Throughout his decades in state and federal prisons, honoring his cultural heritage, practicing and teaching his Native American religious beliefs has been Ghost Dancer’s strength and purpose.
The spirit run and sweat lodge ceremonies are central to the mental and spiritual well-being of many traditional Native people. Being in prison did not stop Ghost from giving his all for causes and people he cared about.
Between 1996 and 2011, right up to the time the prison butchers surgically disabled him, Ghost ran thousands of miles and touched thousands of lives organizing Spirit Runs for Native inmates wherever he was sent. Ghost ran for numerous causes including his own family and for his people in the Santa Rosa Creek Indian Tribe in NW Florida.
Among incarcerated Native people these traditions incorporated into the Native-created PIPES program for recovering addicts and alcoholics are far more effective in healing and restoring wholeness to those who have fallen away from the old ways than even the most well-intentioned prison programs. Ghost has served both officially and unofficially as a PIPES instructor in prisons where the staff of psychological services welcomed him serving all who came from any race or religious background.
Now as Ghost adapts to his new found freedom and finds help to try to restore some of the mobility stolen from him, he is bringing forth a beautiful vision he has had for years to bringing these ancient healing traditions to so many others who suffer deeply from physical and psychological trauma. In the immediate future Ghost has his own hurdles to jump, but by the spring of 2023, he hopes to be ready to move forward with his vision. Already he has garnered strong support from within the veteran’s community in northwest Florida. These men and women clearly understand the enormous needs of so many disabled veterans and first responders. In the meantime, he would like to introduce as many as possible to his vision, for the heart and effort of many will be required. – epd, Sings Many Songs
The Spirit Run and Sweat Lodge
Crying, Cleansing, Releasing & Healing Ceremonies
For Veterans and First Responders
By Ghost Dancer
The Spirit Run is a time-honored tradition among the indigenous people of North America. It is not a competition but rather an opportunity for people of all ages and abilities, from the strongest to the weakest, to strive as one, united in prayer, toward a common goal for the honor and benefit of all. In the old days, acting as one, the strongest might have physically carried an elder or disabled person. In modern times, the stronger ones might push the weak unable to walk in the same spirit.
Historically, the sweat lodge (Inipi, meaning Breath of Spirit) in which the associated healing ceremonies are held began as a tradition of the plains tribes of North America. In recent years the custom of sweating ceremonies has spread across the country and beyond with many variations reflecting the needs and values of the local community.
Both the Spirit Run and the Sweat Lodge Ceremonies are sacred practices that help each participant learn the lessons of prayer, sacrifice, humbleness, and cleansing and build a stronger community of more balanced individuals supporting one another.
It is important to understand that the Spirit Run and related Sweat Lodge Ceremonies are all about helping those in need. By participating in any way not only shows your support but helps each one involved realize that you too are a Spirit Warrior following the Sacred Path of giving, humbleness, compassion, generosity, and most of all love. The Spirit Run is not about self-pity, or egos! It is all about following our hearts to help those we love and honor for all they have suffered and continue to suffer.
The Sweat Lodge Ceremonies are about praying, participating, giving, and suffering with all. They serve to make us all ONE with our Creator and all life.
It is about forgiving and releasing all the anger, frustrations, pain, regrets, fears, doubts, including bad things we have done or others have done to us. To cleanse one’s spirit is just as important as cleansing one’s body.
The Spirit Run and the Healing Ceremonies are ancient ways of doing all of these things and returning us all back to walking in Beauty, Harmony, Balance and Love, not only within ourselves but with all around us.
Those who have ever suffered, endured or experienced things together have a special bonding. This is why when we participate with others in these things we form a bond that is full of love, compassion, generosity, honor, and forgiveness that will remain with us. I encourage everyone to participate.
The conductor of the ceremonies will be a recognized spiritual leader. He is both qualified and authorized and has conducted these ceremonies for decades across this country.
Basic Plan for the Spirit Run
- Help heal and release the pain and suffering that warriors, both male and female veterans are and have been experiencing for so long.
- To help raise funds to help all the wounded warriors and their families by gathering and organizing promotional businesses, organizations, news media, communities to work together.
- To provide healing and prayerful guidance to all and work with each of those who need to release and cleanse themselves of painful mental and emotional traumas they have and still suffer such as PTSD or any other type of problem.
- To educate and teach those who don’t know what to look for when it comes to recognizing and understanding PTSD and other problems.
- To bring together families, friends, and communities in a common goal to support and help Veterans and First Responders for so many of them have given their lives, bodies, to help, protect and be there for others.
- Participants my commit to push or otherwise assist individuals with disabilities or run in the place of someone who is unable to participate.
- Every part of the Spirit Run is conducted in prayer – always. Each day will begin with an opening prayer and close with prayer.
- There will be a special prayer focus each day that everyone will be asked to pray for. So as participants are pushed, rolled, walk, jog or run, they will all be focusing with one heart, one mind, one voice, and one prayer together.
- Traditional Native Prayer Songs and/or other purposeful songs may be sung by the runners, walkers and ambulants with disabilities as they travel each day.
- All prayers are based on the faith and beliefs of each participant. Please remember that we all have the same Creator and no one is better than any other. Pray any way you choose, just be respectful of everyone.
- Traditionally fasting was required by those participating, especially for the first day of the run. This is an option for those who wish but is not required.
- As is Native American tradition, smudging or purification by fanning sacred sage or cedar over sacred areas, sacred items and individuals will be done at the beginning and end of each day. Participants in the Spirit Run are welcome to participate.
- The runner designated to lead off the run will carry a sacred staff that he or she has made. No one is allowed to run in front or ahead of the staff. If a runner or walker wishes to pass the one carrying the staff, then the staff must be handed to that person and that person must carry it respectfully continuing in constant prayer. Usually for the first four (4) miles, drummers walking just behind the staff carrier will set the pace and lead prayer sons. Everyone else falls in behind.
- Records will be kept recording the miles covered by each person registered to participate. Participants and sponsoring businesses, civic organizations, corporations, churches etc. will pledge money, products, materials etc. for each mile covered. For example, if a total of 10 people registered and ran/walked or otherwise logged in 10 miles each, the total distance would be 100 miles. The businesses or organizations sponsoring this event would donate accordingly. (Registering as a participant is voluntary and free choice)
- There MUST be no alcohol, no drugs, no foul language, no weapons, no disrespect, no type biases or discrimination of any type allowed.
- Committees of volunteer veterans would take positions and be responsible for arranging everything needed. This would include:
- Gathering sponsors
- Soliciting news media coverage.
- Coordinating with city, county and state government.
- Obtaining permits if necessary.
- Selecting a spokesperson
- Persons responsible for the gathering of needed materials, etc.
Basic Plan for the Sweat Lodge Ceremonies
- Area designated as Spiritual grounds or areas must be established and sectioned off to allow privacy for those who are participating in ceremonies with the Native American spiritual leader who will be in charge of these matters.
- Only those who are participating or those helping in these matters will be allowed in this designated area.
- Depending on the capacity of the sweat lodge, only a specific number of participants will be allowed at one time.
- Those wishing to participate will need to pre-register so as to receive a specific time.
- Smudging will be used more regularly at the sacred grounds and the Inipi. All who enter the sacred grounds area will smudged! If for a medical reason that this cannot be done. The spiritual leader will make a special alternative that will meet the traditional requirements.
- Respect must be paid for all Sacred items or ceremonial items. This means they will only be touched or handled by those who own them or those authorized or granted permission to do so.
- Whatever is said or happens in the Sacred Ceremonies is private and will not be talked about or discussed outside of the grounds by anyone.
- The purpose of the crying, cleansing, releasing, healing ceremonies is to help individuals identify, address, release, cleanse and heal themselves of all the trauma, pain, suffering, mental and emotional damages as well as physical pains they have suffered and are suffering and experiencing. This includes:
- Veterans or First Responders
- Family members, relatives & friends who have someone that needs help in identifying and understanding their loved one who may be causing them emotional or mental problems.
- Women who are beginning, having, or just finished their moon (menstrual cycle) will be asked to wait till they have completed this cycle, before participating in a lodge ceremony. A female assistant who is responsible and knowledgeable about the purposes and reasons for this will be speaking discretely with all women seeking a ceremony, requesting them to be honest about their current status.
- Any and all persons who wish to participate in the lodge ceremonies, must be cleansed of all perfumes, cologne, hair grease, oils, lotions on their bodies. This is not only for their protection but for all those who would be in the lodge with them.
- Proper clothing should be worn at all times showing respect for others and their sensibilities. This would mean wearing short pants, trunks, gym shorts. Ladies will be required to wear a top also or a they can wear long full dresses that are appropriate.
- No one – repeat – no one should wear any metal jewelry or have any metal in their clothing. This could cause the person to be severely hurt or burned.
- Do not eat for at least 6 hours prior to coming to the lodge. Those who seek to follow the traditional ways will want to fast prior to any ceremony.
- There will be volunteers who will question each participant about their medical condition. This is to ensure the safety of each participant. For those who are not medically fit for the sweat lodge, there will considerations and arrangements made to meet these needs.
- Please respect and honor all rules, items, materials and the grounds where these ceremonies are taking place. Do not leave or throw trash on the grounds.
- All event participants must be willing to help when requested to do so.
- This could mean helping someone enter or exit the lodge.
- Help with the building, putting up or taking down the lodge.
- Helping with the fire or bringing in the hot rocks.
- And yes even most importantly with your prayers.
Now with this small sample of insights into what can be expected in a Spirit Run and Sweat Lodge Ceremonies, and a basic understanding of these things, hopefully the plan has piqued your interest and desire to participate in a beautiful tradition to support and honor those who serve us all.
You can even participate by long distance now days by showing your support and helping anyway you can. The Spirit Run and associated ceremonies are designed strictly under spiritual guidance to help those in need. By participating you are helping heal everyone and fill everyone’s heart full of Love and Happiness.
© Ghost Dancer 2022
Note: Soon we will be starting a new series that will reveal Ghost’s whole and true story from his earliest formative years through all the trials, difficulties and triumphs during more than 40 years as a Native American activist and prisoner in the American system of justice. Anyone who claims, honors or respects Native Peoples, their history and their struggle will not want to miss a single chapter of “ALL FOR THE RIGHT TO PRAY.” Sings