, and yet, alone. He sensed my spirit and knew that I was seeing and hearing things that others did not and would never understand. He warned that I must be quiet about these things, saying, “People will fear you and think bad of you. Their own beliefs make them blind to how good your heart really is so it is important that you learn how to use your gifts.”
So late at night my grandpa taught me what he knew and how to use the gifts that I had been blessed with. He taught me about spirit traveling which I truly loved. Learning how to walk in the spirit world was a truly powerful experience and necessary for me to learn these ways. Grandpa might have been blind using normal eyesight, but not using his mind’s eye or letting his spirit free. His senses were attuned even to the air. His nose was like a wolf smelling everything, taking in information. His ears were as sharp as any deer.
I still remember his words, “In life, we can be chained or crippled if we allow ourselves to be. But we are so specially blessed that if we are lacking in one area, all our other senses and talents kick in overdrive and make up for it if we allow them to. Never say you can’t do something. If you say that you are crippling yourself from doing anything before you even try.”
Grandpa was a true inspiration. Our time together kept me always wanting to be back in the old days, living wild and free, living as one and in balance with everything. He taught me how to open my heart to the heartbeat of our Mother Earth and to feel the heartbeat of the forest and the swamp. These were special times. Grandpa’s hands read the lines in my hands and yet, I knew that was not all he was doing. He said, “You have a powerful gift with your mind; learn all you can and never stop learning.”
These words he spoke and the insights he taught have stayed with me all my life. I was proud of him and I still am. He knew without saying that I would not be a “Native in the cupboard,” that my spirit would lead me to stand out and broadcast that we are still here. We live and we will continue to live and survive. In those days, I had a treehouse way up in an old oak tree. I would lay up there at night watching the stars and talking to all my relatives who were certainly watching all of us.
I’m not saying that I was taught to challenge society. No, I was just to let people know there are thousands who did not go on the trail of tears from the civilized tribes in the south. We lived and survived despite all that was done to us and being hunted. Many of our relatives in Oklahoma don’t even recognize us because we didn’t go. But that doesn’t make us any less Native. My Grandpa Beavers was truly sad because so much had been lost to the people: religion, ceremonies, languages, history, and culture. But this was by design as he told me because it was, and still is, the belief of the government that to take away a people’s language and religion and culture is to annihilate them.
These words stayed with me, so I made it my responsibility to learn every aspect of our Native culture, beliefs, ceremonies, songs, crafts, language, and ways of life that I could. I’m still learning and trying to protect these things for all our people. It is such a blessing these days to know there are others who are doing all they can to help preserve these histories, cultures, languages, and religious practices so we all have a chance to learn and become more. My Grandpa Beavers knew how important all these were so we could continue, and by federal law, these are all required to be recognized as a tribe and a people. With honor and respect, Ghost
I have been blessed with many people who have helped shape my life. None as much as Alma Jacobs, a Cherokee elder known to everyone as Maw-Maw Jaybird. When I first met her, she was already ancient – at least in my young eyes – and yet so full of life still. I have no clue as to her age, but she was blind and had been for years. She was a widow and lived in the mountains of northern Alabama. Two of her daughters were still living at home with her, but some of her children were married and gone.
One of her daughters, Jewel, was my stepmother. She had married my dad and they spent a lot of time at her family home place, so this mountain-top farm became my second Alabama home when I was with my dad. I will always remember the first time my dad took me to Maw-Maw’s old homestead. There was no road so to speak; we drove there in a pickup and it was still rough getting there. When I first saw Maw-Maw, I couldn’t believe it. Here was a woman I was told was already old and blind, but she was out working in the gardens and I could see no sign that she could not see. She was working and pulling weeds with her hands faster than the two ladies also working in the garden.
When I got out of the back of the pickup, they waved at me. I waved back and they all started coming up the hill towards us. I didn’t know what to expect, but I surely wasn’t ready for what I saw. Here was a woman still limber, and walking like a panther – fluid, effortlessly – and without help where she was going. She was a very small woman; no more than maybe 4′ 8” or so. I was a boy and was already taller than she was. Her hair was braided and wrapped around her waist several times.
Maw-Maw Jay Bird walked up to me and said, “Let me see you child!” She reached out her hands to touch my face. She saw me through her touch. She felt across my shoulders, chest, back and arms. She held my hands and she just glowed in my eyes. When she finished, she introduced me to her daughters, and this began a learning time, a truly amazing life and meaningful experience for me.
Maw-Maw loved having me there. She taught me all kinds of things, and I was all eyes and ears. The garden was made in tiers around one side of the mountain; the other side was all planted in corn. At the top, the homestead was all flat. She had guineas, pheasants, peacocks, and all kinds of chickens on her property. She had a mule, hogs, a milk cow, and some beef cows. Working with animals and birds came natural to me and all of them knew it too, because I loved them all.
The chickens roamed free and ate a lot of bugs. They served as our pest control in the gardens around both sides of the mountain. We raised them for the eggs and for more chicks. My dad also raised gamecocks, fighting roosters, for selling or trading. There were all kinds of wildlife too: deer, turkey, mink, raccoons, and groundhogs all over that mountain. Poke salad grew everywhere, and we had apple trees, muscodines, peaches, plums and pear trees.
Maw-Maw had the meanest, biggest dog I have ever seen in my life. That dog guarded the chicken house and the smoke house, and never left that area unless she called him. No one could go near that dog but her, and it was bigger than the black bears that roamed around the area. Every animal and bird knew her. She loved them all and they all loved her too.
We had no electricity, no plumbing, no modern anything. Everything was like in the old days – a wood stove, outhouse and water well. We climbed down in the well to place our butter and such to stay cool beside the spring water. There was a crank with a rope to bring water up from the well. Our clothes were cooked and scrubbed clean in a big iron kettle in the yard. Then they were rinsed in a wash tub and run through a wringer that we turned by hand.
We had a wagon, corn crib, tack shed, and plenty of hard work to go around. Protecting the garden became my responsibility. My job was to make sure the rabbits, deer, bears or anything else didn’t eat the garden up. There was good fishing in a creek and a small spring-fed lake on the backside of the mountain, so we had everything we needed to live. It wasn’t just the work or responsibilities or knowledge about these things that was so special.
What I loved most were the stories and all the things Maw-Maw taught me about the old ways. I learned about all the different plants she made poultices and medicines from, how to prepare them and when to gather them. Her nose was like a radar; she could smell plants and roots. She would test me, asking what I could see and had me describe them to her. Then she would tell me what each was good for. She also taught me about the moons and how they affect all things. With the help of her daughters, Maw-Maw was a college of knowledge for me to learn from.
Going to town in the wagon was a journey, and I learned to never think that because she was blind Maw-Maw didn’t know everything around her. The only time I knew she was nervous was if a bunch of people were around and she had to move through them. I asked her about it and she said, “I don’t have a problem moving through, I know where I’m going; problem is they don’t know where they are going!” I laughed till I cried.
Night time was story-telling time when Maw-Maw and her daughters schooled me in the old stories and ways. In bad weather, we stayed in and did things that needed being done, and my schooling continued. They loved me as if I were their own.
Even when I was grown up, they still lived that same way. I will cherish their love, teaching, and all the knowledge they gave me. I pray I can always live up to what they believed in me and all that was given for me to do.
With fondest respect, Ghost
© Ghost Dancer – 2017
Ghost Dancer – Known by thousands as a wise elder, teacher, artist, and keeper of the old ways, Ghost has a deep understanding of the spiritual and cultural traditions of the Southeastern Native Peoples, as well as the Lakota Sioux and other western tribal People. From his world, WALK THE SACRED PATH honors of his Muskogee and Ani-Yun-Wiya ancestors. Ghost has a lifetime of fascinating stories to tell and thoughts to share that will expand your world as well.