Pete Catches was a native American Indian ‘medicine man’. Pete (Petaga Yuha Mani - He Who Walks With Hot Coals) lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota throughout his life, and for decades healed and instructed both Natives and non-Natives near his home and off the reservation. In 1964, he was named Sundance chief by the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. The following is from an interview with his son [also Pete Catches] in December 2006
John LeKay: Can you please tell me about your Lakota background and where you are from?
Pete V Catches: My grandfather was Ribsman, a survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre. He was nine years old as his brother was throwing him into a dry creek bed to run, as he was being shot. He lived with my family until his death in 1968 and I was 13 years old. He was very important to my life. He never learned to speak English. He taught me my first songs. This is my grandfather from my mother's side. My mother was Amelia. I am Oglala Lakota, one of the bands that is known by many as the Sioux.
We like to be called Lakota. It means the people of peace. My father was named Pete Catches Sr. and known as Petaga Yuha Mani (He Who Walks With Hot Coals). As far as we can count back he was a 37th generation medicine man. In Lakota society, to be a medicine man, it has to be in the blood line, the DNA so to speak. I am the 7th of 8 children.
My father knew before I was born that I was to be the medicine child. So when I was to be born, they prepared the sweat lodge so that he could give me his name and commit me to the Spotted Eagle way of medicine and my grandfather gave me my spiritual name, Zintkala Oyate, which means Bird People. The reason for this is that when a medicine child is born, any real medicine person can come and get that child to raise it in the medicine that they do. This happened. A bear medicine man came after me but my father was ready and told them that he had already committed me to the Spotted Eagle way.
My home is on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
JL: At what age did your medicine training begin and did you have to stay on the mountain for 4 days and nights to receive your vision?
Zintkala Oyate: I was born with it whereas with Dad, it didn't awaken in him till he was in his 40's.
You are talking about hanbleceya, the best way to describe it in English is the pipe fast which is a fast without food or water up to four days (how many days you commit to before you start) which is a 4 year commitment and it is one of the seven sacred rites given to the Lakota. It is a beautiful and powerful prayer. Mainstream society calls it a vision quest. One can have a vision but this is not the purpose, as there are many reasons a person will go on a pipe fast.
I have my medicine by birthright. It was very different for my father. I have done certain things to be able to do the healing that I do, but it is not something I would discuss in an interview.
JL: So can any Lakota do this pipe fast or do you have to be a medicine man?
Zintkala Oyate: Any human being who believes this way can do this rite if they get a medicine man or spiritual person to create the space for them. Remember Lakota means the people of peace, there is no color attached to it. Race is something that man made up.
JL: What does the eagle and the bear represent and why is the eagle feather used?
Zintkala Oyate: They are different clans.... the eagle clan, the bear clan, the elk clan, etc. Each way has its own teachings and understandings of the seven sacred rites and the ceremonies within these seven sacred rites.
The eagle feather is used to cleanse the mind and bring you to a higher state. The eagle symbolically is the closest to the heavens; the highest realm of consciousness.
JL: Were Black Elk, Lame Deer and Fools Crow from the bear society or were they from the eagle society, and what is the difference?
Zintkala Oyate: Black Elk and Lame Deer were heyoka which means that you literally say and do things backwards in a humorous manner but whose spirit helpers are the powerful thunder beings.
Lame Deer was the last true heyoka. If you look at this world, most things flow in a clockwise cycle but you also have that small element in life that goes in the opposite direction. There are things that Black Elk and Lame Deer did and said, things in a way to divert the tensions at that time when the pipe way was under attack.
This is a way they used their medicine to help the people. At these times our religion was against the law with 10 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine. Medicine men were being put in jail, pipe and sweat lodges were destroyed, and so on. This law was till 1979. This is one of the reasons that my dad wrote the book that he did. Now that we had more freedom, the Lakota was coming and learning about themselves from books and they started doing everything backwards.
For a ceremony to have the power it was intended to have to help you, it must be done the way that it was given to you. You can't take a little from here and a little from there and have the same results. Although all prayer is good.
Fools Crow was yuwipi. They use black in their ceremonies. In the Spotted Eagle way, we cannot use black in our ceremonies. We can only use life colors and can only do good with the use of our power. We cannot do something bad in the name of good. Our medicine would be destroyed. It is only to be used to help the people.
JL: What is the reason for the number 405 for Fools Crow's stone white men spirit helpers and also Lame Deer mentions 405 and stones that are used in the holy rattle?
Zintkala Oyate : A lot of yuwipi use 405 prayer ties. This is not my way so I can not answer your questions about this.
JL: Does that mean that Black Elk's descendents were also heyoka?
Zintkala Oyate: No, that does not mean that Black Elk's descendents would also be heyoka.
JL: Why was Lame Deer the real last heyoka?
Zintkala Oyate: According to my father, Lame Deer told my father that he tried to pass his medicine on but it was refused, so he died without doing this. If it is truly needed, it will become a reality again.
JL: Does that mean that there are no more thunder beings; or is it because a part of your religion has died, or is of no use any more?
Zintkala Oyate: No, nothing we do here has any effect on the thunder beings or the eagles or any of the spirits that help us. If there was a real heyoka they would show up at a real sundance and do what real heyokas do and I know what they do at a real sundance. They will always show up. It is part of who they are.
JL: Are you a pejuta wicasa or a wicasa wakan?
Zintkala Oyate: Pejuta wicasa uses herbs, what you would call an herbalist. I am an interpreter to the spirits. I work with the spirits. They gave me four roots that I also sometimes use, but it is the spirits that are the source of the healing.
JL: Was Crazy Horse a Wicasa Wakan and is it true that the medicine he carried made him impervious to bullets?
Zintkala Oyate: Crazy Horse had a power to protect the people. I call him the deity of the brave.
JL: I have also been told by an Apache medicine man that charging can be a very serious and dangerous thing to do; even resulting in death. He said he accepts gifts, 4 to be precise, for his services, but not large sums of money. Is this true with the Lakota medicine man?
Zintkala Oyate: This charging thing is very interesting and not understood by most people today. Of course a medicine man does not charge. But that does not mean that you are not supposed to pay him for what he does. Everyone has a different circumstances so what one would give would be of a different value to the person who is giving, say someone who had a lot, in relationship to someone who has nothing. There needs to be some exchange of energy so to speak, or if not it falls back on the medicine man and he becomes sick.
In the old days there was not money so a person gave something of great value to them for them to help them. Just to talk to a medicine man they would bring him a horse. Later on as blankets were of great value to them, they would give a medicine man some blankets, etc. for helping them. So people hear that you gave him a blanket, now everyone gives me blankets. How many blankets can I use? People aren't using their heads or their heart.
Today's form of barter is usually money. What is wrong with that?
In the old days the people made sure that the medicine man had his needs met so that he could do his job. We all have jobs and all jobs should be valued. There is no great mystery about it. It is not my place nor have I ever told someone what value their healing or life is; that is something that has to come from their own spiritual maturity.
That is respect. My father always says you get what you give. In the long run I think this is true in most things in life.
When you ask a medicine man to help you, there are two responsibilities expected from you. One is to realize in order for a medicine man to be able to do his job; people have some responsibility to help him. Prayer is a good way to find what is right here.
The other responsibility is that within a year's time, that person has a responsibility to the spirits. The way they fulfill that is to do something for the people; to help the people. This is how the "giveaway" came about. In the old days, when something happened like a son's life was saved, etc. they gave everything they had away to help the people. Their value was the value of family and love; not this material world. It is just that this material world we live in today has things all mixed up. Materialism is a spiritual disease and it affects everything these days. Anyway, the spirits expect this. What a person decides to do is up to them.
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