By Rhoda Gilman
In the last issue of Universalist Friends, published in August, 2010, a “Plea for Universal Interfaith Efforts” appeared. (It can still be read at universalistfriends.org.) The letter was signed by Arvol Looking Horse, a Lakota spiritual leader who has been conducting World Peace and Prayer Days as he has been guided since 1996.
An account of the tradition of White Buffalo Calf Woman, on which the ceremonies are based, is on the web site of the Wolakota Foundation (www.wolakota.org). The initial step was to honor the four directions, beginning with the West. The first ceremony was held at Gray Horn Butte in Wyoming, where more than 2,000 people came together, mostly drawn by word of mouth. In 1997 Chief Sundown of the Joseph Bighead Reserve in Canada hosted the ceremonies for the North, and in 1998 the gathering moved East to Pipestone, Minnesota, a traditional sacred site.
For the 1999 ceremonies Chief Looking Horse decided on Costa Rica, thus bringing together native people of North and South America. In the year 2000 the journey was completed with a “Wopila,” a thank you ceremony, in the Sacred Black Hills of South Dakota, “the heart of everything that is.”
In its journey to Costa Rica, WPPD had gained international recognition, and Arvol asked members of the global faith community to continue holding the ceremonies at their own sacred sites. Since then the annual Peace and Prayer Day has been held in Ireland (2001), in South Africa (2002), in Barumbuk, the most sacred site of Australian Aboriginal tribes (2003), at Mount Fuji, Japan (2004), and again in the Black Hills.
In 2006 and beyond, the effort has been focused on encouraging everyone to take time on June 21 and unite in prayer and meditation to heal the earth. Prayer runs and horseback rides for world peace, along with educational sessions on sustainable development, are being held around the summer solstice each year.
In October, 2009 Arvol Looking Horse came to the Twin Cities to dedicate the sacred site of Wotakuye Paha (“the place of all the relatives”), which is known locally as Pilot Knob and also called Oheyawahi by the Dakota. A six-year effort by the Mendota Dakota community aided by environmental and religious groups, including the Twin Cities Friends Meeting, had succeeded in saving this river bluff from a proposed housing development. Two members of the Quaker Meeting are on the board of the small nonprofit that was formed for the purpose: Gail Lewellan, an attorney and noted conservationist, as co-chair, and myself as historian and editor. (www.pilotknobpreservation.org)
Word now is that Arvol will be returning next June to conduct ceremonies aimed at recognizing several sacred sites clustered around the junction of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers. This spot at the heart of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, is regarded by the Dakota (the eastern branch of the Sioux Nation) as their point of origin. There is archaeological evidence that it has been a meeting place of Native Americans for nearly ten thousand years.