My name is Victoria Irons Graves. For years I have read The Edge and enjoy and learn. I live and work on the Red Lake Indian reservation in northern Minnesota. I was a bit offended by Cedric Red Feather’s comment (Interview: October 2014) about Native people being the most prejudiced people, as his wife had a bad experience at a powwow, in California of all places. I have been to many reservations and many powwows, and perhaps Mrs. Red Feather said something that offended someone. Who knows the story? Native American people or Indians, come in all colors and backgrounds in the 21st century. I have also learned from many Native spiritual advisors about the Medicine Wheel concept, which embraces all Nations. As a spiritual advisor and a person who is to be evolving and leading in this crazy world, I think that Mr. Red Feather has said something that could actually lead people to believe that we Natives are the prejudice. In all the articles from The Edge, I have never heard anything like this and feel that Red Feather should think about his own life. Just a note from us here on the reservation. Thanks, sir.
A response from Cedric Red Feather, Mandan Turtle Priest:
Dear Victoria Irons Graves: I did not speak for all Native Americans in the interview: I only spoke from my own experience. Each individual will have a totally different perspective, and that’s all right: it doesn’t make it right or wrong. What I meant in my comment is that what I have seen, witnessed and experienced is that Natives are always putting down other tribes, mocking white people and telling them what to do. As a Traditional Person, I don’t judge anybody at all. When I was asked a question, I was saying this is my life, because I am a Native person. As a kid growing up, I heard people make fun of other tribes. Later, I head them say people don’t have the “right” for this or that. I embrace all people. I’ve learned a lot: I’ve learned so much from people who have lied about me and judged me. I don’t have enough space in this letter but I will give you one example.
I went to a sweat lodge in Minnetonka in the afternoon. There were a couple of sweat lodges there, and anyone can use them. I was there with a few friends, and people were in the sweat. We parked a distance away and were sitting on the tailgate of my pickup singing a few songs. These people came up to where we were and said angrily, “You be quiet. You people are so loud. I am a sundancer and an elder and we’re having our sweat.” We were far away from where they were. I told my friends that if my mother had come out of the sweat, she would have said, “It’s good to see you. Where are you people from?” and “Have a beautiful day.”
In the reference I made to Janet, we were at a powwow in California and I suggested she borrow a belt to make her regalia look more complete. I wanted her to feel proud of herself in the arena. Her friend let her wear a belt she had made herself with a beautiful drop and conches. Just before the Grand Entry, a Southern Cheyenne woman came over and acted like the culture police. She chided Janet and told her she had no right to wear that belt, because she was not from that woman’s tribe. Janet never said anything negative to anyone at powwows or ceremonies; in fact, Janet gently told the woman she did not wish to upset her and took off the belt.
Talking of a Traditional person is like this. I was taught by Sam Little Owl and Ralph Little Owl. They told how a person’s identity is his spirituality, his religion. I’ve heard lots of people talk about tradition at powwows, then when they die, they all go back to Christianity, to their Christian roots. When Ralph died, we buried him in a buffalo robe. We sang traditional songs for him. We smoked his pipe and gave him the Last Meal and we gave him the Last Sweat. The ceremony was totally traditional, because he had lived a traditional life. Your heart — your spirituality — is who you truly are. My Uncle Richard Mandan never ever went to a single powwow during his life and yet, he was the most traditional person I have ever known.
I value everybody, and I don’t judge anybody — because I know from my experience that we are all connected. I love this country, very much so. I was wounded in Vietnam and got a Purple Heart. I do ceremonies. I help people. I just helped someone in Rochester who had cancer; but I never charge people for what I do. I don’t make vows or promises to anyone. I always have that freedom to do what I want. No one pulls my strings, and I don’t dance for anyone.
I have looked at my life, as you suggest, and I realize I have learned from everyone — those who are mean and ornery, as well as those who have embraced me. As a matter of fact, I have adopted several children who are white, Chinese and of different nationalities, because I don’t see skin color anymore.
I hope I have answered your questions. I don’t speak for any Native American or tribe. I only speak for myself. I’m not involved in anything political and I’m not out to change the world. My only concern is the spiritual. We all wish for good health and happiness, and I wish these for you. I’m glad you took the time to write. I’ve never been to your reservation. If you ever come to the Twin Cities, maybe we could have coffee together.
PS: Janet and I are divorced but are the best of friends. PPS: I want to forward you my book Mandan Dreams so you will know who I am. If you send the editor your mailing address, I will give you a copy of my book as a gift. We will keep your address in strict confidence.