Winter in the Badlands is, to say the least, formidable. The wind, hail, snow and freezing-sideways-rain can create a whiteout in seconds. It is one of those landscapes where nature truly has the ass over you. When he was alive, Crazy Horse used the unpredictability of nature and the vagaries of landscape to his advantage in warfare and hunting. He knew where his enemy and his prey would be in any given weather because he knew what the land knew. Winter made hunting easier because the deer, antelope and buffalo had nowhere to hide and had to move constantly to forage for food. Winter was also very hard on the tribes of Native Americans. Water would freeze, fires would have to be kept perpetually burning in order to stay alive, which would in turn alert enemies as to their location. It was a perilous time of year for man and animal.
The cross motif present in much Native American art is not Christian, it represents the four directions, or the four winds, as my friend Mark Turcotte told me. Mark is the great Chippewa poet I’ve known for years who has been a huge help in directing me toward what to read and look for when making these offerings. I’d been perplexed by the presence of so many crosses and had thought that maybe this element had been introduced by missionaries before they aided in the systematic attempted genocide of the American Indian tribes. As far as we know, Crazy Horse’s deities were rooted in nature. Like many Native American tribes, he regarded the sun as the Almighty.
In battle Crazy Horse adorned his forehead with three hailstones and red lightning bolts on each cheek. He also carried a small pebble or hailstone behind his ear. These images were powerful talismans in his life and visions. When it would hail, the Native American believed it was raining stone and, depending which text you read, this was alternately ominous and hopeful at the same time.
Natural phenomenon is almost always present in Native American art and textiles; weavings and blankets and rugs and bold patterns that reflect the temperaments and shapes of landscape and seasonal shifts.
The last time I was in the Badlands, I was aware of nature as a presence, as an entity. It is a powerful place charged with our most shameful histories, those sad resolutions of tribal fates that have forever etched regret into our American psyche.