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He Never Cries Wolf

swan & storm
In the Eyes of the Storms: Swan (left) and Hyemeyohsts Storm teach a compassionate philosophy of living and respect for the earth rooted in ancient Native American spirituality.

Criticized by some Native Americans for 'selling sacred secrets,' Hyemeyohsts Storm counters with an argument that no one is pure anymore, anyway, and the only thing we have in common is the planet herself

By Sarah Phelan

I DIDN'T NOTICE THE SCENERY on the drive up to Santa Rosa. Nose buried in Ralph Abraham's Chaos Gaia Eros , I was too busy taking a crash course in chaos philosophy to be looking out the window at the threadbare hills and red-tailed hawks. Luckily, I wasn't driving, so there were no serious casualties, but I did almost drown in Abraham's "three great streams of history," as I tried to find where an ancient spiritual philosophy and earth science known as the Way of the Medicine Wheels would fit within Abraham's posited metapattern of history.

The point of all this convoluted on-the-road research? Simple: I was about to meet Hyemeyohsts (Hi-you-may-ohsts) Storm, of Northern Cheyenne and German mixed blood. Since Storm was raised on Indian reservations in Montana and was the first writer to introduce the ancient Way of the Medicine Wheels to the modern world in his best-selling classic, Seven Arrows , I was hoping to impress him with something other than my crass ignorance of Native Indian spiritual beliefs.

But when I arrived at our designated meeting place--an uninspiring suburban shopping mall--my precocious philosophical questions were replaced by a much earthier reality: How was I going to capture the essence of this renowned spiritual teacher within a man-made cathedral to consumerism?

I needn't have worried. Hyemeyohsts isn't called Wolf for nothing, and his choice of urban hunting ground served both our purposes perfectly. For though there were no herds of panicked moose or stampeding caribou, the place was teeming with another kind of wildlife. The crowds of plea-bargaining toddlers, disaffected teenagers, and glazed-eyed housewives, all milling around against a backdrop of overflowing garbage cans and earsplitting construction work, conveniently illustrated the negative consequences of rampant materialism and the pressing need for Hyemeyohsts' pro-Earth teachings.

We were definitely a long way from the traditional trappings of painted powwows and steamy sweat lodges but, ironically, it was here amid theses hordes of product-grazing shoppers anxiously searching for brand-name identities that Storm was able to transcend human-made labels like "male American Indian" and speak instead as an Earth citizen.

That's not to say he didn't look Cheyenne. Indeed, from the moment I saw him walking proudly along in his black jeans and collarless shirt, I knew it had to be him. Maybe it was the arrow-straight shoulder-length hair poking out from under a white straw hat or the telltale feather sticking out of his woven hatband along with a figurine of Wehomah, the Wind Dancer. Either way, when I laid eyes on this old Cheyenne half-breed face, what really mattered was that I instantly felt at ease. And that's because of the way this man speaks to every race, culture and both genders equally.

Since we were in an indoor no-smoking zone, passing the peace pipe was out of the question. So we drank coffee instead and talked about his novels and the workshop that he and his wife and Medicine twin, Swan Storm, will be teaching at Mount Madonna this weekend.

To fully understand how this once liquor-drinking, war-loving construction worker became a clean and sober, earth-loving Zero Chief and Flower Soldier, you'd have to read Hyemeyohsts' most recent novel, Lightningbolt. In it, the angry young Storm, obsessed by poverty and warfare, meets
a Medicine woman named Estcheemah, who changes his life forever. She challenges him to become a healer and self-teacher and entrusts him with the legacy of the ancient Medicine Wheels, which he then writes about in Seven Arrows , making him world-famous and attracting criticism from Native Indian groups in the process.

swan storm

Hatter Up: Swan Storm travels extensively with Medicine twin and husband Hyemeyohsts, giving Medicine Wheel workshops like this weekend's at Mt. Madonna.

Does he believe that he's giving away the sacred secrets of the Cheyenne and Crow? Hyemeyohsts chuckles loudly: "You bet. The secrets are to love Sacred Mother Earth, to love yourself, to love the sky. If that's giving away secrets, then I'll go for it 100 percent. People also say things like, 'Aren't you a breed?' and I say, 'Yes, all the Indians on all the reservations now are breeds. There are no more full-bloods. And as a mixed-blood American breed, I'm very happy to speak of Sacred Mother Earth.' "

As for those who accuse a lot of Americans of being wannabes, Storm says, "I teach wannabe people to be wannabe all the way. I wannabe an American, I wannabe on Earth, I wannabe alive, I wannabe a woman, I wannabe a man, I wannabe a mixed-blood person, I wannabe loved, and I wanna seek. Sure I'm a wannabe. One hundred percent."

His message is really very straightforward: "'Where is spirit?' is really what I'm asking," he explains. "Can we go anymore to some pure untouched jungle, to some mountain top? You know, people still wanna do that, you still wanna do that. But where's it at? Machines have ripped the guts out of the jungles, and toilet paper is strewn in the trees. It's heartbreaking because we have not cared for our sacred planet, Sacred Mother Earth. So I guess you could accuse me of saying that not only do I like wannabes, but I'm even spreading the need for wannabes to be around. I want them to be wannabe people who love Earth and our Mother Planet."

 Hyemeyohsts storm

Life in the Equation

LIKE ANY CHEYENNE who grew up on a reservation in his generation, Hyemeyohsts Storm is a survivor. Despite the criticisms and endless hard work, decades later he and Swan Storm are still traveling and spreading the word. As he says, "No matter what country I'm in or what reservation I'm on, the talk always comes around to Life: Why is it that I cannot relate to sacred Earth when I can relate to alcohol and murder, television and crosses? Why is it that I cannot touch Sacred Life? Why don't people talk about Life? Where is Life in the equation of religion? Why is it that people who are very broken-hearted and sad can go to the ocean and find solace and comfort, but never imagine in their mind that they're looking at sacred living Earth?"

For Storm the answer lies in alienation from the Earth. "People have gone away from the mystery we once knew called vegetables, garden, chickens, pigs. Now people just go to these shopping marts," he says, casting his eyes over the surrounding mall, "where beneath this skin of plastic, we get the chicken. But at one time, you had to kill that chicken."

He starts singing, softly: "Kill the old red rooster when they come, when they come, be coming round the mountain when they come." He stops and smiles wistfully for a moment: "We sing the old songs, but we don't know what they mean anymore. And it's a great loss, because you, me, our children, our families and friends, we don't have the joy, the beauty, anymore of knowing the chicken."

But what about vegetarians?

"Most of them don't know the joy of growing a carrot," he says. "They don't know what a cabbage is. They eat foods picked by slaves in countries they have never seen, and doused with chemicals they could not pronounce. They never think about the fact that those things they are eating are alive. In the past, when Medicine people from different religions spoke with us, they spoke of things like grass, fish, water, trees--and these meant something to people who lived with grass, fish, water, trees. It meant their Life, but now it doesn't mean anything."

Looking up at the high ceiling of the mall, he continues: "We're sitting in a new kind of cathedral here. People come and worship what they can buy. This is where people socialize now, but the problem is they can't talk, don't know each other's names and are afraid of each other. So it's not a good place to socialize at all. It's a new cathedral with no meeting and no meaning."

When people become afraid and sad, Hyemeyohsts advises them to go back to the planet that gave them birth. "Go touch her, let her calm you, let her love you, let her speak with you. That's my message, and I think that it's been the message of Zero Chiefs forever. You see, it's not just a matter of modern religion, and modern this and that. People have had the problem of being intelligent for a long time," he says, chuckling deeply.

"I'm an Earth citizen," he says. "I like being on Earth. If I were on the planet Mars, I'd say to the person who was talking to me on Mars, 'Here's a flower that grows on Earth. Isn't it beautiful?' And I know that they'd instantly feel the love, and care for that flower just like everybody does. We've lost sight of that in religion--not in spirituality, but in religion. Religion has become dead in its point, so stopped in its meaning that there's no more room for flowers. Religion died within its own politics."

When people ask "What are we gonna do at Mount Madonna? Are we gonna go out there and get saved?" Hyemeyohsts replies, "No. Most people who come out there have already been saved one way or another. What you'll see is Swan and I, two teachers, who will speak of the ancient Medicine Wheels and Zero Chiefs, and maybe you might even see a little glisten on our cheeks, and that little star is a tear of joy that you've come to listen to us talk about Mother Earth."

That afternoon, as I headed home to Santa Cruz, the philosophy books were lost in the chaos of the backseat, as I soaked up the voluptuous curves of the Sonoma Valley, 100 percent. And I'm happy to say, a tiny glistening tear was rolling down my cheek.

Life's beautiful, ain't it?

Hyemeyohsts Storm and his Medicine twin, Swan Storm, will teach "Becoming Earth People" Sept. 13­15 at the Mount Madonna Center. Call 847-0406 for enrollment details.

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From the September 12-18, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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