Sage (pictured above) clears negativity and sweetgrass brings positivity. One healer, Whitehorse Woman, puts it this way: “I use sage to remove unwanted energy, and sweetgrass to invite wanted energy.”
Smudge sticks are a bundle of dried leaves or plants used in spiritual ceremonies to ward off evil spirits. This ceremony is known as “smudging”, an indigenous tradition that has been used for a millennium. The usage of the plants varies among different cultures.
Tobacco is utilized as the main activator of all plant spirits and known to the Native people as the first plant the Creator gave to them.
The plants are sacred to natives and most commonly tobacco, sweet grass, sage, lavender, and juniper are used for ceremonies. The usage of the plants differs because a smudge stick to one tribe may be totally taboo to another. The primary goal of the traditional practice is to remove negative energy and in turn gain purification.
Traditional Practices of Smudging
Indigenous peoples believe in the four elements of air, water, fire, and earth, which are incorporated into the ceremonies. Some cultures use abalone shells while some use bowls. Some cultures believe that the shell embodies the element of water, therefore balancing the other elements of air, fire, and earth. The ceremony is led by a Shaman or a medicine man; the plants are placed in a bowl or shell and lit. The smoke from the plants is further waved on by a feather or a fan.
Feathers have the ability to aid in the cleansing smoke bath. The feather represents the air element; the shell or bowl represents water; the plants represent earth and the flame represents fire. The inclusion of all four elements is mandatory to the traditions.
It is common to vocally chant prayers in the ceremony. The harvesting day of the ceremonial plants was strictly followed and people made sure that timing must be perfect without disturbing the spiritual aura.
Burned to promote happiness, open heartedness and harmony, sweetgrass is a sacred plant like sage that has long been used in smudging ceremonies.
Yet unlike sage, which is a shrub, sweetgrass is actually a type of grass. Traditionally, sage has been used to ward off evil spirits and cleanse a space, person or object. But sweetgrass—also called holy grass, vanilla grass, bison grass or buffalo grass—essentially does the opposite; because the grass normally bends, not breaks, when walked upon in the wild, it’s believed to symbolize kindness.
To many noses, sweetgrass has a distinct, vanilla-like scent, although to others, the aroma is more like that of a freshly mowed lawn or a bale of freshly cut hay. The leaves of the sweetgrass plant are sturdy but very fine, almost hair-like, which is why it’s often braided. This could be why natives also refer to sacred sweetgrass as “the hair of Mother Earth.”
8 Traditional and Modern Uses for Sweetgrass
1. Smudging Ceremonies:
When burned, sweetgrass doesn’t produce a dangerous flame; braided sweetgrass simply smolders as you wave or gently fan the smoke around the room. Taking inspiration from the traditions of indigenous people, smudging with sweetgrass is great for a releasing ritual, as once you release what no longer serves you, it will help to invite positive energies into your life.
2. For Protection:
When braided and worn around the neck or hung in the home, sweetgrass is said to offer protection from negative forces. The three strands of the braid represent love, peace and harmony, or mind, body and spirit.
3. To Make Baskets:
For centuries, natives have used sweetgrass for basket weaving. Amazingly, the baskets apparently retain their sweet smell for years.
4. To Reduce Swelling:
Sweetgrass contains coumarin, which has blood-thinning properties, making it helpful in reducing edema, or swelling. However, coumarin in larger doses can be carcinogenic, so consult with a doctor or herbalist if you’re interested in using it medicinally.
5. As a Flavoring:
Mainly in Europe, sweetgrass is used to flavor candies, tobacco and alcoholic beverages. Zubrowka, a popular vodka made in Poland, is flavored with sweetgrass, although the label on the bottle refers to it as bison grass.
6. To Sleep On:
Sweetgrass has been used by natives as a stuffing for pillows and mattresses. The sweetgrass retains its scent, which is said to have meditative properties—perfect for getting a restorative night of sleep.
7. To Drink:
Sweetgrass is often brewed as tea to soothe ailments like coughs, sore throats and skin chafing (like chapped lips).
8. To Smell Better:
Chippewa (Ojibwa) young men used sweetgrass as a type of cologne, wearing two braids around their necks, hanging down the back like hair. The Thompson Indians made a sweetgrass infusion that they used to cleanse and perfume their bodies and hair.
If you’d like to read more about the literal history of incense and smudging, check out this blog article at Vienna Imports.
How Buffalo Parts Are Used
By way of respect, tradition and self-sufficiency, after the hunt Native Americans used every part of the buffalo. The below illustrates how parts were utilized.
There are few publicly available videos on the subject matter. Editor's choice below.
Fellows Selected for 3rd Annual Feature Film Writers Lab
“It is vital that we prepare our writers to tell our stories and offer genuine opportunities to showcase our voices and stories," said LA Skins Fest Director Ian Skorodin.
The LA Skins Fest, a Native American film festival, in partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Studios, Topple, Cherokee Nation Film Office, California Community Foundation and Sony Pictures Entertainment announced they have selected 7 fellows for the 3rd Annual Native American Feature Film Writers Lab, a talent development program that aims to boost the careers of Native American writers.
Now entering its third year, the Native American Feature Film Writers Lab is an annual program for talented and aspiring screenwriters. Over the course of 10 weeks, chosen fellows develop a new screenplay, meet with partner industry organizations and receive feedback on their scripts from industry professionals.
Comcast NBCUniversal’s Craig Robinson and Janine Jones-Clark. The company has been a longtime sponsor of the endeavor.
“As the call for diverse voices increases, the Barcid Foundation seeks to develop and bolster our communities best and brightest,” Ian Skorodin, Barcid Foundation Chief Executive Officer noted. “Our aim is to provide unique, groundbreaking and forward-thinking programs, such as the Feature Film Writers Lab, to make this a reality.”
The Native American Feature Film Writers Lab received numerous applicants from several tribes throughout North America. The chosen fellows will take part in a ten-week curriculum curated by seasoned writing executives. The lab will consist of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring to help each writer develop and complete a screenplay in ten weeks and hone skills to prepare the participants for studio writing opportunities. At the end of the program, each participant will have completed an original screenplay and will take creative meetings with our corporate partners.
The Lab was created to expand the number of Native Americans working behind the camera to increase fair and accurate portrayals of Native Americans in film. According to the Writers Guild of America’s 2020 Inclusion Report, “of more than 2,000 screenwriters employed in 2019, only 27% were women and just 20% were people of color…Native/Indigenous screenwriters having almost no representation at all.”
“Our mission at Topple is lifting up marginalized voices and using the power of storytelling to ignite an intersectional revolution. It is our honor to partner with the LA Skins Fest and have the chance to work with these talented writers to bring their voices to the table", stated artist and activist Joey Soloway.
The 7 Fellows of the 2020 Native American Feature Film Writers Lab are:
Morningstar Angeline (Chippewa Cree/Blackfeet)
MorningStar Angeline began acting in theatre as a child and continued studying acting and writing throughout college. Behind the camera, she has worked in camera, casting, and locations departments and has received awards from the American Indian Film Festival, Institute of American Indian Arts, New Mexico Film, and TV Hall of Fame. She is a 2018 Sundance Indigenous Lab Fellow for her directorial and writing debut, Yá’át’ééh Abiní. Most recently Morningstar assisted director Zack Snyder on Army of the Dead and is a 2020 Vision Maker Media Shorts Fellow for her co-written script Innocence.
Chris Jenkins (Cherokee)
Chris Jenkins is a former educator and bartender from Evergreen, Colorado. His writing has appeared in Eclectica, Burnt Pine Magazine, Word Riot, and Inland. He has edited numerous magazines including Word Riot. He has also written two academic books, published in several academic journals, and written for several newspapers. He has a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State University, a master’s from the University of Oklahoma, and a Bachelor’s in English from Northeastern State University. He has now shifted his focus from academia to creative works and aspires to write and direct.
Randi LeClair (Pawnee Nation)
Randi LeClair graduated from Oklahoma State University with a BA in English and a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma. She received two Sundance Institute fellowships in 2010 and 2015, one for screenwriting and the other for film production. Her short film, Rariihuuru, aka The Letter, about Pawnee baseball player Moses YellowHorse, premiered at the Native Crossroads Film Festival and Symposium at the University of Oklahoma in 2017. In addition, her short film, Bridge, premiered at the Tulsa American Film Festival. More recently, her short script, The Circle of Chawce, placed in numerous screenplay competitions, including, WeScreenplay Shorts, Screencraft Shorts, and Simply Indie Film Fest.
Cara Jade Myers (Kiowa/Wichita)
Cara Jade Myers is a Native American writer living in Los Angeles, CA. In 2019 she was a fellow in the 4th Annual Native American TV Writers Lab where she developed a TV pilot from pitch to 3rd draft. That same year, she was a semi-finalist in the ABC/Disney writers’ program. In early 2020 Cara was among 12 selected as part of A3 Artists Agency’s program The Colony. She has created multiple shorts, TV pilots, and guest blogs. Her novel is currently in the editing phase. Cara’s favorite things to write are strong-female driven casts, especially in the realm of paranormal or sci-fi.
Scott Pewenofkit (Kiowa)
Writer/Director Scott Pewenofkit is a member of the Kiowa tribe of Oklahoma. In 2015 he graduated from the University of Kansas with a bachelor’s degree in Film. In 2018 he earned his M.A. in Media Studies from The New School, after which he made three very personal short films touching on themes of memory and culture. His work so far has played at festivals around the U.S. Scott currently lives in San Antonio, TX with his two young sons, where he teaches video production at a local art school.
Cole Randall (Muskogee Creek)
Cole discovered a love for writing after watching the performance of a one-act play he wrote in high school. He followed his passion to Emerson College where he recently graduated with honors, earning a BFA in Comedic Arts. While attending Emerson, he had the wonderful opportunity to write a feature script, a pilot, a spec script, a web series, another one-act, and he even co-wrote a sketch for Emerson alumnus Norman Lear. In 2018 he was hired to be the co-head writer of Emerson’s first multi-camera sitcom, “707: A Sitcom.”
Matthew Rochester (Eastern Band of Cherokee)
Matthew Rochester, born and raised in the Smokies, he grew up playing in the forest, using his vivid imagination to escape a rough family life. Matthew obtained a Bachelor’s in Film & Creative Writing. While obtaining his degree, he temporarily studied film in the Czech Republic, where he discovered his love for screenplays. Eventually he would move out west and obtain his Masters in Screenwriting from Chapman University. Today, Matthew writes stories that fearlessly approach sensitive topics. With a strange but insightful humor, he strives to turn life’s imperfections into valuable lessons.
The prestigious Los Angeles Skins Fest ranks among the country’s best film festivals and is an annual gathering for film industry insiders, cinema enthusiasts, filmmakers, and critics. The LA Skins Fest is considered a major launching ground for Indian Country’s most talked about films. Founded in 2007, the Los Angeles Skins Fest, presented in the historic TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, is a 6-day multicultural event celebrating the art of film, TV and new media. The Los Angeles Skins Fest’s long‐standing commitment is to join filmmakers and film connoisseurs together to experience great cinema. The exciting schedule consists of dozens of filmmakers presenting their newest works, special artist development programs, tributes to community leaders, special events, and remarkable films. Festival headquarters are in Los Angeles, CA.
The Seven Grandfathers
By Linda LeBoutillier
(Editor’s Note: The italicized copy that accompanies the myth is the author’s commentary)
The Anishinaabe Ojibway people teach their children a set of principles known as the Seven Grandfathers. The story goes that seven grandfathers (spiritual beings) were given by the Creator the responsibility of watching over human beings. The seven grandfathers sent a messenger to earth to assess the condition of the people and to choose someone to whom the grandfathers could teach the principles necessary for bimaadiziwin, “the good life” in the Ojibway language.
A baby still in his cradleboard was brought to the seven grandfathers, who agreed that this was the one they would teach, and who would be sent back to earth to teach the people. The messenger took the baby and went around the earth for seven years, then brought the boy, back to the grandfathers, each of whom sang a song and gave the boy a teaching.
From the Beaver Spirit, the boy learned wisdom. Wisdom is given to each of us by the Creator to be used for the good of the community as a whole. The beaver’s gift is his sharp teeth, with which he cuts trees and branches to build a dam. Cutting wood with one’s teeth wears them down, but fortunately, a beaver’s teeth continue to grow. If the beaver did not cut wood with his teeth, they would grow so long that he would no longer be able to eat and he would die. Human beings must likewise use the gifts and talents that they were born with for the good of the community. This is why Native people are troubled by the Western attitude of individualism as expressed in the phrase, “every man for himself.” Although they agree that each of us is a unique being, we are all charged to use our unique abilities for the good of the whole. The market mentality of charging what the traffic will bear or gaining profit without benefiting the surrounding community is completely opposite to their system of values.
From the Eagle Spirit, the boy learned love. Our first love is God, but our love for God is expressed through love for ourselves. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot love others. The eagle represents this principle in the respect that the eagle flies higher than any other winged creature. The eagle teaches human beings to “fly high” and to maintain a pure connection with Divine Spirit. This principle can best be expressed within a framework of spirituality that is not kept separate from daily life. To Native people, life and spirituality are one and the same.
From the Buffalo Spirit, the boy learned respect. In the old days, the Natives depended on the buffalo for many things in life, including food, tools and utensils, clothing and shelter. No part of the animal was wasted. Natives saw themselves as caretakers of the buffalo, and developed a sustainable, symbiotic relationship with them. The Natives showed respect for the buffalo, for all of the gifts it offered them for their use in daily life. This respect is extended to all forms of God’s creation. Native peoples share a belief that human beings are only one part of God’s creation, but not necessarily the apex of creation. Human beings share living space with all forms of life, and must respect and honor each and every form for its contribution to Creation as a whole. Natives were and are still troubled by the Europeans’ view that animals are inferior to humans, and they are very upset about the fact that buffalo, in particular, are in imminent danger of extinction.
From the Bear Spirit, the boy learned courage. The mother bear exhibits a ferociousness in protecting her cubs from harm, and in this, she shows us courage, which is defined as having the moral strength to overcome our fears in order to live life to its fullest potential. We must approach each challenge in life with the same energy as a mother bear shows in protecting her young from danger. Today Natives are calling on that courage to fight against the institutions of oppression that have been used against them by the mainstream of American society. They are taking back their languages, their cultures, and their spiritual practices, and they are once again stepping forward to identify themselves as the caretakers of Mother Earth.
From the Sabay Spirit (Bigfoot), the boy learned honesty. Long ago, a giant known as Kitch-sabe walked the earth. His job was to remind the people to be honest in observing the laws of the Creator, as well as to be honest with each other. When we are honest, we keep our promises to each other and to God. For Native people, one of the highest forms of praise was to say, “There walks an honest man. He can be trusted.” Since the early days of their association with Europeans, Natives have been troubled by the colonizers’ dishonesty as they broke the promises given in treaty after treaty, and they still wonder why the United States government abruptly switched to a policy of no longer honoring the treaties that they signed with various Native tribes.
From the Wolf Spirit, the boy learned humility. When we recognize and acknowledge that there is a higher power than human beings, we express humility. We express deference and submission to the Creator by accepting and honoring all of God’s creation. We give consideration to others’ wants and needs before our own. The wolf puts this lesson into practice when he will not take food until it can be shared with his pack. This is why Natives find it hard to accept the concept of human beings as the apex of creation, and the concept of gaining power over others without consideration for their welfare.
From the Turtle Spirit, the boy learned truth. For Natives, truth is a practical thing. To know these natural laws and to put them into practice in our daily lives is to practice truth. Grandmother Turtle is present in the world to ensure that human beings do not forget these lessons. On her back are markings of 13 moons, each representing one cycle of the earth’s rotation around the sun, and 28 markings, representing the moon cycle of a woman’s body. We are to speak the truth at all times, and never to deceive ourselves or others. This is why, for Natives, spirituality is expressed in daily life, and cannot be separated from it. This is why Natives have little respect for politicians who bend the truth to tell us what we wish to hear.
By the time he returned to earth to teach the people, the boy had become an old man. He gathered the people together to tell them about his sojourn and his meeting with the Seven Grandfathers. He told the people that each of these teachings must be used together with all the rest. None of the teachings was to be left out.
(Lead Illustration Credit: The Southern Network)
(Animal Photos: Wikipedia)
• • •
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Non-Native Linda LeBoutillier is a retired teacher and started her blog to further develop her writing skills and personal sensibilities. Her focus is to learn more about Native Americans and share that knowledge with others. The Seven Grandfathers was written during Native American Heritage Month, and Ms. LeBoutillier stated, "I challenged myself to write something about Natives every day that month."
The 2019 Gathering of Nations Pow Wow & Miss Indian World
Runner up Dinée Dorame (left), 2018 Miss Indian World Taylor Susan (center) and runner up Lori Martin Kingbird (right) pose for a photo. (Photo Credit: Gathering of Nations)
Online ticket sales have opened for the 2019 Gathering of Nations Pow Wow and Miss Indian World Competition at gatheringofnations.com. The 36th Annual Gathering of Nations events will begin Thursday, April 25, and run through Saturday, April 27, 2019 in Albuquerque N.M. The Miss Indian World Talent Competition takes place at the Albuquerque Convention Center, and the Powwow takes place Friday and Saturday (April 26 & 27) on the “Powwow Grounds” At Expo NM/Tingley Coliseum.
Considered the most prominent, popular and legendary Native American event in North America, the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow will host tens of thousands of people and include over 750 tribes from throughout the United States, Canada, and around the world. The three-day festival features over 3,000 traditional Native American singers and dancers competing for prizes, and more than 800 Native artisans, craftsmen and traders will be participating, displaying and selling their work in the Indian Trader`s Market. New for 2019, the Indian Traders Market will be enhanced as the big vendor tent is gone. Stage 49 will feature a wide variety of musical entertainment by contemporary Indigenous and other musical groups, along with other exciting entertainment. Roving performance groups will be seen in various locations around the powwow grounds, and performance line-ups are to be announced at a later date. The Native Food Court is expanded and offering guests a large variety of food choices along with traditional Native American fare.
The three-day festival will feature over three thousand traditional singers and dancers competing for prizes. (Photo Credit: Derek Mathews, Courtesy of Gathering of Nations Limited)
Miss Indian World Program: A majestic and dynamic part of the Gathering of Nations is the crowning of Miss Indian World, who represents all Native and Indigenous people, and serves as a Goodwill Cultural Ambassador for one year. The week-long Miss Indian World Competition is the largest and most prestigious cultural pageants for Native American and Indigenous women. The contestants compete in areas inclusive of tribal knowledge; Personal Interview, Essay, Public Speaking, Traditional Presentation, and Traditional Dance. The Miss Indian World Contest is not a beauty pageant.
(Photo Credit: Derek Mathews, Courtesy of Gathering of Nations Limited)
The Gathering of Nations strives to give a positive cultural, spiritual, entertaining and exhilarating experience for all who attend. This will be the second year for the Traditional Horse and Rider Regalia Parade; honors the “Horse Culture” of Native Tribes. The “Powwow Grounds” has provided the space and room to expand this featured event with increased occupant capacity. The Teepee Village on the powwow grounds a relaxing place to enjoy the ambiance of the powwow with friends. At night the Powwow Grounds light up under entrancing colors of light enhancing the powwow experience.
Dates, Times, Locations, Additional Information:
Thursday, April 25, 2019, 7:00pm – Miss Indian World Competition at the Albuquerque Convention Center in downtown Albuquerque.
Friday, April 26, 2019, 12:00pm (noon) - The much-anticipated Grand Entry, where thousands of dancers simultaneously enter the dance floor inside Tingley Coliseum, dressed in colorful traditional regalia, to the sounds of rhythmic drums. The Grand Entry will be repeated Friday evening at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, April 27, at 12 p.m. (noon) and 6 p.m. The new Miss Indian World will be crowned on Saturday evening, at the powwow after the Grand Entry. In addition, reservations for on-sight camping, Miss Indian World Contestant Applications, Vendor Applications, Stage 49 Performance group Application & Info and Official Merchandise are available on the Gathering of Nations website.
ABOUT GATHERING OF NATIONS:
Over the past 36 years the Gathering of Nations has grown from an early, simple dream to one of the world’s most recognized annual Native American festivals. The concept has always been to produce an annual event where Native peoples unite to celebrate and share culture, and singers and dancers can feel confident the prize competition is fair to all. The Gathering of Nations experience does not end when you leave and head for home, but lives on in your heart and mind.
The Department of Homeland Security's Special Partnership with Native Americans
I remember attending an event at the Library of Congress several years ago when I was serving at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that highlighted the contributions Native Americans have made to DHS. I came away very impressed by the dedication and capabilities of Native Americans who serve in law enforcement, and the important role many are playing in securing our borders.
Unfortunately, Native American contributions to US national security have been largely unheralded. The Navajo Code Talkers of World War II played an amazing role in helping the US and its allies achieve victory in World War II. Today, over 22,000 Native Americans serve in the Armed Forces and have the highest per capita serving in the military of any ethnic group protecting the homeland.
At DHS, Native Americans continue this proud tradition of service. DHS maintains the Tribal Desk within the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs as the designated lead for tribal relations and consultation at DHS. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have especially strong tribal partnerships. CBP works closely with Native American leaders to strengthen security along the nation’s Southwest and Northern borders, as many US Border Patrol sectors encompass Indian land adjacent to these borders.
Cooperation between DHS and tribal police has also significantly impacted the security of our borders, especially in remote areas where drug smugglers and others illegally seek to enter the United States. Native American lands also contain many critical infrastructures such as dams, power transmission facilities, oil and gas fields, railroads and interstate highways that are potential terrorist targets. Ongoing programs and projects at DHS have been established to maximize cooperation between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement to protect these vital infrastructure assets.
FEMA is engaged with Native Americans primarily to prepare for responding to emergencies. FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness is active in training Native Americans from 23 tribes and ten states in preparation for mass casualty responses to natural or man-made disasters. This training includes operating command center communications and medical and public healthcare operations. These realistic scenarios are also becoming part of online coursework and will no doubt improve protection of both people and land.
In 2010, DHS unveiled The Tribal and Coordination Plan, an initiative that calls for increased consultation and coordination with federally recognized tribes across the United States that builds on “current tribal partnerships to protect the safety and security of all people on tribal lands and throughout the nations.” Under the plan, DHS solicited feedback from all 564 federally-recognized tribes and hired a dedicated tribal liaison in the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs to serve as a central point of contact for tribal governments and coordinate the work of the tribal liaisons across the department.
The initiative also called for dedicating staff resources to tribal engagement and enhancing training for DHS tribal liaisons and other employees that regularly engage tribal governments and representatives; incorporating tribal public safety and law enforcement agencies into state and local fusion centers; development of a Tribal Resource Guide for tribal leadership that highlights pertinent DHS programs and initiatives; and collaboration with tribal governments in the development of DHS policies that have tribal implications. In addition, the plan calls for working across the federal government to formalize a “one stop shop” for tribal governments for emergency management mitigation, planning, response and recovery efforts.
DHS’s Tribal and Coordination Plan is a great foundation to expand on the cooperation with Native American Tribes. For example, with a major shortage of skilled cybersecurity workers at DHS as the department’s mandate is increasing in scope and responsibilities, it would be great if a serious effort were made by Congress and DHS to cultivate the next generation of cybersecurity experts from many of the economically depressed areas within the Indian tribes.
Investment by government, industry and academia to train Native Americans in an accelerated cybersecurity curriculum, combined with real world experience via internships and fellowships, would yield high dividends for America’s cyber-readiness. Further engagement of Native American Tribal partners that have a strong, proven heritage of dedication and service could be a blessing for the future of homeland security.
Reprinted from Homeland Security Today and Indian Country News
Charles (Chuck) Brooks was the Department of Homeland Security’s first Director of Legislative Affairs for the Science & Technology Directorate. A former faculty member of John Hopkins University, he is widely published on the topics of innovation, public/private partnerships, emerging technologies, homeland security and cybersecurity.