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Indigenous people honor their elders

Tim Swimmer, seated at the head of the table, visits with some of his family for perhaps the last time. From left: Madonna Swimmer, Della Scare the Hawk, Tim Swimmer, and Marlys and Orlin Swimmer.

In a ritual observed down through the generations, the Blackfoot people try to gather around their elders for a farewell. One instance of that this summer was the visit of Lois Swimmer and other family members last month to their uncle, Tim Swimmer, 87 or 88 years old. Lois, herself a member of the Elders Circle at Cherith Brook Catholic Worker House in Kansas City, Mo., is from the Minnecouji Band within the Blackfoot Tribe. And the Blackfoot Tribe is part of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.

The Swimmer family convened at Eagle Butte, S.D., at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation where Tim Swimmer lives and where Lois lived until she was 14.

Over the Black Hills Reservation rises the Crazy Horse Monument. Toward the center of the mountaintop, facing right, the sculpted profile of Crazy Horse can be seen. It is said that a white person asked Crazy Horse, “Where are your lands now?” He replied, “My lands are where my dead lie buried.”

Asked what advice her uncle gave her, Lois replied, “That our ancestors always walk with us—we’ll always have strong ancestors who will be there for us.” She continued, “Ancestors have gifts. Their stories contain our understanding of where we come from. Their stories are alive.”

Lois referred to this uncle at last year’s Memorial Day observance sponsored by PeaceWorks. She told us her uncle had gone to the Vietnam War and came back with many burdens—difficulty sleeping, sometimes difficulty relating to people. The family has continued to try to bolster his spirits. In this Eagle Butte visit, which may well be the last time some of his family see him, they offered him their time and their love. And Tim Swimmer gifted them.

The Moreau River runs through the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation and heads for the Mississippi River.

—This story is relayed by Jane Stoever; both she and Lois Swimmer are part of PeaceWorks Kansas City.

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