With the beautiful mountain of Bear Butte in the background, about 20 Northern Cheyenne youth, chaperones, cooks, and speakers gathered at the Bear Butte Lodge just outside of Sturgis, South Dakota for the first Coming of Age Gathering on October 21st – 23rd. The Coming of Age Gathering strived to reconnect the youth to their identities by introducing them to the philosophy and concepts of the Medicine Wheel Model and exposing them to teachings from respected elders from the Northern Cheyenne Community.
The gathering was designed to reflect the philosophy of the Medicine Wheel Model, which is based in Northern Cheyenne teachings, so that the youth could learn concepts such as Left Brain/Right Brain, Linear and Circular Thinking, and the Mirror Concept. The speakers and elders integrated these concepts into their presentations and discussions so the youth could learn how to utilize what they learned to deal with everyday, contemporary issues they may encounter.
On Saturday, the youth learned how to care for a sweat lodge, which included cleaning in and around the lodge, putting the fire together, and taking the lodge apart after use. In addition, they learned how to prepare, feed, and clean up the meal after the sweat. With this they learned how to communicate with each other and work as a group. Elders, speakers, and youth participated in several discussion sessions that focused on the rights, responsibilities, and sacredness of men and women. Some of these sessions were separated into males and females, so that the women elders and speakers could communicate to the young women about their sacredness, how and why they should respect themselves, and their identity as Northern Cheyenne women. The men elders and speakers spoke with the young men about their sacredness, their role and identity within the Cheyenne culture, and why they should respect themselves and women. After the sweat lodge ceremony elders were served dinner first, then young women, young men, and last the warriors and leaders, a protocol practiced amongst the Cheyenne.
On Sunday, the entire group, minus the cooks and elders, hiked Bear Butte. Phillip Whitman Jr. and elders spoke with the youth about the significance of Bear Butte and of hiking Bear Butte. Each person carried little rocks or pebbles that represented their loved ones, family, friends, or people they wanted to pray for as they hiked to the top. After coming down from the mountain, everyone participated in a wrap up discussion, meal and prayer.
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