The Great Race

A long time ago, buffalo used to eat people. In fact the beards of a buffalo are made from the hair of the people they ate. The buffalo oyate - buffalo people - would come and run through a village of Indian people and they would devour them all. People would run down the banks of the creeks running away.

As they ran, they were screaming to the Creator: "Wakan Tanka, please help us, take pity on us." Many, many times this happened until finally the Creator did take pity. Wakan Tanka sent the crow to go to the corners of the world and tell all of the people that there would be a great race held in the Black Hills and that everyone was to meet and have a representative that would run in this race for them. So the crow carried this message and told all that lived on the Earth.

Now the day came when the race was to be run and thousands and thousands of animals and people all gathered and the Creator came to speak to them all and told them the purpose of the race and he said that the winner of the race, the race between the four-leggeds and the two-leggeds would decide who got to eat who. This was the chance that the human beings had waited for so long because the buffalo had eaten so many of their kind. The race was to be run around the Black Hills, the Paha Sapa.

The buffalo had elected a young bull with feathers tied behind his ear to run for them. He, along with the deer and the elk and all of the other four-leggeds would run against all of the nominees of the two-legged peoples which also included the birds. The Lakota chose a young man named Shooting Star. Shooting Star was one of the best runners. He could run for miles carrying messages to other camps. He was the best runner that the Lakotas had.

So he and all of the two-leggeds along with all of the four-leggeds inched up to the starting line and got ready for the Creator to start the race and as he did so, the buffalo snorted, scuffed his feet stirring the dust saying, "Shooting Star! When this race is over, I will eat you. I will eat you, starting at your feet until I swallow you down to your head." The other four-leggeds knew two-leggeds had no chance and they knew they would be back in their homes, still eating the two leggeds. The Creator then started the race.

They were off.

The Tatanka, or buffalo, jumped out to an early lead, easily pulling away from all the others, while Shooting Star trailed behind at an even pace. The mass of people, birds and other animals came to a river, and there many racers were lost.

The otter thought it was more fun to play and slide around on the muddy banks of the river. The beaver was hungry and decided to chew on some bark. Many of the birds rested in the limbs of the trees. The rabbit decided to go in a hole and take a nap. The gopher was underground and got lost. Tatanka went right across the river as well as did the deer, Shooting Star and the magpie. The little magpie flapped his wings very hard just to keep up with Shooting Star.

Tatanka was still way ahead of them all. He would stop turn around and yell at shooting star: "Shooting Star! Remember that when this race is over and I have crossed the finish line, I'm going to eat you. You will taste good!"

Shooting Star never yelled anything back he just kept running, and the magpie kept flying. What seemed like days had passed and the race was still going on. Tatanka still had the lead, but he would get a little more carefree and he would let Shooting Star catch up with him, and then he would sprint ahead and laugh and taunt. It was coming close to the end of the race and Tatanka had stopped one last time to stop and poke fun at the others.

As he teased the others, the little magpie, who had been flying all of this time, finally landed, and as he did so, he rested behind the ear of Tatanka. So as Tatanka ran away from the other racers and sprinted away from Shooting Star, he put a lot of ground between them and it looked as though he would win the race. He stopped to tease and to lick his chops because he was getting very hungry by his time.

And right at that moment, that clever little magpie flew from his ear and crossed the finish line. Tatanka turned his head and his mouth fell open in disbelief because he couldn't believe that the ugly, dirty looking little magpie beat him. All of the two-leggeds - wingeds included - jumped for joy because they saw the magpie had won. And the Creator was happy.

So with this victory, the two-leggeds were given the right to eat four-leggeds, and from that point on, people ate buffalo and not the other way around. The magpie was given a special award for never giving up. The creator gave him beautiful feathers that shine many different colors in the sunlight. This was a fitting reward for such a courageous individual.

And this is how people came to eat buffalo.

I can remember, as a child, sitting on the floor near the fireplace of my grandmother's small home in South Dakota listening to this story being told by my grandfather. Grandpa told me many stories, stories he learned from his grandfather. I grew up calling them "grandpa stories." As I am older now, I can finally understand why he told me such stories. They were in fact lessons, teaching me how to have a good heart and how to be a great human being. From the beginning of time, as the Lakota people have come to understand it, we have passed our traditions, morals, values and culture to the next generation through this type of oral tradition. As part of my performances I try to incorporate this tradition of educating our youth.

Musical performances with my flutes give me a chance to share with others the joy that Native American music has brought to my life. All of the songs I play in concert are original compositions created in the classic traditional style. Each song comes from within and not from a sheet of paper. Songs teach communication with the Creator and the life around us. The songs I sing while playing my hand-drums and rattles seek to express the living connection with mother earth, through each beat of the drum.

Besides musical performances, I also give lectures that may discuss anything from elementary school level introduction to traditional Native American lifeways, to college and professional level presentations pertaining to prominent Native American issues. I have given lectures at several Big Ten universities along with many other small colleges across the Midwest on racial stereotyping, the history of Native American education, reservation life of today, and the effects of the Catholic church on contemporary Native American religion.

Through both musical and academic performances I strive to entertain as well as inform my audience. By weaving together the use of the sounds of the flute, storytelling, songs of the drum, question and answer periods, and occasionally dance I intend on giving each and every person in the audience an opportunity to see, hear, and understand a bit more about what it means to be a Lakota, a Native American, and a minority. Understanding one another is the first step to truly becoming brothers and sisters. If you are interested in having me visit your school, church, youth group, or organization, please contact me by phone or e-mail.