In Lakota society, when one introduces ones self, you tell where we come from. Who are our people? The two founders of Oceti Wakan are my father, Pete S Catches Sr. (Petaga Yuha Mani) a 37th generation Lakota medicine man and myself, Peter V. Catches (Zintkala Oyate) a 38th generation. To be a medicine man in Lakota society has to be in the DNA. We are both Oglala Lakota. This is how far that we know back, but our people come from this land if you look at our creation stories for thousands of years. We come from good people; as Lakota, I think we can say, we all do.
The Lakota understand us as what they call ‘half-breed’ in that we live in this world with all of our human faults but in ceremony, we can ask and speak to the spirits who we work with and can ask for those who have asked us for healing or help, and we can tell them what the Eagles say they must do in order to have healing or they give it to them with grace. My father and I are keepers of the Spotted Eagle way.
I, the last living founder of Oceti Wakan, was born with my medicine in a small community outside of Pine Ridge, called Calico, in a valley known as Red Feather Valley. This is where I was born. I was the seventh child of eight children of Pete S. Catches Sr. and Amelia Ribsman Catches. My father asked the Eagles for me. In Lakota society when a medicine child is born, any true medicine man knows and can come claim him to rise as their medicine. Knowing this, my father, the morning I was born, took me into our sweat lodge with my grandfather, Ribsman. My father gave me his name, Peter Vitus Catches, and committed me to the Eagles’ medicine way for our people. My grandfather gave me my Lakota name, ‘Zintkala Oyate (Bird People). I know myself as the last in this line as our world is changing. When I was a toddler, the last known real bear medicine man from our community came after me to raise me as a bear medicine man as it is very powerful medicine but my father was able to tell him that, in ceremony, he had committed me to the Eagle’s medicine.
My mother’s father was Ribsman, who was one of the survivors of the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. He was around nine years old as his brother threw him into a dry creek bed as he was being shot, telling him to run towards Pine Ridge and someone would help him. All his family was killed that day. My grandfather never went to school or learn to speak English, but was one of the most important people in my life growing up. He often took care of me, while my parents worked to keep us fed. He taught me my songs and how to pray to the Great Mystery. This is usually a grandmother’s job in Lakota society, but his wife was a Red Cloud and had already passed away from this world before I came into it. My grandfather’s mother was Black Shaw’s sister, who was married to Crazy Horse. That is why we lived in this valley, as it was the Valley that Crazy Horse’s warriors, the Red Feathers, lived. Crazy Horse was my grandfather; he was from the Bad Face Warrior Society.
My mother only went to school to the fifth grade as her father didn’t agree with what was happening to her with “education in the white man’s world.’ My father was the first generation that was put in the residential school ran by Holy Rosary Jesuit Catholic Church. He and myself were put into this Jesuit school when we were five years old, both only speaking the Lakota language. We were only allowed to go home for a couple of months in the summer even though our home was in Calico Village, only a mile down the road. We were punished for speaking Lakota; our hair was cut short at the beginning of each school year. These two generations in many ways devastated our people.
My father’s father was Paul Catches, whose medicine was connected to the snake. When more people started dying than was healed, because of the symbolism introduced to our people via the Catholic Church of the snake, he became the first Catechist. A medicine man’s job is to help the people to live.Children are innocent and have no wisdom, so when they told us that everything that we loved and believed in was savage and wrong did something very wrong to us as a people. As we carry that sacred child inside of us our whole lives, we were taught to be ashamed of whom we are as a people. Even now when we know that was a lie that was told to us, those wounds are still not healed. Our parents of today have very few positive parenting skills because a child learns what it sees growing up. We were only allowed our parents for a couple of months a year; otherwise we all were brought up in a little military school, who’s mandate was to “kill the Indian, but leave the man.” The results are that we have the lowest life expectancy in the Western Hemisphere, second only to Haiti.
His father came from the Hunkpapa’s from Standing Rock Reservation. He had four brothers, all medicine men. One went to Pine Ridge, which is my family tree; another went to the Arapahoe Tribe, one stayed at Standing Rock, and one went somewhere we are not sure of. Gall was another of my grandfather’s of the Hunkpapa.