(The Story of Spirit Wolf)
I was born in the year of eighteen hundred and sixty. I have lived a much longer life than my people would expect, and during that time I have seen much war, famine, and slavery. Yet, I have stayed true to my heritage, and have found life on the reservation to be more peaceful than living in the outside world. For here, I am protected, and I have my sanctuary away from prying eyes, which is something I will explain as my story progresses. Sure, we are poor, but we are proud and make the most of what we have. More precisely, we make the most of what the government has allowed us to have.
There was a time in my teenage years that I could run freely through the wild woods and prairies. To this day, I can still remember the feel of the wind caressing my long black hair as I released it from the leather thongs that held my braids in place. Were it not for my hair, high cheekbones, and the color of my skin, my tribe would have surely thought that my mother had affairs with the white faced men that travelled through our land from time to time. My golden eyes were a stark contrast to my onyx black hair and olive skin, making me an exotic oddity to my people.
When our tribe went through our various periods of hunger, our hunters would bring home rabbits, birds, and even bats to feed our people. Every three or four months, the large buffalo herds would stampede through our country, which was cause for much celebration. That was when our people would have our great feasts, and give thanks to the Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka, that food was plentiful. The women would set to work tanning hides, making clothing and shelter, and dry pemmican for the months when the buffalo were not there. Over time though, the herds came less frequently when the white armies would kill them off in an effort to starve us into submission. They wanted us to rely on them for our well-being and survival, but our spirit would remain unbroken for many years to come. We would simply pack our village and follow the buffalo herds.
I remember riding to the flowing river with my father one day, when we came across a slaughtered herd of buffalo. The bloody carcasses were left to rot in the baking sun, as though the white army was taunting us. The stench was enough to roll even the strongest of stomachs, reeking of decay. We relied on these herds for our survival, not only for food, but for clothing, blankets, and tools and even shelter. We ate the meat and used the hides to cover our bodies and feet. For shelter, the thick fur coats provided us with blankets to keep us safe from the harsh winter elements during sleep and travel. The hides would insulate our tipis. The bones, we made into tools which were both functional and mundane. The worst part about the hunt was the horrid smell of tanning the hides so they would last. The brains of these large creatures were used during the curing process, usually done after scraping the meat and fat from the flesh with tools made of flank bone. The brains were then used to scrub the hides until all of the grey matter had been absorbed, we then hung the hides out to dry. When the hides were dried and stiff, we worked them with our hands to make them soft, kneading them into workable buckskin. It was the work of the women, while the men hunted and protected, but it was honest proud work to make Wakan Tanka smile to see us utilize these creatures in their entirety. It was beautiful to see the finished products consisting of blankets, and beautifully sewn and decorated dresses, tunics, and leggings. The women of our tribe were especially skilled in the art of making and sewing on beautifully colored beads, sometimes adding small cowry shells which we often traded for. The work was long and tedious, but breathtaking.
I still recall the tears that ran in wet rivers down my cheeks at the sight of the tatanka (buffalo) graveyard, and to this day, the smell still clings to my nostrils with the memory. My father looked beaten, but Lakota men did not cry, as it was a sign of weakness, and my father was far from weak. To the contrary, he was a proud man who took life as Wakan Tanka saw fit. However, at 13 winters, I wasn’t thinking about the food that was lost since I felt I was ready to hunt on my own soon. I could feel it with each Hanhepi-wi as it rose full each month. The moon was speaking to me, and I could feel its primal call. I knew not everyone felt it the way I did, and that was something I could not understand, but would find out within the next year. My foremost thought was that I wasn’t going to get the dress, moccasins and tashina pte (buffalo robe) that my mother was to make for me as I travelled into womanhood. It was to be fashioned in a style that signified to the available men that they could start courting me as a future wife. I would be happy with any man I could connect with, but my parents, of course, hoped for the attentions of a warrior.
It was extremely important to my parents that the men started to notice me, despite my exotic look. They were determined to present me so that all potential suitors knew I was full blood Lakota, and that no white blood travelled through my veins. I was pure of blood, and not tainted by our persecutors. Everyone in our village, and the entire Lakota Nation, knew there was something different and unique about me, but couldn’t quite pinpoint what that something was. They all called me Shunkahah-Wanagi, which translated to Spirit Wolf, because of my protective nature and golden eyes. I reminded them of a wolf disguised as a human, and was told that the wolf was my totem – my spirit protector. They say I came to them in human form, because I was a wolf in a past life, and had to learn the human ways to truly be one with nature. The Wicasa Wakan (Medicine Man) said this was a path I had to take; a journey as human and wolf as one, because I had a great goal that could not be accomplished for our people in just one form. The Elder of our tribe, Grey Sky, had named me when I was born, due to my interesting nature even as an infant. This was a great honor and my only saving grace as I was growing up. When the other kids would try to accuse me of being a half-breed, Grey Sky would step in and tell them why I looked the way I did. I am still not sure, even over a century later, but I suspect he may have known my true nature even before I did. Knowing how wise he was, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.
During the time of the fallen buffalo, we often had to eat wild dogs for our survival. I couldn’t, nor wouldn’t eat on those nights. I fasted because I had an inexplicable connection with the canine world, feeling like it would be cannibalistic, as though I was eating my own people. Nobody could grasp the concept of my fasting on those nights, since food was so scarce, and was passing up the opportunity to eat the nutritious meat when placed in front of me after weeks of dieting on rabbits and fruit bats, and indeed they thought it amazingly odd behavior. I would catch and roast grasshoppers over the communal fire, even though I found it to be extremely nauseating. I once suggested slaughtering and feasting on horse, and was rebuffed viciously, since the ponies were great commodities for travel and for our warriors.
As for the dogs, I also reasoned that our warriors needed the meat more than I did, since they relied on their strength, and never once did I protest nor begrudge them of that necessity. I always had to seclude myself in a form of mourning, however, when those feasts were held. It was as if I were in mourning over a fallen warrior who went with Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, in battle.
When I was 15, a warrior approached me with my parents in tow, and asked me why it was that I would get so excited over the tatanka (buffalo), yet became so disgusted over the thought of consuming dog. “It is for our survival,” he explained as my parents listened to the exchange. “When we eat these that were given to us, we take on their strength.” I replied with a simple retort, “Would you think it acceptable if I ate one of your fellow warriors, who are protective and loyal? Would I then gain your strength and be able to provide for our tribe?” He walked away with a bewildered look and shook his head, while my mother and father looked completely and totally shocked and dumbfounded. They followed the warrior, but not before I caught him saying to them, “I don’t see how she’ll ever find a husband with these ideas of hers. How can he provide for her if she refuses to eat what he brings to her?” After that, they were out of earshot, but not before it dawned on me that I shouldn’t have been able to hear them at all! My hearing had become so keen in the past year, that it was almost hard for me to believe. It was all I could do to keep from chasing them down in a tantrum. Really! The nerve of all them! Why couldn’t they just support my convictions?
My father returned to me after a few minutes and said, “Honestly Spirit Wolf, How can you make such a comparison? A wife is expected to prepare and eat whatever her husband hunts! That’s how our people survive. Especially in these rough times, we take what Wakan Tanka gives to us.” The twinkle in his eye did not escape me, however, before he turned back to catch up to my mother, when I heard him say to her, “If she doesn’t like dog, we shouldn’t force it on her, White Petal. Let her future husband deal with her.” As I mentioned before, my father was a proud man, but I could tell he had admonished me solely to humor my mother, because as they were walking away, I caught him looking over his shoulder at me and offering a reassuring wink of his eye. I could see the humor in his face, and I breathed a small sigh of relief. No one ever brought the subject up again, and for that I was truly thankful.
Occasionally, I would catch a curious glance my way, but learned to ignore them and go on with my daily routines. As the full moon grew closer, I was starting to notice things that were a little unsettling. My hearing became more acute, my night vision and sense of smell had heightened ten fold, and my speed increased. I used to race with the others my age, but finally they refused to race because they knew I would win every time. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I knew I was changing quickly. The wolves started to come into our village to play and race with me, and I found that they were rapidly becoming my new friends. I was less like the human children, and more like the wildlife that I had so long revered. It seemed to scare many of my tribe, until three days before the full moon when Grey Sky held a circle of the tribe and explained to them, and me, what was going on. That there was a great battle on the horizon, and I was born to save the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) to keep the land sacred. Some would call me evil, but I was merely a natural born Skin Walker. I could see the faces of everyone in my village looking my way, trying to understand the gravity of what Grey Sky was telling them. I am neither human nor wolf, but both, a gift given to the Lakota Nation by Wakan Tanka. I was to be protected at all costs, and in return, I would protect them. I looked at Grey Sky, “Am I a part of Wakan Tanka?” He looked at me in all of his wisdom and replied, “In a way, yes. You have abilities that very few have. You are a rare breed, Shunkahah-Wanagi. Our creator made you this way, in order to protect our way of life. You are the strongest warrior we will ever have.”
Being a fairly small girl of 15 winters, this was very hard to digest, especially when I looked at all of the men who have protected our village; our women and children. How could I possibly be stronger than any of these fine men who were strong and fit? Then Grey Sky said something that unsettled me greatly. “This time, when Hanhepi-wi is at her fullest, you will change. You will become one of those great beasts you have recently befriended. You will maintain your reasoning, so do not worry. Your thinking in that form will be as it is now, so you will not accidentally hurt anyone. Don’t abuse it child, for you have been chosen!” With this statement, I stood, and on wobbly legs from the shock of it all, I made my way back to my lodge and lay down. I couldn’t sleep, for it all seemed too surreal for me. I could hear the cries coming from the circle, however, “He-ay-hee-ee!” They were calling to the Great Spirit, to thank them for my gift. I only wish I could have felt the same!
There were only three nights left until the next full moon, when Hanhepi-wi would shine on me. Three nights before my 16th winter. I was terrified with the unknown, wondering what this “change” would be like. Would it hurt? Would I really be able to keep myself under control? I had heard about rogue Skin Walkers in the past, and what they had done to humans. I knew I was protected, since I had someone to guide me through this and teach me to be a warrior, which I knew was a rare thing among women. Would this be a gift or a curse? From the sounds of it, my tribe had a great deal of faith in me, and I could not let them down and dishonor them. I had to start thinking of myself as a secret weapon for my people. As I thought about all of this, I pulled the buffalo hide over myself to keep warm, and finally drifted off into a peaceful sleep. It was cold out, and the snow had begun to fall. The new winter had sprung upon us, and I knew the moon would be the Wolf Moon, which made my thoughts even more unsettling.