Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Interview With Julie Spotted Eagle Horse

I'm so happy that we can do this together.

First of all, tell us a little about yourself: where you were born, and your life now.

Julie: I was born in South Dakota, on the Pine Ridge reservation; I now live in South East Iowa, in a small, rural community called Mediapolis, where I live with my husband Matthew, and my youngest son, Logan.

DSW: Where did you get your Native American names?

Julie: Good question! It is not something that you can just decide for yourself, nor can you approach anyone and ask for a name. A name has to be earned.

A part of the process is that you have to go to Ceremony, and have the person who is naming you, pray about it for a long while before a name is given, because when someone gives you a name, that gives them power over you. It also creates an obligation. When you are asked to name someone, you take on almost a familial responsibility for that person, because you are going to the Spirits on their behalf.

My "ordinary" name is TaSunka Wakan Wambli Gleska, which means "Spotted Eagle Horse," which is actually a man's name.... it was given to me in ceremony, and is partially based on a vision, and partially on my familial names.

My father calls me "Pisko" or "Pisko Onwaste" which means "Night Hawk" or "Gentle Night Hawk," which is his pet name for me, and I have no idea where that came from.

I am not comfortable talking about my medicine name in this format, I hope you will forgive me... to me it is a very sacred thing, and the circumstances behind it are also special, and I would rather not go into detail about it.

DSW: That is understandable, and as always, I respect your wishes.

You were my consultant on Cedar Woman. Why, aside from being my sister, did you want to take on such a big project?

Julie: As a Native woman, I wanted to address and dispel some of the more common misconceptions and stereotypes about Native peoples, and to let people know that we are still living within viable and vibrant cultures.

DSW: While writing Cedar Woman, I learned that the sweat lodge is sacred. Why is this so, and what are the taboos about sweat lodge regarding publishing?

This is what I was taught: these things are sacred; they are not to be shared via the written word. They are to be passed on, either verbally or through practical application of the ceremony with The People. And, as parochial or strange as it may sound, we do feel that there are those who will want to use these things to harm others, or for their own financial gain, and that is not the way these things should be used.

A good example is the tragedy that happened in Arizona, where all of those whites died in the so called "sweat lodge" that some white guy was charging upwards of $2,000 per person for! He was twisting our sacred ways and mixing them with New Age philosophies that have nothing to do with our Native ways, and as a result, others paid the price.

It is not that I feel that you are unworthy of this knowledge, but rather it is more of a way of protecting our traditions, while sharing as much as I can with them.

There ARE books out there that purport to "share" our secrets, but a lot of them are slanted, and are intended not for education, but rather for the writers own financial gain. The exception to this would be the books by Black Elk, as he gives basic knowledge, but also protects our traditions.

And something very important for your readers to know, you should NEVER pay for ceremony!

DSW: What else in Cedar Woman is sacred that had to be "managed" by you before publication?
Julie: There were a lot of references to sacred things, that for Native peoples, in a lot of ways, are a part of daily life, and yet it is not appropriate to share them through this medium. A good example is the Wiping of the Tears Ceremony, another is a Healing Ceremony. Again, it is not that I think that you are unworthy of this knowledge, but rather it is straddling that fine line between sharing just enough, but still protecting our ways.

DSW: Julie, I understand that the ceremonies of the people are very sacred. Tell us then, why you gave your permission for me to represent them in Cedar Woman.

Julie: I felt that you could present our beliefs and ceremonies in such a way that your readers could get the gist of what happens, without crossing over the boundaries of what CAN be shared.

If I did not trust you, or think that you could do this, I would not have allowed you to print anything about our ceremonies.

DSW: Thank you again, Julie. It has been such an incredible honor, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly.

Are you pleased to educate the public about the Lakota way of life? If so, why?

Julie: I am very proud of who I am, and where I come from. I am very humbled and honored to be able to share these ways with non-native peoples.

DSW: Are you finding people receptive to your efforts?
Julie: Most people do not take me too seriously when they first meet me, because even though I am Native, I have just enough white blood to make you doubt my honesty,  Once we get passed the initial skepticism, then most people are willing to listen.

DSW: Are The People growing more or less interested in preserving the old ways? If more, why?

Julie: I have been seeing a growing trend among Native Nations to hold on to our old ways, and to share them with the next generation. This is a good thing! A lot of schools have classes where the children are only allowed to speak their Native languages. Some of the colleges now offer courses in Native culture and language.

DSW: Are your children interested in their traditions?

Julie: Yes and no. They are interested in some of the traditions, and my son has started to attend powwows and Ceremony with me, but they do not take it as seriously as I wish they would.

DSW: What is the most important thing about your life/culture that you want others to know?

Julie: That we are still here: that we, as Native peoples, are still living, viable, and enjoy rich cultures that exist outside of history books or bad westerns .

DSW: How have things improved / regressed in the past few years?

Julie: Right now, our worst problems are alcoholism, gangs, drugs, lack of infrastructure, financial shortages, and chronic unemployment. I don't know how many well meaning groups I have seen come in with the intention of trying to improve things on the rez, then they run out of money or loose interest, and they are gone. They are trying to work against our culture, and they could do better by working with our culture, and investing in us for the long term.

DSW: What would you like to see happen in the near future?

I would like to see alcoholism, gangs, and drug addiction treatment and prevention programs be instituted, as well as our health care industry improved on the rez.

DSW: What do you believe the future of your people to be in your neck of the woods / in the country as a whole?

Julie: I think that we, as Native peoples, will continue to thrive, and flourish, despite all obstacles.

DSW: Do you have any projects in the near future?

Julie: Right now I am chairing and actively fundraising/writing grants for two powwows that are held in Farmington, Iowa

DSW: Julie, in Cedar Woman, I mention that you make jewelry. Tell us about your work, and what participants in the upcoming raffle can hope to win.

Julie: Per your request, I made up some one of a kind pieces of jewelry that are based on traditional designs, and made using traditional materials. These items include a one of a kind loop necklace that is made using dentalium shells, and pony beads that was based on an old design that is still in use today! Other items include a macaw feather scalp drop, and various styles of earrings.

I am also working on a t-shirt line, based on my frybread company, called "The Darkside Frybread Company."

For my jewelry, I love to use materials that have interesting shapes and textures, such as amber, magnesite, turquoise, bone, porcupine quills, seed beads, dentalium and cowrie shells, and howlite.

One of my favorite things is to see a piece at a powwow, study it, and then copy it at home for myself. I have saved myself a LOT of money that way,

I also try to honor my ancestors by recreating traditional designs, and using traditional materials. For me, it is a way to connect with my past, and to express my Native side.

Living in the "white world," there is so much pressure to conform to societal norms, and for me at least, this is a way to express myself.

I do not limit myself to just jewelry though. I also do bead work using traditional materials such as brain tanned leather, and seed beads in old style colors, as well as working in rawhide, earth pigments, hide glue, and feathers.

DSW: Thank you, Julie.  This has been fascinating.  I appreciate your honesty and your willingness to help those of us outside of your culture to understand the ways of our first settlers.

Julie's beautiful and one-of-a-kind jewelry can be seen at the following web address:



  1. Lovely, lovely interview. Thank you. I love the honesty.

  2. What a wonderful interview Debra. I am so glad you wrote Cedar Woman, it gives insight to a world "white people" would never understand. The respect our young people could learn from their way of life...

  3. Very interesting and informed interview.

    I enjoyed reading it Debra.

    I too have Native American bloodlines in my family...of which I know very little about the history. It's been hard to find history that isn't tainted...as with most history I think.

    The oldest generation of now I think has the responsibility of leaving as much factual information as possible for the future ones.....what isn't documented now will be lost forever.

    Thank you

    Bea Rigsby-Kunz

  4. This is a powerful interview. I learned much just from the interview so I can imagine how much more I would learn by reading the book. I agree that most of the information and history we are given about the Native American traditions and customs is not completely accurate.

    Thank you for a very interesting and informative interview.

    Dianna Doles-Petry

  5. Thank you, my friends. Julie was invaluable to me in helping me represent the ceremonies she mentions, and more, in "Cedar Woman." I would not have even attempted it without her out of respect.

  6. I have repeatedly said that I would not have approached a project like this with anyone else...
    And if anyone wants more information on the upcoming powwows at Farmington, where in June Debra has graciously agreed to do a book signing, you can email me at indianlakepowwow@aol.com

  7. I respect Julie's commitment to keep the sacred traditions for her people and not exploit them. Debra has the integrity to tell the truth of the story and this is backed up by Julie's trust in her sister. I'm not sure if Debra and Julie are blood sisters or soul sisters. Thank you for the opportunity to meet Julie...and LOVE her name.

  8. J Q Rose, Julie and I are sisters through the Hunkapi, or Making of Relatives Ceremony, which was held in Iowa several years ago. So, according to Lakota tradition, we are sisters.

    Thank you so much for your comments. They are appreciated.

  9. As a Metis I also try to incorporate the traditional designs and colours of the Metis people in my home. It's one way of bringing a peace that everyone feels when they visit. That I love. Thank you for this inspiring interview, Debra and Julie. I'm so glad I stopped by. You're both doing a wonderful job of showing young women just how fulfilling a woman's life can be. Bravo.

  10. Thank you so much. There is more to come.

  11. Lovely interview. I was raised among the Hupa, Yurok, and Karuk people of northern CA, and live on the Choctaw Reservation here in OK. I could feel the respect and love coming right off the page.


  12. Rie, that means so much to me. Thank you.