Nobody knows how far back the Chips’ lineage goes. It’s fair to surmise that it went way back, perhaps thousands of unbroken years along with the Sioux. The records start in the early 1800s with two boys from different families who were orphaned at an early age. They were adopted by a Grandmother, who raised them as brothers. One’s name was Woptura (Wo-p-tuch-ha). The other one’s name was Curly, who, as he got older became known as Crazy Horse.
Woptura was recognized early on as carrying the Medicine. Some say he is one of the Immortals. It was he who made the medicine bundle that Crazy Horse wore in his hair that kept him impervious to bullets in war. (Crazy Horse did have his jaw shot through by the jealous husband of a lover, but that was the only such wound he suffered in his time, and never in war.)
The day that Crazy Horse was lured into a nearby fort and held captive, family legend has it that Woptura rode behind him, furiously trying to catch him to give him back the bundle upon which he had been making repairs. He was too late. Crazy Horse, unprotected for perhaps the first time in many years, had been killed.
Woptura lived in very turbulent times. Around the turn of the century, all the Sioux children were taken from their families and put into Missionary Schools. Speaking the Native languages was forbidden, and all practicing of the medicine ways, songs, ceremonies, and rituals was banned at the risk of heavy punishment by the government.
An old man by now, Woptura went underground and kept the medicine ways alive. John “Fire” Lame Deer states that all Lakota Medicine people today trace their lineage back to Woptura. It was Woptura, most believe, who originated the Yuwipi ceremony.
Woptura had a son who inherited his Medicine. He was named Charles “Horn” Chips. “Chips” was the best the government agents could do when the family tried to explain that woptura was the thin, fine particulate film that lies on the very top of pond water. Others described it as the very fine powder from ground buffalo horn. Even today, some members of the family spell their name Chipps to distinguish themselves from the government designation.
Charles “Horn” Chips had a son named Ellis. Ellis did not inherit the powers yet he was a tremendously accomplished Singer who went on to create the Sioux National Anthem. Ellis, living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, married a woman named Victoria from the Rosebud Reservation, about 75 miles East, and they had three sons.
When it was found that the youngest, Godfrey, would talk to the Spirits during Yuwipi Ceremonies (as offered by Horn Chips), Ellis obtained government permission to remove him from Grammar School and take on the full-time duty of training him in the Medicine ways. To the best of my knowledge, Godfrey was the last Medicine Man to have been granted that privilege. The “edict,” which I saw, stated that if father and son, or Godfrey alone were found in town on a school day, they would both be jailed. Ellis brought his son from Medicine Man to Medicine Man for his trainings, while also teaching him all that he himself had learned while assisting his Father.
It was quite a while before I became familiar with this history. For the longest time, all I knew was that this family, whom I was quickly learning to love, carried something very powerful and special when their intent was focused on the good of others, and it was in their blood.
I had been brought to some people to be shown an example of Spirit in action. They allowed me to learn and participate with them in the sacred ceremony and ritual of their people. They were extremely controversial amongst their people. Ellis had been told by Spirit in the 1980’s that the Cannunpa was for everyone. They were the only Traditionals at the time who welcomed seekers of all colors and orientations into what had once been almost exclusive territory to people with Native American blood. By way of explanation, Charles offered, “There’s a lot of Indian spirits around, and not enough indian bodies to come back to.”
Not once was I told what or how to believe. I was always directed to continue to cultivate my own relationship with Spirit, to build my own medicine, to find how Spirit spoke to me so that I could then help others. If I ran into their Lakota spirits in the process, well then, it wasn’t for me to swallow what I was told about them, it was my challenge to build a relationship with what was really there.
And this was why, when I was asked about Sundance, even at that early juncture in my relationship with the Chips, I knew it wasn’t Godfrey’s request.
Next: A brutal reality.