Honoring Native American Tradition

People of the North Country carrying on traditions of Native Americans


Story and photos by Nicole Weber

A teepee: a home, protection from the cold, a place to relax, to work and mend. Pointing to the Gods, the universe, under the stars and above the ground, Mother Nature. A symbol, icon to some, the teepee is a staple of Native American people.

The North Country used to be home to a few tribes, but as it is today not many indigenous, pureblood Native Americans live in the area in comparison to how many there used to be. Finding those who still remember and carry on the culture is a rare to come across. Here are a few ways to honor, remember and celebrate Native American Culture:

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Jeff Cochran teaching Medicine Wheel

Black Elk’s practice of Medicine Wheel

Jeff Cochran presents Medicine Wheel teachings and stories of Black Elk, a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Cochran tells about Black Elk’s journey in life and how he tried to inform his tribe of the arrival of the Europeans. “Wakka Tanka gave him [Black Elk] a vision, says Cochran, “ he was told the unnatural ones were coming with the unnatural tree.” Cochran explains that Black Elk’s vision was to warn the people of his tribe about the start of industrial civilization.

“It’s [knowledge about] the environment placed in spiritual context; it expands your awareness of your personal relationship to nature and nature’s cycle and forces.”

Black Elk tells about medicine wheel in the book Black Elk Speaks, “It is true and it is beautiful and it is for all men.”

Black Elk used medicine wheel teachings to explain occurrences between earth and the universe. “It’s [knowledge about] the environment placed in spiritual context,” says Cochran about medicine wheel teachings, “it expands your awareness of your personal relationship to nature and nature’s cycle and forces.”

Cochran’s medicine wheel practices are set up in a circle with images of the planets and images of occurrences and states in people’s lives. At the head of the circle, facing north, is a symbol of a tree with stars resting on top of the branches and streams of lights coming down towards a group of people on earth. This symbol represents the aero borealis, or the “wide giant that lives,” according to Black Elk.  Facing east is the sun from which it rises. The east also has the symbol of the earth and its layers continuing into the sky. The symbol representing the south is a picture of the earth. Cochran points out, “spring comes from south,” as well as the birds that fly up from the south after returning from the winter. The image of the earth is paired with an image of the human chakra. Facing west is a picture of the moon, which reflects the light of the sun. The moon is paired with an image of a city.

“The magic of the medicine wheel organized everything with symbols,” says Cochran.

Cochran tells of Black Elk’s premature talent and skills, like being able to ride bareback on a horse and at fourteen hunt buffalo by shooting one with a bow and arrow straight through the heart.

Studying Black Elk’s Life for 20 years Cochran says he considers Black Elk to be an icon just as he considers Jesus and Buddha.

Red Hummingbird Foundation

“The hummingbird is a Native American symbol of joy and rebirth,” says founder of the Red Hummingbird Foundation, Vivian Papson.

"Building a good, strong community between all people and learning and understanding Native American teachings."

The Red Hummingbird Foundation was formed in 1999 to create a program for the youth and to build the community by helping them know and appreciate others more.

The Red Hummingbird Foundation puts on Earth dance celebrations, Native American readings and other events. “It’s about building a good, strong community between all people and learning and understanding Native American teachings,” says current president Linda Hills.

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Medicine Wheel teaching

A more few events that the Red Hummingbird Foundation usual conducts are: a festival honoring ancestors, poetry readings, and ‘wisdom studies’ –classes studying and learning spiritual teaching.  The ancestry festival is an outdoor event held by Plattsburgh farmers market and usually takes place in May. Wisdom classes are once to twice a month. “Not of one religion, but ancient teachings,” says Papson regarding the studies of wisdom classes. Papson adds that the classes study ancient Egyptians way of life a lot of the time. “It’s about understanding of sensitivities and intuitions,” says Papson.

The Red Hummingbird Foundation has also participates in the Global Art Project annually. The Global Art Project is an international project where people make a piece of artwork and exchange it with someone from across the globe.

The groups mission being inter-community relations, the Red Hummingbird Foundation welcomes everyone who is interested to join, or be a part of an activity. “[The group] provides opportunities for people to get together and know each other, grow and develop together,” says Hills.

What do you know about Native American culture?

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