2012 Bison Books paperback edition

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Mission Band Potawatomi Book Blessing Ceremony

  Sacred Heart Mission

Now that the Jim Thorpe biography is done, I'm convinced,  in retrospect, that it got done because it was blessed early on by a Mission Band Potawatomi blessing ceremony. Whenever I got discouraged, which was often, Jack Thorpe, Jim's youngest child, would smile and say, "It's going to be fine. We blessed it."

Jack was the one of Thorpe's eight children who became the most connected with the spiritual dimension of his American Indian heritage. He was the chief of the Sac & Fox Nation and has also worked for many years as a dedicated, even dogged, administrator and organizer for Potawatomi and Kickapoo tribal projects. He lives in Shawnee, not far from where Jim was born in 1887.

Jack took as his mission to expose me to some essentials of Indian life in Oklahoma. For several days I drove him around Lincoln and Pottawatomie counties as he pointed out his father's birthplace, the Sac & Fox headquarters on the former reservation land near Stroud, and the locations of Jim's mother's allotment. He introduced me to Ruth Sanderson, a full-blooded Kickapoo who builds the tribe's Woodland-origin bent-branch wikiup ceremonial structure each year in the same place on her mother's original allotment where is has been situated for over 100 years.

Jack also brought me to a Potawatomi funeral -- a private, very small, intensely spiritual and emotional ceremony it was a privilege to attend. Jack asked that I wear a long skirt (which meant a quick trip to the local WalMart). The Indian rite was followed by a Catholic burial in the little graveyard at the Benedictine Sacred Heart Mission church founded in 1876 in Konawa by Jim Thorpe's grandfather after the tribe's removal from Kansas.Charlotte Vieux Thorpe, Jim's mother, is buried in the same graveyard. The Potawatomi have been linked to the Catholic church.since their exposure n the 17th century to French trappers, Catholic priests and monks in their Great Lakes place of origin.

The only Sacred Heart Mission structures that survived the fire of 1901.

The blessing of the book took place at sunset in a wooden ceremonial structure behind the house of Leon Bruno, the former chairman of the Oklahoma Potawatomi Mission Band. A small group of us entered, stepping clockwise to make a circle around the fire in the center that had been lit at dawn. The purpose of the ceremony was not for personal gain, as Jack explained, but to ask for "help for good, to come out right, that no evil happens."  He told me later that implied in that request is a wish for patience, to let the goal run its course on "Indian Time."

The details of the ceremony are private and I will honor that here. However I can say that at the end I was given a deerskin tobacco pouch; I was to sprinkle tobacco at the base of a tree whenever I felt threatened or frightened. I was also given a medicine bag containing the four sacred elements of sage, cedar, tobacco, and sweet grass.

The tobacco pouch and medicine bag were on my writing desk every day for the seven years it took to write NATIVE AMERICAN SON.