Using Wild Horses to Tame Wild Inmates

“There’s a term in the horse world known as ‘gentling.’ It refers to working with a wild horse until it becomes responsive to a trainer’s commands, meaning that it no longer wants to kick you in the face. If handled properly, it even bonds with its trainer. Gentling happens every day at the Silver State Industries ranch in Carson City, Nevada…. Up to 2,000 wild horses are corralled there at any time; a good number are trained for adoption. The ranch is part of the Northern Nevada Correctional Center, a medium-security prison that also houses minimum-security inmates. Twelve to 15 inmates, most of whom have little or no experience with horses, work under the instruction of a cowboy named Hank Curry. It is the inmates who do the gentling.”S. Kurutz, The New York Times

Gentling refers to working with a wild horse until it becomes responsive to a trainer’s commands. Sometimes the trainer and the horse bond. Credit Ryan Shorosky for The New York Times

Excerpt: Wild Horses and the Inmates Who ‘Gentle’ Them, by Steven Kurutz, The New York Time

John Harris, an inmate who is taking part in the program, grew up on a family farm in Northern Iowa, so he wasn’t a stranger to livestock. A mustang is not a barn horse, however. Often they are terrified, skittish and incredibly strong willed from having survived in the wild.

The inmates work under the direction of Hank Curry. Credit Ryan Shorosky for The New York Times

When he started in the Wild Horse Program at the prison two years ago, ‘I was a lot more aggressive with my training,’ Mr. Harris said. ‘I wanted something done now. That don’t work. You have to take your time.”’

He credited Mr. Curry for his softer approach: ‘Hank had to kind of gentle me.’Mr. Curry, who is 67, no longer sees his job as strictly horse trainer, as he once did. Instead, he said, ‘I’m a counselor, a teacher, a horse trainer. You establish pride in the guy and pride in his job, he’s going to be a lot more successful when he gets out of here.’ Most of the inmates he works with are nonviolent offenders, with sentences of two years or less, and they signed up for the job.

Inmates train their assigned horses at the Stewart Conservation Camp in Carson City, Nev.

‘I’m fortunate,’ Mr. Curry said. ‘I don’t have to deal with big-time punks.’ Everyone involved in the program recognizes the symbolism: the way the horses and the inmates are both penned up and how through the training process they rehabilitate one another.

Wearing dusty Levi’s, work boots and hand-me-down chaps, the inmates clean stalls and repair gear. They water and feed the horses and undertake the slow process of earning a wild animal’s trust. It’s dirty, bruising work in blazing heat. The Wild Horse Program at the prison isn’t unique. There are programs like it in Arizona, Colorado, California, Kansas and Wyoming.

It’s one of the ways the Bureau of Land Management is dealing with a population of mustangs and wild burros in the Western states that, after the 2017 foal crop, could be as high as 86,000.

Wild horses in Navada.

The inmates’ work culminates every four months with an adoption day for the public. The inmates put on a big rodeo intro, waving flags and riding around a roofed arena, showing off to the bidders in the bleachers their horses and, by extension, their equestrian skills. They have a competition as to whose horse will fetch the most money ($15,000 is the record).

There’s a lot of guys, they wish they could adopt out a horse themselves, because they’ve got that bond with them, said Mr. Harris… Me, personally, I just like seeing them getting adopted out.  ‘I look at them like us: I helped the horse become a better person so he can make parole.”

Category: Animals

According to Native Prophecies, The End of the World Is Near

“In the Hopi teachings,” he began, “we are told that toward the end of the world, Spider Woman will come back and she will weave her web across the landscape. Everywhere you will see her web. That’s how we will know that we are coming to the end of this world, when we see her web everywhere. I believe I have just seen her web.” That was Thomas Banyacya’s  (a Hopi traditionalist interpreter) reaction to seeing the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, which sends electricity from the Niagara Falls generating plant throughout Western New York.” ICTMN

Thomas Banyacya

Part of the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant in Lewiston, New York, is seen from the air on August 14, 2003.

Excerpt: Apocalypse Prophecies: Native End of the World Teachings, ICTMN

“The world was crying Mayan apocalypse on December 21, 2012, so it seemed prudent to explore other end of the world teachings. Even though the Mayans weren’t actually predicting the end of the world, we’d play along anyway. Some of those teachings are just as relevant in 2017 as they were in 2012.

Other Hopi teachings refer to the nine signs. The first sign said the white-skinned men would come, the second said: ‘Our lands will see the coming of spinning wheels filled with voices. In his youth, my father saw this prophecy come true with his eyes—the white men bringing their families in wagons across the prairies.’

The Hopi aren’t alone when it comes to prophecies about how the world will end either…Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac pointed to Handsome Lake, a 19th century Seneca prophet whose predictions are presented by anthropologist Arthur Parker in The Code of Handsome Lake, the Seneca Prophet  published in 1913. Handsome Lake predicted the world would end by fire in the year 2100…He also predicted the destruction of the environment, famines and war. One of his predictions, in section 93 of Parker’s book, even seems to predict the destruction of the ozone layer.

Handsome Lake — the Iroquois prophet.

The Northern Paiute had Wovoka, a religious leader who was born around 1856 and predicted the coming of a new world. He was also the leader of the Ghost Dance movement, which was danced to help prepare for the new world.

Wovoka

We don’t know exactly how he imagined the new world would occur but it’s clear that he taught that it would occur through some kind of cataclysmic event…maybe through a kind of earthquake…some sources suggest a great snow, said Jeffrey Ostler, a historian at the University of Oregon who has written about Wovoka’s prophecies.

‘It [cataclysmic event] would destroy or remove European Americans and then after that there would be a renewed world where game would return, ancestors who had died would return to life and Indian people would be able to live well again.’

Dave Courchene, Anishnaabe elder and the founder of Turtle Lodge, an institution that maintains the fires of traditional knowledge in Manitoba, Canada, says prophecies aren’t always negative. He told ICMN that prophecies, to his people, offer hope and direction.

Elder Dave Courchene speaks at the Traditional Knowledge Keeper event.

‘We were given instructions on how to live and how to behave and we’ve strayed away from those original instructions,’ he said. ‘What we’re finding in the world today, through the signs that nature is offering us is that we need to reflect on our behavior—on how we’re treating life and how we’re treating each other as human beings. It’s really parallel to the Mayan calendar when they talk of the new cycle that’s coming and then you hear so much talk about the end of the world.’

But he doesn’t see the end of the world as an ending, Courchene sees it as a beginning.

‘The end of the world can also be understood that we’re being given an opportunity to put an end to our negative behaviors,’ he said, noting that this new cycle will mean a return to indigenous values.

‘These changes are going to be somewhat difficult for those that have lived the materialistic life because this new life the elders are talking about is a return to laying down values and principles that whatever we create in our life must be grounded with those values,’ he said. ‘The principles of our understanding, of the survival of the people have always been based on peace, harmony and respect for all of life.”

Category: Culture

In Alaska: Cake Is King!

“In a modest boardinghouse on an Alaskan island just 30 miles across the sea from Russia, a handwritten order form hangs on the refrigerator. There are photos of cakes a few women in this village can make for you: rectangles of yellow cake and devil’s food enrobed in buttercream, with local nicknames piped out in pink. Happy Birthday Bop-Bop,one reads. Another, Happy Birthday Siti-Girl.” J. O’Malley, New York Times

“Eating in rural Alaska is all about managing the expense and scarcity of store-bought food while trying to take advantage of seasonally abundant wild foods. Cash economies are weak, utilities and fuel are expensive and many families live below the federal poverty line.

To offset the cost of living, Alaska Natives here rely on traditional practices of hunting, fishing and gathering… In a good year, they fill freezers with moose, berries, caribou, salmon or marine mammals, depending on where they live. In a bad year, they have to buy more from the store.

The offerings in village stores often resemble those in the mini-marts or bodegas of America’s urban food deserts at two and three times the price.

Cake mixes are the center of our little universe,said Ms. Erickson, who owns the only grocery store in Tanana. Credit-Ruth Fremson:The New York Times

Food journeys in via jet, small plane and barge. Milk and eggs spoil fast. Produce gets roughed up. Among the Hostess doughnuts, Spam and soda, cake mix is one of the few items on shelves everywhere that require actual cooking. As a result, tricking out mixes has become a cottage industry, and many villages have a  Cupcake lady with her signature twist.

Some bake as a hobby, while others do a brisk business selling cakes in places where getting to a bakery requires a plane ticket. In the far north, bakers make cake with fondant photo prints of Inupiat whaling crews and serve it with mikigaq, fermented whale meat. On the western coast, mixes may be prepared with sea gull eggs. In the interior, pineapple upside-down cake is eaten with a salad made of lard, sugar, berries and whitefish. Some recipes call for nothing but a mix and a bottle of Sprite.

In Unalakleet, 300 miles west of Tanana on Norton Sound, Donna Erickson  is a noted cake lady. Her most famous creation was born in a rush to get to a community potluck. She made a white cake and poured it into a sheet pan because she knew it would bake quickly.

Salmonberries

I mixed orange Jell-O with two cups of bright orange salmonberries. I poured it on top of that cake and I threw it in the fridge she said. People were just like, Wow, can you make that again for me?

Rural Alaska has some of the highest rates of accidental death and suicide in the country. When there is tragedy in Unalakleet, bakers bring cakes to the school multipurpose room and lay them on a big table with corresponding numbers. Popular flavors include salmonberry, tundra blueberry and low-bush cranberry.

Then the cake walk begins: People buy a ticket, then circle the table while music plays. When it stops, somebody draws a number out of an old coffee can. The person standing by the corresponding cake wins that one and the money goes toward healing someones family, Donna Erickson said.

It’s a festive environment even though it’s a sad time.

You should see the cakes; they are so beautiful. Village bakers are so brilliant.”

Category: Alaskan Natives

Tribes Protest Names of Genocidal Figures In Yellowstone

“Two tribes plan to demonstrate in favor of renaming a valley and a mountain in Yellowstone National Park, places they say are associated with one man who advocated slaughter of Native Americans and another who carried it out.” The New York Times

Hayden Valley Yellowstone

Excerpt: Tribes Plan Protest to Change Yellowstone Valley, Peak Names The New York Times

“The tribes seek to change the name of Hayden Valley, a subalpine valley just north of Yellowstone Lake, to Buffalo Nations Valley. They want to change the name of Mount Doane, a 10,550-foot (3,216-meter) peak five miles east of the lake, to First People’s Mountain.

Mount Doane

Efforts to change place names and remove monuments to controversial figures in U.S. history have gained momentum since white supremacists opposed to taking down a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee clashed in August with counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.

But several Native American renaming efforts — some simply to erase racist terminology from maps — have been going on for years. Elsewhere in Wyoming, tribes seek to change Devils Tower, the name of an 870-foot (265-meter) volcanic mesa in the first U.S. national monument, to Bear Lodge. Devils Tower is the name white settlers gave the feature. Bear Lodge is what the Lakota, Crow, Cheyenne and other tribes call the formation important if not sacred to their cultures.

In Yellowstone, Hayden Valley is named for Ferdinand Hayden, a geologist whose explorations inspired the park’s establishment in 1872 but who also called for exterminating American Indians who wouldn’t acquiesce to becoming farmers and ranchers.

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden

Mount Doane is named after U.S. Army Lt. Gustavus Doane, who took part in killing 173 noncombatant Indians — women, children and elderly men — in Montana in 1870.

gustavus Doane-Yellowstone

The tribes asked Yellowstone last year to rename Hayden Valley and Mount Doane. Park officials responded by explaining the renaming process overseen by the U.S. Geological Survey’s Board on Geographic Names, park Superintendent Dan Wenk said.

The Park Service has a responsibility to take up the matter with the board on the tribes’ behalf, said Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Brandon Sazue.

‘We are not individuals, we are sovereign nations, many with treaty rights to this region, and those treaties are enshrined in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution,’  Sazue said by email.

The Board on Geographic Names has received several emails on the issue but no official proposal to change the names of Hayden Valley or Doane Mountain, Geological Survey officials said.”

Category: Culture

“Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders”

“The New World.’ This romanticized term inspired legions of Europeans to race to the places we live in search of freedoms from oppressive regimes or treasures that would be claimed in the name of some European nation.Those who arrived in the Native American Garden of Eden had never seen a land so uncorrupted. The Europeans saw new geography, new plants, new animals, but the most perplexing curiosity to these people were the Original Peoples and our ways of life. Of all of the foreign life ways Indians held, one of the first the Europeans targeted for elimination was the Two Spirit tradition among Native American cultures.” D. Brayboy, ICTMN

L. Frank, Tongva is a writer and artist of theAjachamem-She is also Two Spirit

 

Excerpt: Two Spirits, One Heart, Five Genders” by Duane Brayboy, ICTMN

At the point of contact, all Native American societies acknowledged three to five gender roles: Female, Male, Two Spirit female, Two Spirit male and transgendered. LGBT Native Americans wanting to be identified within their respective tribes and not grouped with other races officially adopted the term “Two Spirit” from the Ojibwe language in Winnipeg, Manitoba, 1989.

Each tribe has their own specific term, but there was a need for a universal term that the general population could understand. The Navajo refer to Two Spirits as Nádleehí (one who is transformed), among the Lakota is Winkté (indicative of a male who has a compulsion to behave as a female), Niizh Manidoowag (two spirit) in Ojibwe, Hemaneh (half man, half woman) in Cheyenne, to name a few.

As the purpose of “Two Spirit” is to be used as a universal term in the English language, it is not always translatable with the same meaning in Native languages. For example, in the Iroquois Cherokee language, there is no way to translate the term, but the Cherokee do have gender variance terms for ‘women who feel like men’ and vice versa.

The Jesuits and French explorers told stories of Native American men who had ‘Given to sin’ and ‘Hunting Women’ with wives and later, the British returned to England with similar accounts.

George Catlin said that the Two Spirit tradition among Native Americans ‘Must be extinguished before it can be more fully recorded.’ In keeping with European prejudices held against Natives, the Spanish Catholic monks destroyed most of the Aztec codices to eradicate traditional Native beliefs and history, including those that told of the Two Spirit tradition.

In 1530, the Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca wrote in his diary of seeing ‘soft’ Native Indian males in Florida tribes dressing and working as  women. Just as with all other aspects of the European regard for Indians, gender variance was not tolerated. Europeans and eventually Euro-Americans demanded all people conform to their prescribed two gender roles.

Osh-Tisch, also known as Finds Them and Kills Them, was a Crow Badé (Two Spirit) and was celebrated among his tribe for his bravery when he attacked a Lakota war party and saved a fellow tribesman in the Battle of the Rosebud on June 17, 1876.

Squaw Jim : Osh-Tish (Finds Them and Kills Them), Crow tribe. On the left is Squaw Jim, a biological male in woman’s attire, his wife to the right.

 

The Badé were a respected social group among the Crow. They spent their time with the women or among themselves, setting up their tipis in a separate area of the village. They called each other ‘sister’ and saw Osh-Tisch as their leader. The elders told the story of former B.I.A. agents who tried to repeatedly force him to wear men’s clothing, but the other Indians protested against this, saying it was against his nature.

The Native American belief is that some people are born with the spirits of both genders and express them so perfectly. It is if they have two spirits in one body. Some Siouan tribes believed that before a child is born its soul stands before The Creator, to either reach for the bow and arrows that would indicate the role of a man or the basket that would determine the role of a female.

When the child would reach for the gender-corresponding hand, sometimes The Creator would switch hands and the child would have chosen the opposite gender’s role and therefore casting its lot in life.

The Two Spirit people in pre-contact Native America were highly revered and families that included them were considered lucky. Indians believed that a person who was able to see the world through the eyes of both genders at the same time was a gift from The Creator.

Category: Culture

Horse Therapy: Helping Break the Silence of Sexual Abuse

“The old warrior waited patiently for us. Although his magnificent regalia was heavy and it was hot in the practice barn, he showed no signs of irritation. He stood erect, with great dignity, stamping his feet a bit when he saw us approach.The horse was ready for the duty of ceremony, ready to bear whatever spirits needed unburdening…Red Clouds is one of several rescue horses who serve as equine therapists at the Sinte Gleska University’s (SGU) ranch on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Red Clouds is a member of Sunka Wakan Oyate, the horse nation. For Lakota people, Red Clouds is more than a horse, he is a relative, therefore his role as healer and therapist [in the] mental health program is especially potent.” M. Pember, ICTMN

Red Clouds wears his regalia. ICTMN

Excerpt: Horse Therapy Helping Break the Stigma of Sexual Abuse By Mary A. Pember, ICTMN

“Greg Grey Cloud walked up to greet the horse. The big man’s voice was unexpectedly gentle as he spoke to the animal. Outwardly, Grey Cloud could be described as gruff. In his sweat-stained t-shirt and well-worn cowboy boots, he was the very picture of a hard-working, no-nonsense ranch foreman. But standing close to the old warrior, Grey Cloud seemed to change. His bearing softened, and he seemed to grow vulnerable as he stroked the horse’s neck and prepared to share his secrets.

Greg Grey Cloud dresses Red Cloud, therapy horse at Sinte Gleska University’s ranch on the Rosebud reservation in South Dakota.ICTMN

The horse stood quietly as Grey Cloud spoke, hardly moving until the man finished his story.

Reclaiming the relationship with the Sunka Wakan Oyate goes far beyond the benefits of therapy. For the Oceti Sakowin peoples, Lakota, Dakota, Nakota, the horse nation is an important bearer of culture and spirituality and represent a means to return to the traditional health and wholeness of their ancestors.

Grey Cloud spoke so I could hear, but it seemed as if it were only he and Red Clouds in that dusty barn. Grey Cloud began his story, an awful memory from his childhood that has haunted and traumatized him for years. It was New Year’s Eve, Grey Cloud recalled. He was 9 years old. His sisters were 7 and 11. Swept up in drunken revelry, his father forgot about the children as he left their home in search of another party. Six teen boys remained behind with the children.

The teens began to drink. As they got drunker and drunker, their talk turned mean and lascivious. They decided it would be a good idea to rape the young girls. When they began ripping off the girls clothing, Grey Cloud stepped forward, shouting, kicking and hitting at the teens. The teenagers turned their attention to him. Taking turns, they raped him, laughing and calling him names he didn’t understand. At the time, he recalls feeling grateful that at least his sisters were spared. When they finished, they urinated on him.

Beaten and bloodied, he laid on the floor as the teens once again turned to his sisters. Somehow, he got to his feet and tried to fight them again but he wasn’t able to stop the teens, who raped his sisters.

The sisters cried for a long time. Grey Cloud tried to comfort them but was hurt and confused by their sudden fear of him, their brother. Speaking of it now, he realizes they now saw him as a man, the enemy.

Greg Grey Cloud speaks to Red Clouds.

Fearful of retribution from the teens and later of how the community might judge him, Grey Cloud kept this horrendous story secret for over 20 years. It was the horses, the Wakan Oyate, however, who healed him as he worked as an equine therapist and foreman with the Tiwahi Glu Kini Pi Program at the SGU ranch. Part of the SGU tribal college, Tiwahi Glu Kini Pi offers clients a wide range of western and Lakota culturally based mental health counseling and services including providing access to Wakan Iyeska (Medicine men), instruction in Lakota men’s and women’s teachings and equine therapy.

‘It was these horses who taught me that it was okay to be afraid, but that it wasn’t okay to remain silent and protect the men who hurt me,’  he says.

‘These horses helped me see that it was important for me to share my experiences so that we can help each other in the community to ensure this doesn’t continue to happen to other children.’

Supporters of equine assisted therapy believe that those who don’t respond well to traditional talk therapy can benefit from interacting with horses. According to an article in The Guardian, since horses are pack animals they are very sensitive to stress and body language. Horses pick up on the way people are feeling, mirroring their emotions and responding, providing feedback for people struggling with troubling emotions, such as fear and anger.

Although many health professionals laud the benefits of this therapy, it does not have the scientific stamp of approval as an evidence-based practice (EBT). Most large granting institutions, such as government and university organizations, will only fund organizations that use EBTs as their primary therapies.

The Oceti Sakowin peoples, however, need no assurance from the scientific world as to the powers of the Suka Wakan Oyate, not only to heal but to also imbue the rider through talking and working with the animal, with the courage and strength to take on risky, even dangerous tasks.

They also know the horse nation is a source of spiritual power. Long ago, according to Grey Cloud, when warriors faced a powerful challenge or adversary, they dressed their horses in fabulous regalia under which medicine people first painted special symbols on the horse’s’ body.

It is only by breaking the silence about violence and sexual assault that the community can heal itself. Greg was the first Native man I ever heard talk in such depth about what happened to him. He let us know that we can no longer be silent.”

Category: Social