All For the Right to Pray (21)

Part Five – Sweet Freedom

Chapter 21 – A Beautiful New Life

By Ghost Dancer

During these early days our two wolves came into our lives. It was a true blessing that they chose to stay with us and share their lives.

One day after I came home from laying brick for 15 hours, Cat told me that a friend of ours had called to let us know about a wolf that was needing a home. We immediately went to go see him. He had a troubled past and needed help health wise and emotionally too. I was warned that he would attack, but when the big boy saw me he literally jumped up into my arms. Wolves can sense your thoughts and intentions and instinctively, he knew I was a friend and would not harm him. He came home with cat and me that same night. 

He needed cleaning up; wolves don’t like to be dirty. They always clean themselves, but he had been sick and if people don’t truly know them, they can be a handful. I know wolves as I know most who live in our world. I have to, because we are all related and they all have so many things to teach us. All we have to do is pay attention. He sure didn’t like getting in a shower that was for sure. He clawed me up pretty good, but I knew he wasn’t trying to hurt me. Taking a shower was just something different to him. Something he never had experienced. It was late at night when we got home, and he really needed cleaning up. If I could, I would have taken him to a river or creek to bathe him.

Shungamanitou and Montaseetha

That night, I prayed and asked his spirit to speak with me and help me to understand him, so I would be able to help. I began calling him Shungamanitou Wakan Tanka (Big Wolf). He liked me calling him that and let me know it. I had to watch him closely because at this time, just after I got out of prison, we were living in an apartment in town until we found something else out in the country. This was no place for a wolf and a Native to be living, for sure. The town was small and had woods, swamps and places where he and I could run wild and free, so that became our practice. At night we ran for hours letting him have his fun. Yeah, he really kept me in shape. The key thing to remember is that Shunga was a free person. We didn’t own him because we didn’t create him.  He chose to live with us. We took him to the mountains and forests, and if he wanted to take off he could. Yes, he would run wild and have a ball, but he always came back wanting attention. He loved living in both worlds. I could understand him. I lived in three worlds.

Later, Cat and I were told about a female wolf that was being abused and the people wanted to sell her. We immediately started hunting these people. Legally I couldn’t just take the wolf, so we went to see how much they wanted for her. I was sickened in my heart by what I saw. They were trying to force her to obey by starving and beating her. Cat grabbed my arm and said we should try to get the money. We went to friends and borrowed the money to buy her, but I made sure these people knew what I thought of them and if I ever heard of them abusing or selling a wolf person again, I would not be a nice person. This scared little girl was shaking and wary of me as I gently talked to her and led her to my truck where big wolf waited. I told him to be easy and take care of her, that she has been abused. He stared at the people and I could feel his anger. She joined our family and we called her Montaseetha (Morning Star) for the beautiful white star on her forehead. It took a lot of time, care and love to heal the damage, but eventually she chose to stay with us and fell in love with the big wolf. 

Montaseetha

Cat was a real sweet heart. She immediately began gently working with her. Wolves have rules they live by. Even dogs have some remainder of some of the wolf’s instinctive rules.  Montaseetha had a loving heart and just wanted to have fun and belong to a pack. We became her pack. When we would all go walking at night, we all had a good time. I had trouble adjusting to sleeping on a bed, so once Cat went to sleep, I would lay in the floor with the wolves. Later, when we went mining or camping, I also slept outside with the wolves. In the morning, I always snuck back in bed and just watched Cat as she slept and let her snuggle until she woke up.

When we found a place out in country, the wolves had freedom to come and go as they pleased. They learned how to open and close the door. They sometimes lived inside when we were working or sleeping inside. Cat even had them eating at the table. I had never seen such, she even had the big guy spoiled, letting him eat watermelon, corn, and even ice cream. Running in and out of the house playing, they knew Cat would give them a scolding, but just like kids, they would take off back outside and forget about it. When Cat felt they needed a bath, she would tell them it was bath time and they knew they were in for a treat. She would take her time and give them a good grooming. Wolves love attention. It is in their social order to reaffirm their affections all the time.

At the time, I was working as a brick mason, building houses. I got paid by how many bricks I laid, not by the hour, so often I worked around the clock by putting up huge lights using 400-watt bulbs. Sometimes Cat would bring the wolves to stay with me at night while I worked. Sometimes she stayed too and helped me, especially when I needed sleep. To really make good money, the faster I could get a job done, the more money I would make. If it took me longer than two days to finish a 60,000-brick home, then I would be ashamed of myself. While I worked, the wolves would run free and check out everything, but all I had to do was howl and they would come back to me.

Sometimes Cat would work while I curled up in the sand and slept with the wolves. When it rained or was bad weather and I could not work, we stayed home and made Native arts and crafts to sell. When we were at home the wolves ran the woods and played in the spring and rivers. When we were on the road, wherever we stopped, they ripped and romped exploring. Big wolf claimed shotgun seat in the truck. That was his seat and no one else’s unless he wanted to ride in the back. Montaseetha always sat in my lap and wanted attention. When she got in the back of the truck, she had her spot on top of the tool box. If it was very, very cold and bad weather, Cat dressed them in hoodies with socks for their feet. Hey, riding in the back of a truck when it’s 30 below zero is not fun, even for a wolf.

Cat and I loved to play and had fun wrestling. The wolves were not going to be left out of this play time. They always helped Cat and would attack together, nipping and then grasping an arm or leg in their jaws and pulling me in opposite directions. It just wasn’t ever fair. And when Montaseetha had her pups, boy was I in trouble. I became a chew toy for all of them. Cat is strong and fast and when she and both the adult wolves and 9 pups were all attacking me, it sounded like a real war going on.

When wolves are puppies the females are more curious and assert themselves. As they get older the males take over that role and the females become sneak attackers. They would run full speed and try to knock the back of your knees out from under you, practicing their hunting techniques as they would hamstring a deer or elk. The pups would be battling, asserting themselves to determine their rank and order. Yes, they do that from the time they are born. It may sound like they are killing one another, but they aren’t. They all love to be loved and want reassurances every day; this is the wolf way.

Cat had her hands full with all these pups running around, so we made a fenced in enclosure so we didn’t have to worry about eagles, hawks or owls, dive bombing and snatching up one of them. This way they would be safe. We used chicken wire to go across the top. The house was open to them too, but they had to go by Cat’s rules.

The pups were 4 weeks old when we took them for their first visit to the vets to get dewormed and all their shots, the vet was honored to have them. The vet said we needed to wait until the pups were 6 weeks old to get their shots because wolves are different than dogs and tend to have more distemper and rabies. So after their deworming and physical we brought them all home. I had powdered and killed all the worms on the grounds, making sure this would help the pups as well and the adults.

When Cat and I had somewhere to go during this time, we left the wolves at home. We didn’t worry, the pups had very good parents and even if we were going to be gone for a weekend, we had a friend who came over every morning to check in on them. They knew he was a friend and allowed him to go to the house to get their food and run their fresh water twice a day. Al was his name and he always loved coming over and drinking coffee and visiting. Al had a bad cancer. He was retired; had been a Navy police officer for more than thirty years. 

Al lived down the road and when he needed some help around his place or on his vehicles, I would always go over and help him, just the way I believe and was brought up. Elders need help, you help them. You don’t charge them or anything, you just do it from your heart. It was sad that no one had been helping Al before we met him. Al lived all by himself and he loved Cat’s cooking. We were happy for him to come over and eat with us.

He also helped the cattle rancher who lived next to us by watching his cattle and watering them and such when the cattle rancher was gone. The rancher was leery about the wolves until we proved that they would not kill his cattle. Wolves are very protective of their territory and patrol it regularly. I just had to introduce the cattle as part of our pack, our territory and the wolves would now protect them. Needless to say, the coyote problem ceased in that area and he never had any more problems with hunters driving into the back woods and shooting at his cattle either. For the president of the Cattlemen’s Association in that area to be happy to have wolves around, sent a message to others. We made friends with our neighbors all around. That was an accomplishment.

Wolves are protective of little ones too. It is their nature to protect. If a baby was alone in the woods and the wolves found it, they would protect it. Not harm it. You can’t even scold a baby or child around them, they don’t like you doing that and will let you know it very quickly. When we took them to a school to visit autistic children, the interactions we saw that day were nothing short of remarkable. These wolves were our family and went everywhere with us. They had fun always and loved making us laugh as they loved attention. This is where we reenergized and healed ourselves.

Cat Dancing 1994

These first months were very lean times, but together we made it. We worked together and would take any kind of job we could find. Some were odd jobs, but mostly I worked at construction and historic restoration sites. Beyond this, we worked on developing a business working the circuits and selling our Native crafts at flea markets and powwows.

Though we were always busy, I still did my prayers and was always willing to talk to others about Native American religion. I had been warned that where we lived, many people were not open to people with different religious beliefs. They did not want any other religions other than their brand of Christian and I would have trouble if I said otherwise. I had just come from living in a dungeon, being punished for being who I was and standing up for my peoples’ traditional beliefs. I sure as heck wasn’t going to stop now just because I was out of prison. I would not bow down to the demands and attitudes of small-minded people who hated me for what I believed in. There were many Creek Indian heritage people living in this area of Northwest, Florida and we were open to serve and teach them or any others who seriously wanted to learn Native culture, religion and even crafts.

Working as a team, Cat and I reached out to young people through the schools. Working with all ages of students, we taught them the history and culture of our People and of other Native peoples as well. Many young people came to us to learn. They wanted what had been denied them by others: knowledge, traditional practices, crafts, and culture. I believed that the young must be taught so that these things continue and are not lost.

Springfest, Seville Square, Pensacola, FL 1994

During this time, I returned to my art which I had started teaching myself years before. Working primarily in pastels, my paintings were a significant part of our business. We participated in a weekly meditation group, working with others who wished to progress in their spiritual lives. All the work we did was a real blessing for us and for the people whose lives we touched, and we both looked forward to it. Most people knew that Cat and I would come if we were asked or needed to be anywhere. We trusted Spirit to help us in these things.

Springfest, Seville Square, Pensacola, FL 1994

We worked with the handicapped, disabled, and elderly, and frequently visited hospitals and nursing homes. Cat and I both loved our private lives and time to just commune with nature and Spirit, but whenever we were asked, we would go to the hospitals, nursing homes or any place to work with the ones we had been called to help. Some Sacred Heart Hospital staff were intrigued by the natural medicines we used to help the patients and the doctors there were opened-minded about our work with terminally ill patients. Even folks who were not Native began requesting help from us.

Springfest, Seville Square, Pensacola, FL 1994

I am also a reader of people; a psychic, as some call it. I love people and consider this intuitive ability to be a gift from Spirit. Everywhere we went, people would come to me asking for help with their problems. I’m a simple man; nothing special, but I could and did work hard to earn a good name and an honest living. My spiritual calling required me to follow Spirit, and to do so, many times it took the money from our crafts and jobs to pay for the travel and expenses to do what I’m asked to do or led to do by Spirit. We always made money as we traveled by doing readings, odd jobs, or by selling our crafts, gem stones or crystals. This way everything was as it should be.

Shunga hanging out at Springfest

I received permission from my parole officer to travel which we took full advantage of. We made frequent trips to work the crystal mines in Arkansas for beautiful crystals to sell. Mining is hard physical work, but working as a team, Cat and I found it to be well worth the effort. While I dug in the mine, Cat would sort and clean the crystals I brought out.

Talking crystals with Step-dad 1994

In addition to selling the crystals, I could trade or barter for other things we needed. Often, I traded for stones, some precious, some semi-precious, to make jewelry, or to inlay in wood or leather. Often, I gave away these treasures as gifts to the elders and holy ones when we started making trips to visit the reservations.

Our travels to visit the reservations took us through many states: Oklahoma, Arizona, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and more. We even travelled up through British Columbia, Yukon Territory, and Northwest Territory to Alaska.

Cat and Ghost with a friend made in their travels 1994

Everywhere we went, we always spoke to people and educated them on our Native American struggles and the history that is not taught in schools or colleges. We met with tribal leaders, spiritual leaders and members of tribes and traded with them. They shared ceremonies with us and we shared ceremonies with them. I was always taught it is proper to always bring gifts of tobacco and other items when going to someone’s home, lands, or meeting any respected person, or when asking for help. I still practice that and teach the youngsters this way of giving others their earned respect.

On our visits to meet with respected leaders, we always brought gifts of sabias (natural crystals), and handmade items such as obsidian knives, beaded crafts, and such that I felt they had no access to or they might need. We also brought fresh tobacco leaves, packs of cigarettes, shark teeth, alligator teeth or claws, water bird feathers, or shells as gifts from the heart. When Cat and I set up our crafts to sell, we made sure we educated people on what each item was for, what each color represented, and each symbol meant, because traditionally, there is a story in everything we made. Everything has a spirit, and when making these we were creating with love and beauty always.

Life was not without its problems with authorities. My first parole officer tried to extort jewelry and money from me, with reminders of how easily she could violate me. This woman was reported by someone who witnessed what she was doing, and I was appointed another parole officer. Local deputies were an ongoing annoyance, checking on my every move, showing up at my place of work. Several times I was approached by federal agents and told to shut up and quit talking about all the Native issues and illegal activities involving the government.  Several times they sent in people to try to set me up, trying to sell me illegal weapons or other things. I would tell these people to get away from me and I had no interest. While speaking in St. Louis, MO about Native issues and our struggles, I was approached again by federal agents and told I would be very sorry if I didn’t shut up and mind my own business.

White Buffalo Crystal

Cat and I, along with elder Ria Wolf made a trip to deliver a beautiful all natural sabia or crystal buffalo as a gift to a real life white buffalo calf, named Miracle, that had just been born in Janesville, Wisconsin. The ranchers where she was born gave us special permission to do a ceremony there and to even video tape Miracle. The Harpers opened their home to us and provided us with hot coffee and friendship. They told us that many wicasa wakan had told them we would be coming, and they had been expecting us. We told them that we had taken the stone buffalo to many different tribes first for all their blessing and prayers to be done and it took us longer to get there with all the snow. After we completed the ceremony I was allowed to introduce myself to Miracle who had been watching me the whole time. I introduced her to the stone buffalo and sang a Lakota buffalo song for her. We placed the stone buffalo at her fence. The mother was very protective but knew I would do neither of them any harm. 

While I was doing this, elder Ria Wolf was doing blessing ceremonies and protection ceremonies for the whole place and for the buffalo people there. Cat made a video of the blessing of Miracle to share with all the tribes.  What we didn’t know was that we were being blessed too. The two wolves that lived with us were there as well. Shungamanitou Wakan Tanka (Big Wolf), the male, and Montaseetha (Morning Star), the female, were dancing. Her dance was coming into season. The two mated, and months later, blessed us with the first wolf pup we named, Pejuta, which means, medicine. He was born all by himself and a day later, eight more pups were born.  All were so beautiful and so full of love. The mother pushed the pups out of her den and the father let us meet each one before he pushed them all back inside.

During those 15 months of freedom, I was happy as could be! I had my beautiful wife, and we had a beautiful wolf family living with us sharing their beauty and love. My family was so supportive and loving, and when Cat and I set up near my mom’s home selling native arts and crafts, my entire family was there helping; even my grandmother helped. We were living the beauty of our traditions, teaching and sharing with all.

But the government would not leave me alone. Soon I would be hunted again and thrown back in prison for crimes I did not do and never would have even dreamed of doing. There was absolutely no proof ever given that I was the guilty party, and plenty to show my innocence. Even the FBI forensic expert would be a witness in my behalf, and the key witness who identified me from a photo at the scene of the crime, was none other than the same parole officer who tried to blackmail me. But the lack of proof did not matter. If the government wants you gone, they get you gone, and that is exactly what happened.

All my family, my loving wife, Cat, and even the wolves’ lives were turned upside down and destroyed again. Why? Why did this keep happening? I had not hurt anyone. I had committed no crimes. I had made sure I had witnesses and kept records of all my movements. Then I realized that I had been warned by the feds to stop speaking out about injustices. Well, just as I told the judge, he could put me away, but I will not be silenced. I will only get louder in speaking out against injustice. I just wish all those I loved and cared about did not have to suffer as well. After I was sentenced, I told my sweet loving wife that she deserved a better life than with me. I told her to leave me, that she did not deserve this, and being with me would only cause her to suffer. So, I told this dear lady to go find someone to love and enjoy life. I have another battle to fight, but I will always love you.

Cat Dancing 2003

Though plagued by heartbreak and depression, Cat would continue the business she and Ghost started together. For the next seventeen years, Cat worked the circuit of powwow’s and festivals as a vendor selling handcrafts she designed and made.

Cat Dancing Native American Crafts 2003

Published by Edna Peirce Dixon

I am an elder well into my eighties. I have lived an ordinary life doing all the ordinary things expected of women of my generation. But through it all, I have also been a seeker, an outsider by nature, always looking through cracks in the fences of life, questioning, challenging, learning, trying to make sense of the world and its conventions. A registered nurse by profession, I have long had a strong interest in writing and genealogy with a special interest in Southeastern Creek Indian history and culture. In my golden years, just when I was thinking “retirement,” some unexpected things happened that led me down a totally unfamiliar path. I’ve since learned it took a lifetime of experiences to prepare me for the challenges to come. My journey – indeed my calling – led me to a remarkable man, a Mvskoke & Ani-yun-wiya known as Ghost Dancer, hidden away for decades behind bars in state and federal prisons. Communicating daily by e-mail for the next nine years I had the opportunity to walk many paths with Ghost Dancer discussing many common interests with candor and respect. Most remarkable to me was Ghost’s absolute dedication to his spiritual leadership role within the Native population. With loving kindness at all times, Ghost shared many of his teachings, including lessons from within the sacred sweat lodge. A full index to Ghost's shared teachings can be found at GHOST DANCER'S SACRED PATH. Over time, Ghost gradually revealed his personal life story in small bits, like pieces of some gigantic puzzle. Now with his health a shambles, Ghost Dancer is at last free and has begun putting those pieces together; he wants the world to know the whole truth of his amazing personal journey in the chapters of his book in progress, ALL FOR THE RIGHT TO PRAY. As his friend and editor on JOURNEYS OF THE SPIRIT, I can say this is indeed a story so big that even after these many years, I continue to be astonished as Ghost reveals new details of his solitary walk on the Nene Cate (Red Road). From the day he was born, a happy, loving, gifted child, he felt a strong bond with his cultural heritage in a world where family loyalty was a sacred trust and Native roots were kept secret. As a result the callow youth endured many heartbreaking sorrows, betrayals and exploitations. As a young teen, Ghost heeded the call to learn from the great Native spiritual leaders gathered at Wounded Knee. The influence of the elders and spiritual leaders on his young mind was profound but the political conflicts of the moment ultimately cast this loyal young boy as a target of a system determined to destroy him by any means. For the next 40 years in and out of prison, Ghost would struggle to remain true to his calling both as a teacher and an activist fighting for the religious rights of Native Americans. (Note: Currently Ghost is focused on things he must do to regain his health and has put writing the final chapters about the the wrongful convictions that put him in federal prison for the past 28 years on hold. He still has dreams for the future so he will be back!) Ghost Dancer would later introduce me to Walks On The Grass, one of his spiritual brothers and another federal prisoner. Walks’ story on JOURNEYS OF THE SPIRIT is totally compelling, though very different. In LONG ROAD HOME, Walks has shared his decades-long spiritual journey from deep addiction to wholeness. He follows up with ALONG THE WAY and finally, LIGHTS IN THE DISTANCE as he prepares emotionally and mentally to transition to life outside after 37 years of incarceration.

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