Working With The Animal Totems
How I Became Spirit Bear!
All throughout my childhood my older brother Gary and I felt there was something different about ourselves. Something with a greater significance than we could understand as children something that would shape our adult lives, to an unimaginable degree. Growing up in the Midwest in the fifties and sixties was so much different than it is today! Back then we usually made our own toys. Whenever we would play cowboys and Indians with the neighborhood kids we always wanted to be the Indians. Our parents would without pushing the issue question us about it but never talked about our family’s heritage or who our ancestors were. It was not until a little later in our lives that the truth would come out, truths that made our parents grow up in shame. In the summer that I turned ten my brother Gary and I spent the summer in Tennessee. We stayed mainly with our Grandparents on my Dad’s side of the family. This would be a summer that would change our lives forever, and bring justification to our younger behavior. Our paternal Great Grandfather took ill and started talking about things we had never heard around the family before. Great Grandpa told us of how when he was our age he lived in a Cherokee village not far from where we were at that very moment. He told of how when he was very young there was one late fall morning when out of the morning fog soldiers marched in and one of them in a loud forceful voice began reading from a large paper, he then hung the paper on a tree. The old men appeared angry and the women all started crying. The younger men ran off to one side of the village and started talking they later called everyone into a circle and the village chief explained that we were moving the village to a new land in the direction of the setting sun. Great Grandpa would talk for a while then sleep for a while. But when he slept our Grandmother tried to tell us that he was just talking out of his head due to the fever he was suffering from. People of their generation were discriminated against because they were Indian. They could not get jobs, or go into most stores or restaurants, so it was customary to keep it a secret. We lost our Great Grandfather that summer. That was truly a summer of discovery, we found not only our Cherokee heritage but we also found out that we had both Cherokee and Shawnee heritage on our mothers side as well!
We were thrilled to find out this information, but it just fueled our desire to know more. That summer was a turning point in our young lives. All throughout my teenage years I was obsessed with learning more about our heritage. When I was a senior in high school things got kind of crazy my brother took off went to find himself. Over the years he went through about every drug on the street, during the early seventies I joined the military, when I came home I joined my brother on the street and went through a good deal of drugs myself, as well. During these days I did little if any research on Native Americans. It was not until my brother got clean and sober that we once again regained our interest in Native Americans.
My brother and I started doing Native American styled crafts, and selling them at craft shows, flea markets, and Powwows all across the country. We traveled to shows as far away as Maine, Texas, Wyoming and California. We would travel the Midwest and Northeast in the spring and summer months then stay close to home in the fall setting up shop in one of the local malls for the Christmas season. One year he decided to leave me at home and take our normal winter trip to Arizona with a friend of ours Juan, who is a Native American Flute Maker and Player. When he arrived back in Toledo on a Wednesday the first of March and he left on Friday morning for a show in Kokomo, Indiana. Everything was fine Friday, and then on Saturday evening after the show some of the vendors went to dinner together. As they were leaving he complained of a headache and got some aspirin from a vendor. Sunday he did not show up for the craft show. The shows promoter Darrel became concerned went to the hotel where he was staying and found him deceased. Darrel later contacted me by phone telling me that my brother had passed away the night before of a brain aneurism sitting on the edge of the bed one boot on the other off. This news literally devastated our whole family.
The rest of the year flew by and before I knew it, it was New Year’s Eve. I was sitting at home alone in my small one bedroom apartment wondering to myself why I was on the face of this big blue marble. The closer it got to midnight the bluer I got. Finally, I found myself going in the bedroom to my lock box. I took out my pistol and returned watching Dick Clark countdown to midnight in the living room. As I sat there they started the ten count and the ball started its slow decent, I decided at the touchdown of the ball I would squeeze the trigger. As I cocked the hammer back at the count of seven, I immediately felt a bitter cold rush of wind pass over me, however the flame of the candle on the coffee table did not move. At the count of nine I heard my brother’s voice say “Just what are you thinking? It is not what is in this life for you, it’s all about what you can do for other’s while on this mortal pathway!!” as you can tell by my writing this story I never pulled the trigger!!
The next business day I called to a local travel agency and I told them to book me a flight to Arizona, leave it open ended and a secure me a rental car. I flew off to Arizona two days later to walk the same walk my brother had walked the previous year, just days before he passed. A friend picked me up to drive me to the Detroit Airport; I made him wait while I returned into my home to get my portable cassette player. On the drive he asked me why I went back to get my player but no cassette’s. We laughed all the way there about how foolish that was. Upon my arrival in Phoenix I picked up my rental car and sat out driving West on I-10 and started looking for a hotel to spend the first night. I really did not want to stay in a chain hotel because they the same all across the country, I wanted someplace that said I was in the South West. Well before I knew it I was running out of the city. Since I had given up on my hunt for just the right place to stay I was already about halfway to my first destination which was the town of Quartzite. This quirky little town with a summer population 600, in the winter is the sight of a number of flea markets and packed campgrounds filled with retirees and people that have the luxury of having several months off in the winter. The first winter Gary and I spent out there we were amazed while coming back to the camper from Blythe, California we reached the top of a pass over looking Quartzite there were lights from campers as far North, South, and East as we could see. So I traveled on to meet up with our friends Juan and Rene Cruz which Gary had spent his last days with. They were amazed when I came walking down the walkway through the market to their site. We spent a pleasant afternoon and evening together, talking about almost everything. I left there heading toward California in search of a hotel, to my surprise I stopped at a Motel Six figuring it would be clean and inexpensive and clean was however it cost $169.00 per night per person plus tax totaling $208.00 for one night. Juan had given me list of places he and Gary had been to the previous winter, including one site that Juan told me that Gary had found his center.
On my “Vision Quest” I visited ancient Indian ruins, and some Indian spiritual places called in today’s language Vortex’s in the area in and around Sedona, Arizona. One such vortex is called Cathedral Rocks which is an awesome red rock formation that is the remnants of a prehistoric volcano which is located just outside of town, and it is where Juan said my brother had found his center. Upon arriving there my watch started spinning quickly in reverse from the vortex’s magnetic field. At the base of the ancient volcano were two small shallow streams that join together forming a larger river which runs through town. At the junction of two streams is a little island, the island is covered with small palm sized prayer stones. I wadded across a stream out to the middle to the small island, I took my own prayer stone and sage bundle I then lit the sage as an offering to the six directions according to tradition. I then sat down facing as due east as I could since compasses do not work there. I smudged myself with the sage, I then sat down, took out my cassette player putting in one of Juan’s cassettes put in the earplugs and started meditating, and I meditated for quite some time. While I meditated I saw myself flying over ancient North America I experienced the world as if seeing it for the first time. I saw large herds of buffalos roaming all over the Great Plains. I saw huge herds of deer wandering around the eastern woodlands. The air smelled fresh from the morning dew, and the fields were alive with color from the wildflowers by the millions. I saw Eagles flying alongside me, in flocks like seagulls. I saw large villages of Native Americans campfires cooking the morning’s catch of fish among the forest on what is now the island of Manhattan. Flying over the rivers in the northwest I saw salmon swimming so thick the Nez Perce Indians could walk across the river. I saw tribes visiting other tribes trading what they had in abundance for what the other tribe had in great quantity! The Native Americans lived virtually in peace for centuries, until one day when the dark clouds covered the entire turtle island which is today called North America. The old ones told of a day that would change the future of our people, I saw ships on the eastern shores. The Europeans landed and with their greed for land they soon started killing any Native that would not move out of their way! They promised our chief’s many things but never followed through with any treaty or promise. They told them they were going to take our land and they did. If we did not leave they, started killing us, no matter what age, new born to old, male or female. Seeing such horrible carnage I woke from my meditative state. After I aroused fully I stood to leave the prayer island to start taking pictures around the area, I realized I had been joined by a family who were also meditating.
Not wanting to disturb them I sat back down and waited for them to finish. They were seated in a circle holding hands. When the Father opened his eyes and raised their hands they all raised to their feet looking around. When the kids saw me standing there, they came over asking if they could ask me some questions. I told them sure and they started firing questions, such as, if I was Native American, am I a Shaman, what created the vortex, among other questions. I was answering their questions the father came over telling his daughters not to be pestering the nice man. I told him I really did not mind and was happy to pass on the traditions, and introduced myself. I found out that they were from Denmark and had lost a son totally unexplained and they had come to pray and meditate trying to finally rid themselves of their grief to help themselves as a family. They asked me to smudge them and perform a prayer with them. I smudged first the father, the mother, the youngest girl maybe twelve and then the fourteen year old; they were all four blonde haired blue eyed gorgeous Danes. We then sat down me between the two girls and meditated, once we had finished they all hugged me and thanked me for taking the time and effort. As we stood there talking I noticed a crowd forming on shore, I later found out that they were a tour bus from Pennsylvania. So as we wadded back across the stream the girls wanted me to hold their hands and the little grey haired ladies crowded around us wanting pictures with us. At first I was saying no but then the twenty something young tour guide walked up saying “Hey we are from Pennsylvania, we will never see you again, why not?” so I agreed!
I went the next day for a drive south heading toward Tucson, and the Mission San Xavier del Bac! Spending time on the drive in some small communities along the way was an eye opening experience. I saw the side of Arizona most people never see, while visiting all the tourist areas. I saw families living in dreadful conditions yet if you get an opportunity to talk to them they seemed perfectly happy and contended to be right where they were. I saw homes that were only sided halfway up the rest was just tar paper, homes that had tarpaulins for roofs, if they had a vehicle they were generally thirty to forty years old with paint faded or missing. But I guess if that is all you have judge things by, then you would be satisfied, or at least contented. It was as if I had been transported to another time and place. Here it is the year two thousand and I was in the middle of a third world nation in the middle of the most prosperous nation ever known to the modern world! When I arrived in Tucson I went to the local mall and had my photos developed and one of the Cathedral Rocks enlarged, I then went to the hotel where Juan and his wife were set up during the annual “Gem and Mineral Show.” As I approached their booth Juan looked at me turning as white as if he was European and he leaned back against the wall. Once I reached them he explained that when he first saw me he thought I was my brother. Juan was startled by the blow-up I had done for him, with tears in his eyes he asked me to title the photo “My Brother’s Prayer” and sign it, which I did gladly! I spent the rest of the day with Juan and Rene at the sale, wandering the sale occasionally. During one walk I met a man by the name of Manny Two Feathers; he is a published author having written an autobiography “My Road to the Sundance.” He told me that he felt I was on a quest looking for some answers and that I would find them.
The next day I drove into one community which was not far off the expressway, I stopped at a Circle K and in the parking lot were about ten tables full of sterling silver jewelry, and no two pieces were alike, meaning they were authentically Indian made. They even offered to be able to introduce the artisan to me if I wished. While standing there talking to two of the ladies I noticed across the street was an old man walking toward his back yard gate on his shoulders were two macaws. I mentioned him to the ladies and they replied “Oh, we call him Birdman! He rehabilitates wounded birds for release back into the wild.” They offered to introduce me to him, so we went across the road, they made the introductions and returned to their tables. He motioned me into his backyard which had a privacy fence all the way around with fish netting over the top! Mishawka was his name and he was in his late eighties, and to my surprise he looked at me and said, ”Come on in we have been waiting for you!” as he pointed to a full grown Bald Eagle standing proud in the middle of the yard on a tree stump. I looked back at the old man and asked, “What do you mean “WE” have been waiting for me?” “The Eagle has been waiting for you; he’s been ready for release since Thanksgiving Day. I have tried daily to get him to leave but he will not fly away! This morning however, he is making signs he wants to go, then here you are!” the Eagle had been brought to him by the Arizona Department of Wildlife to prepare it for release, it had been in a fight with a mountain lion and he had killed that big cat. Mishawka told me to go to the Eagle and pet him, show him you are his friend. I am thinking no way is this wild bird that’s more than half as tall as I am, going to allow me even get that close. As I neared the Eagle he turned and looked away as if to say it was okay so I stepped on up to it and slowly stroked the feather down its back, with the back of my hand. It was an electrifyingly surreal moment to say the least! Meanwhile, I heard Mishawka started chanting in the background. I slowly backed away from the Eagle as it turned his head to look at me ruffled his feathers then settled right down. As soon as I got far enough away to feel safe I turned seeing the old man sitting on the ground in the middle of a circle he had drawn. In front of him was a burning sage bundle in a conch shell, he was still chanting. When he finished he stood with the shell, and sage in one hand and a bird’s wing in the other and he invited me to enter the circle. I stood in the circle as he began smudging me with the smoke using the wing. As he finished he started telling me all about my life, things he could not have possibly known. He then named me Manitou Mukwa which in English is Spirit Bear!
He then asked me to get a wagon he had by the house, I pulled it to him and he went to the Eagle which readily jumped over onto the perch mounted on the wagon. As we cleared the gate the Eagle started exercising its wings. Mishawka told me, “I have brought him out of the back yard many times but he would not fly. This morning, however he started exercising his wings and prancing back and forth like he was anxious about something, until you pulled up across the street!” With that the Eagle looked over its shoulder at me squawked and took flight. The Eagle circled us standing there on the driveway a total of seven times then headed east up and over the nearby mountain. Mishawka continued to tell me things about myself that was kind of eerie the amount he knew. He told me that I have been selected as a healer, and spiritual guide, as we stood there I noticed the ladies across the street staring our way. Mishawka and I said good bye and he hugged me whispering in my ear “You have a gift, please do not waste it! Use it but not with pride in yourself, it is not about you, but about the Creator working through you (which echoed what my brother had said to me New Year’s Eve). We smiled at each other as I turned crossing the road back to the ladies selling their wares. All of the women circled around me, finally one lady spoke saying, “You are the one the Eagle was waiting for! We have a need, Maria has been told she has a disease and needs surgery, will you bless her by smudging her, and then say a prayer for her?” I tried to tell them that I did not feel qualified to do what they had asked. They explained that they would talk me through smudging. I took the shell, smoking sage, and bird’s wing Maria stepped in front of me and starting at her head I waved the smoke toward her as she turned around I smudged her from head to toe and back to her head, we then prayed. She thanked me and remembering what Mishawka had said, I told her that I had done nothing; it would be the Creator that she needed to thank. I turned and went to my rental car to leave only to find someone had left a wild turkey’s tail feather on the dash!
The next morning I drove north toward Phoenix, stopping off at an Indian casino in the small reservation just south of town. I went in and played the dollar slots four times winning absolutely nothing, saving the last of the five tokens to bring home for a friend. My plan at that point was to stay in town for a little night life, and a day or two reflecting on the events as they had unfolded. As I reached Phoenix I started looking for a hotel to hold up in, one that looked to be local owned and not part of a chain. I was on the other side of town before I realized it and headed for Sedona. It was forty miles north of Phoenix before I found where I wanted to stay. It was a small two story hotel with forty rooms and a restaurant; I stayed on the second floor at the end of the hall. I went upstairs to my room to find a king size bed, a Jacuzzi tub, and a balcony! I was thrilled to have a balcony I went out on it first, I guess just to look around and see how far the view went. It seemed like the view went onto forever. The smell of steaks on the mesquite wood fire permeated the area, so I quickly went inside took a shower and went down to dinner! The restaurant was pretty well full and I was seated at a table for four, and was only there about five minutes when the hostess came over and asked, “There are two ladies at the door would you mind if I seated them with you?” I told sure that it would be nice to have some company. The ladies joined me and as I would find out they were both Native American. They were both from Wisconsin, and on their annual vacation from both work and their husbands. Being Native Americans they told me they travel to different areas to learn as much about the culture of the different tribes. We sat there talking for more than three hours, finally I went to excuse myself from the table and they asked if we could go to their room and continue the conversation. So we got a bottle of wine and went to their room to talk once in the room I suggested we switch to my room, and sit out on the balcony. We sat and talked about our different experiences in the search for our past. We got so engrossed in our conversation before we realized it we were headed back downstairs for breakfast. After breakfast the Ladies went to their room to get some sleep, while I decided instead to drive to my next destination which was “Montezuma’s Castle” just outside the town of Camp Verde, Arizona. Needless to say once I arrived in Camp Verde I got myself a room and some sleep. When I awoke some four hours later I grabbed my camera gear and headed off to get some shots of a sunset. The next morning I was up early, eager to see the castle. After I had some continental breakfast I drove the ten miles out to a winding road that takes you down into the valley which leads you to the visitor’s center. I quickly paid the admission and stepped quickly to the building exit. The walkway to the base of the cliff meandered through some mesquite trees, I came around a curve and there before me was the castle. I stood there in awe, not wanting the moment to end. Once I had drunk in the view of this five story building that was first inhabited starting around 700 A.D. until approximately 1,400 A.D. by numerous tribes. I felt an almost magnetic pull to the castle, unfortunately at the time of my visit I was unable to actually go up into the ruins. I found a spot where I would not be in anyone’s way and sat down. I took out my sage bundle lit it and smudged myself with the smoke. I felt so at peace sitting there going over in my mind my life up to this point, I went over what I would want to be remembered for when I am no longer here. I found myself learning so much about myself and the only true meaning of life itself. So much so that I spent the next two days, repeating the same process.
After spending three days at Montezuma’s Castle I went to Cottonwood some thirty miles west, just outside of town is another ruins called Tuzigoot. Tuzigoot is quite different from the cliff dwelling of Montezuma’s Castle; it is a mountain top dwelling that resembles a fortress. At Tuzigoot you are allowed to enter the dwelling, however there is only one way in that being a hole in the roof of the in ground structure. There was only room for about twenty people inside the main room; the structure itself was much larger. From the top you have a commanding view on all sides, for distances of twenty-five to thirty miles away, including four communities. I sat staring out at the view, I then smudged myself, closed my eyes and turned my imagination loose. I once again saw myself looking down on the North American continent, this time seeing only this area but with lush forest, rivers running deep and wide. I also see people coming into the South West corner of the continent; these people seem to be the first to the area. They stop in several places leaving part of the group to build outposts, while the main body of people kept moving finally ending up in the Grand Canyon. Once they settled in the canyon they built lavish cities in the hollowed out cliffs. These people would be called later as the Anasazi. I open my eyes to find I was not alone a young Native American couple were standing waiting to talk to me. The young man stepped up to me asking, if I was a healer. He continued saying they had both had a dream that if they went to Tuzigoot a man would have an answer to whether they would have children. I had a flash of a thought of the woman carrying a baby, and without thinking I blurted out that they would. I then explained the events of the past week, and that they should not put much trust in my comment. I continued with some words of encouragement, I told them to pray over it, relax and leave it in the Creators hands, and it would happen on his time table not theirs. I assured them that those words of advice had no connection to being a Native American or anything like that, just from experience. Since my trip to Arizona I have read every book, studied everything I could find the internet, and discussed spirituality with Elders whenever possible! I have on more than one occasion had dreams of things happening that I have had the opportunity to step in and made a positive influence on the outcome. I walked up behind a lady I have known for several years I started massaging her spine between her shoulder blades and she told me later that she was able to get around without her walker for nearly three weeks. Now, I want you the reader of this to know that I am by no means bragging, but instead giving the Creator and only the Creator the credit for doing these things! I am praising the Creator for allowing me to be just one small part of these things. Because without the Creator nothing would be possible!
Here’s just a little about Mishawka, he at that time was 92 and still put in a long day’s work with the birds as he said they keep him young! The old guy was in WW II, as an Aviary Tech at least that was what he called his job. The birds he worked with were carrier pigeons that carried messages between headquarters and the frontlines prior to the Code Talkers! Mishawka was of Ojibwa blood, and originally from Northern Minnesota, while in the service he got to know a lot of the Code Talkers and took their invitation to visit Arizona and he never left. Mishawka in our brief encounter told me, “We are only the Creator’s tools, for him to use here on this earthly plain that he has spread forth in front of us to use as we saw fit!” these words led me to where I am today, a Sociology Major with a burning desire to dedicate my life to working with troubled teenage Native Americans that feel they have no real future in this white man’s world!