I have a tattoo on my lower arm. I’ve had it since I was 17 years old.
It says “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse,” in big bold letters. I got it when I got radicalized or, more so in my case, politicalized, if there is such a word. Like so many teens at the time, I had almost completely lost my direction in life. At the time, I was mostly hanging around and not planning for anything, except for my next party.
I attended a powwow in southern Alberta that changed my world. This was back in the 1970s and aboriginal people all over North America were starting to open their eyes to what was happening to the people and their communities.
There was a giant teepee at the powwow, with a Canadian flag flying upside down. This was one of the weirdest things I’d seen to that point. I didn’t realize a flag flying upside down was a distress single. I heard there was to be a gathering of warriors from the American Indian Movement (AIM) at the giant teepee with the upside flag.
Being so young, I was easily influenced by the speakers. They spoke of the highlights of being an aboriginal person and how we can change the world, simply by making a commitment — a dedication to help people in a positive way.
They spoke of peaceful protests and carrying the message of hope. Even though AIM was known for its radical beliefs, the message was of a spiritual awakening. They encouraged people to go home to the youth of their communities and use education as a weapon of choice.
Crazy Horse was a Sioux war chief who, amongst other battles, helped in the defeat of General Custer of the United States’ 7th Calvary. His adage “it’s a good day to die” was a source of inspiration for me.
At the time, I thought it was the bravest thing I ever heard. I pictured a warrior who, in the face of death, wasn’t afraid of anything. It would be more than 30 years later when I would find out what it really means. I asked a Sioux elder what the words meant and he told me if a person lives a good life in the eyes of the Creator, then every day is a good day to die. Of course it all made sense when he put that way.
“What can I do?” I asked myself. After all, I was only a teenager. What I didn’t realize was there were many things one person can do. The biggest thing was to be there. No matter what age, gender or race, I thought the best way I can help was to never turn my back on someone who may have lost direction in life. I don’t mean geographically lost, but rather lost in the purpose of life.
What has helped me throughout the years was that there were always people who stood by me. It didn’t matter what my situation was; there were people I could count on to step up. I am thankful from the bottom of my heart for their support and encouragement, because sometimes all it takes is a simple pat on the back and a few words of encouragement.
The world’s largest monument for a single person is currently being built in the Dakotas. The statue is of Crazy Horse and it’s only a few miles from Mount Rushmore. I always found it insulting that a monument of four presidents of the United States would be built in the sacred Black Hills. Not only did the U.S. fight, and most times lose, for land that is sacred, but it had to go and rub it in by building Mount Rushmore. The statue of Crazy Horse will put a shadow on the four presidents – and, in a sense, return the Black Hills to the people.
I’ve thought about removing the tattoo, but it’s something that’s been there for most of my life. Besides, “In the Spirit of Crazy Horse” is something I believe in.