The inspiration for this blog came from a synchronicity that occurred while reading The Real RFK, Jr.: Trials of a Truth Warrior. It is connected to a trip I made in 2012 with my brother Peter to Porcupine, SD, to volunteer at a children’s camp sponsored by Ethleen Iron Cloud and her husband, Lakota medicine man Rick Two Dogs. Pete had made many prior trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation and first brought me there in 2011 where I met many of his Lakota friends and experienced my first inipi (sweat lodge) ceremony.
My new friends buffalo keepers Jeff and Ed Iron Cloud connected me to their sister Ethleen which resulted in the invitation to staff the children’s camp sponsored by their non-profit organization Knife Chief Buffalo Nation. My role was to keep an eye on the kids in 100 degree weather and teach EFT to their single mothers. However, I got more than I bargained for learning how to set up a tipi, sleeping in it with red fire ants and rattlesnakes nearby, and participating in inipi ceremonies every night.
In the process of assisting them to learn how to ride horses, I bonded with two young boys, Thomas and Brendan Running Horse, which has evolved into an ongoing relationship ever since including the rest of their family. It has been a privilege to watch them grow into responsible young men and go to college. Like many Lakota, they turned out to be talented basketball players who engaged my brother and I in some competitive games on the court near their home during our visits there over the years.
By the last day of the camp, I thought I was used to Rick Two Dog’s hot but mercifully brief inipis, when he announced he was going to make this one so hot that I would have to yell “Duke sucks” before he would open the flap to let cold air in! Rick explained with typical dry Lakota humor that they were all Carolina fans. I had no idea the Tobacco Road basketball rivalry made it the whole way to Pine Ridge, but I survived the hottest inipi of my life and sent Rick a gift Duke Blue Devil blanket when I got home.
In The Real RFK, Jr., there is a memorable story about how his father visited South Dakota during his presidential campaign in 1968. His advisors recommended skipping a planned visit to Pine Ridge saying “Indians don’t vote.” An aide added “we’re in a campaign, and he should knock off the Injuns.” He responded “Those of you who think you’re running my campaign don’t love Indians the way I do. You’re a bunch of bastards.” He made it a habit of touring reservations everywhere he went.
RFK, Jr. recollected “My father believed that America should be an exemplary nation, but we would never live up to our promise as a moral authority around the world unless we first went back and corrected or made meaningful amends not only for slavery but the genocide of the American Indian.” Their living conditions offended his sense of justice. “Once he told us that on the Pine Ridge Reservation he had seen an entire Sioux family living in the burned-out hulk of an abandoned car.”
RFK told his family, “when you are older I hope you will help people like this.” It turned out to be a win-win ongoing relationship, as RFK, Jr. would go on to become a founding board member of Indian Country Today, the largest Native American newspaper. He recounted “The night before he died, my father won South Dakota because of the reservation vote.” The newspaper editor said, “We did 99 percent of the vote for your dad. And we’re still looking for the people who voted against him.”
On the 25th anniversary of that campaign trip, RFK, Jr. visited Pine Ridge and did a sweat lodge with none other than Rick Two Dogs! Bobby used a New England metaphor to describe it, “we broiled like lobsters.” At the end Rick gave him an eagle feather and a Sioux name, Spotted Eagle Man. “They said that when I see an eagle, it’s a sign that God is watching over me, and I’ve always believed that all my life.” It seemed a fitting spirit animal for a lifelong falconer. Mine is the jaguar, like the t-shirt in the photo.
I saw RFK, Jr. speak at the recent Children’s Health Defense conference, but haven’t had a chance to share the Rick Two Dogs story with him yet. Maybe someday soon, as I’ve just started to be an active volunteer for his campaign. I’m aligned with the vast majority of his policy positions including on 5G and vaccines, so I will be assisting his quest to get on the ballot here in NC. In fact, this blog I wrote just before the 2020 election seemed to foreshadow his independent candidacy.