All For the Right to Pray (2)

Part One – Walking in Three Worlds

Chapter 2 – Invitation to My Nene Cate (Red Road)

By Ghost Dancer

The story I bring to you, dear reader, is about my personal journey and some of the wisdom and insights I have been given over a lifetime. Hopefully my story will resonate with something inside of you and you will understand what it means to be a Southeastern-born, mixed-blood Native American who walks in three worlds. When our inner spirit belongs to our Native heritage, how can we become whole when the ancient traditions have been lost for generations and even our personal appearance does not fit the stereotype. 

Now let me properly introduce myself. My name is Ghost, as I am called, or Ghost Dancer. I’m a simple person, or at least, I see myself as that way. I am one who does not like arguments or conflicts, but despite this, my life has been filled with so many conflicts, I can’t even begin to count them.

My parents divorced when I was four years old. They both remarried. I lived most of my early years with my mother, stepfather, and siblings in Ocala, Florida. My dad and his new wife lived in Alabama where both my parents’ extended families had lived for generations and had deep roots in the hidden story of our Southeastern Native ancestry. Living back and forth between these two families during my most impressionable years gave me a broad variety of experiences and influences. I treasure them all and honor the memory of each of my family and friends who touched my life.

From my earliest years, more than any of my four siblings, I identified strongly with my Native ancestors and longed to know them and live as they had lived. When we walk two paths this way, we feel we will never belong, and a big part of who we are is so missing in our lives. We may have tried to fill this emptiness, going through the motions, but so much inner wisdom of our Native ancestors has been lost and replaced by other traditions that 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 and 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?

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. We are all special beings, and we all have many special gifts. All we must do is accept who we truly are and begin living it – not just on one day or for a few hours, but every moment of every single day. 

Fortunately for me, at every stage of life, I was given the opportunity to meet and learn from many wise elders and participate in experiences that helped me find my way. I was born to be one with nature. This has always been and still is my world. The world of nature is where so much knowledge is learned and taught. Every part of nature, every creation, is simply being the natural self. There are no false faces, no hidden agendas, no lies or deceit, no greed or judgment of others. This is where my heart has always been, no matter the circumstances or where I am.

Like many families here in the Southeast, my relatives and families had lost their knowledge of the old ways: language, songs and ceremonies. I made a pledge to my ancestors and to my family that I would seek and find these and bring them back to us. I prayed and asked Spirit to please help me in this, and I would make sure the knowledge would be shared with my Native relatives, my family, and all people.

Even as a youngster, I was very emotional. I never could stand to see anyone trying to bully or hurt someone smaller, weaker, or handicapped. I had more than my share of fights defending the helpless ones against abusers, but I was always large for my age and very strong, so most of the time this gained me a certain respect. Inside, I always knew my spirit was telling me it was my duty to protect all living beings who couldn’t protect themselves.

As I grew and met different people who influenced and helped me on my path, I was so thankful. My prayers were answered. More than anything, I wanted to know who I was, to learn and to keep alive the old ways of my ancestors. So, I made a promise to Spirit that if I was given those who would teach and guide me, I would use all this knowledge and share it with those who truly want to learn and appreciate the opportunity as much as I did.

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.

This path has not always been easy and there have been many times I felt I would never get to fulfill my promise. In my early teens, I got involved with the American Indian Movement. The experiences I had were a tremendous help to my understanding of who I am as a Native and a human being but would also lead to much trouble for me and my family, and ultimately, decades in prison for me. For many years, living a miserable prison existence, I did not understand my true path in life. I could not figure out why I had to go through all the ordeals, and I often wondered what the lesson was that I must learn. But learn I did.

To find balance on my path and life I learned that I had to let my spiritual walk be in control no matter how difficult my struggle. Spirit did not abandon me. Spirit provided the teachers and helpers I needed through my darkest hours. For this I will be forever grateful; most of all for the love of my precious wife, Cat Dancing, my soul mate, my War Woman. Without her abiding love and tireless sacrifice fighting alongside me, I would not have even survived, much less triumphed over the forces of evil determined to destroy me.

So when I say I walk in three worlds, the first two – the Native and that of our present dominant white culture – are obvious, and everyone who feels this must reconcile where they fit in. But Spirit has guided me through every hardship, every lesson I needed to learn, and for me, walking in the third world – the spiritual world as my Native ancestors experienced it – is where I find peace and love and happiness.

Being put in prison for decades when you are truly innocent is not a life anyone would ever want to go through. Yet I came to understand this too was an opportunity to learn and experience so much more. I have met so many brothers from many different tribes and nations, and I learned from them all. By participating together in all ceremonies and activities, we all shared our own knowledge and learned the ways and songs of different peoples.

Then there were the spiritual leaders who came to visit the prisons, remarkable people such Grandfather Ken Pallis, Grandmother Deloris Tabia Santha, and Black Eagle. Everyone knows “the rock man,” the only man ever arrested for bringing rocks to a prison for the brothers to have for a sweat lodge. I will be forever grateful for the elders from all over who came and spent time with us, to mentor us and teach us both inside the sweat lodge and outside. 

In telling my story, I want to share with you my memories of some of the truly great mentors and teachers I have met and learned from during my lifetime. For me to experience all this, and over time, gradually being schooled and prepared by all these elders, I knew they were guiding me and teaching me to pass on to others what I have made my own. This means a person takes what is taught to them and finds their own way of understanding through spiritual searching and stepping into the spirit world and seeking answers to the deeper questions.

As I learned from a wise elder many years ago, there is a difference in understanding something and in knowing something. I began teaching on the outside to those who were searching and seeking respectfully and sincerely. I have continued this in prison by counseling brothers, teaching as much as I can about cultural and religious traditions, and by passing on my knowledge of crafts and physical conditioning. In this way, I’m doing my best to fulfill my promise to Spirit and to my ancestors.

Over the years, I have become known and recognized as a spiritual leader and teacher of Native culture, both in the free world and in prisons, by those spiritual and religious leaders and teachers who are already well known and recognized across the Native nations and worlds. This recognition did not come easily. It had to be earned by living the walk; learning and practicing the old ways of teaching and guiding others.

This is my journey and now that I have been granted a compassionate release so that I might find healing for my own ruined health from years of abuse and neglect within the prison system, I would like to share the full story of my life and much that has happened along the way. I believe it’s important that people truly understand the struggles Native people have had in our prisons and realize that government oppression is just as real now as it has been throughout history. Only by educating ourselves can we hope to create a better world.

I have a dream of one day having a place where all those who have a true desire and loving heart can come to learn and experience the sacred old ways for walking in balance and becoming one with all that is, a place where beauty and love is everywhere. I pray you will walk with me now and I will tell you my story.

 Mvto (thank you), Ghost

Published by Sings Many Songs

I'm an 80-something child of the great depression and WWII. Throughout my life I have been a seeker, an outsider, never quite belonging anywhere, still always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. A lifelong student with many interests and a love of writing and editing, my elder's path led to encouraging and assisting some remarkable people to write out their amazing stories. This calling became the magic elixir that keeps me growing, keeps me alive.

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