Manataka American Indian Council
Manataka: Place of Peace Myth or Reality?
Hot Springs National Park disputes the sacred - Part I
By Linda VanBibber
When you walk the trails of Hot Springs Mountain, known to First Nations People as the Great Ma-na-ta-ka, “Place of Peace”, you may notice yourself, in spite of the compelling beauty of the Mountain, turning inward. You may notice, if you if you breathe deeply and slow your pace, that you begin to feel a penetrating peace. You may notice, if you are so attuned, that you walk on sacred ground.
But not everyone is so attuned to the sacred nature of where they place their feet. Indeed, some are so vindictive and fearful that they would attack the right of others to experience such communion with Spirit.
For thousands of years First Nations people have prayed on this mountain. As with any holy place, that peace that abides in a place of prayer can be felt by anyone with the sensitivity and awareness to feel it. According to the Grandfathers, this is the Peace of the Woman of the Rainbow and it is for all. Not for a single tribe, or a single race, but for all.
Yet the Hot Springs National Park Service continues to dispute the sacred presence of this site. Current leadership openly mocks the stories of the Grandfathers and has even awarded a grant to fund the publication of a document thinly veiled under a guise of “history” to perpetuate the fabrications they have devised concerning both the site and the Manataka American Indian Council (MAIC). This document, Didn’t All the Indians Come Here?, authored by Ranger Mark Blaeuer, is being sold to tourist centers throughout Arkansas.
To further promote the defamation of our traditions, Mr. Blaeuer is now providing “historical” lectures in which he openly accuses other historians who have written about the First Nations activities in the Hot Springs region of lying as he openly indicates his disdain for First Nations traditions. Given Mr. Blaeuer’s association with the National Park Service, this attitude does not surprise us. It reflects the attitude of Jose Fernandez, the Superintendent of Hot Springs National Park, who has consistently denied MAIC’s right to assemble for religious and spiritual purposes at this sacred site, claiming that Native American ceremonies are “pagan” and “un-Christian”, in direct defiance of First Amendment rights.
MAIC members who attended Mark Blaeuer’s lecture on April 8th at a meeting of the Garland County Historical Society in the St. Joseph Regional Hospital Board Room were appalled at the historical inaccuracies presented and stunned at the disdainful attitudes towards spiritual traditions of which he obviously has no understanding.
“When the picture of our holy sister, Xchel, the Rainbow Woman, appeared on Mr. Blaeuer’s screen it was time to stop his blatant insults and discourtesy against our culture and faith,” explains Lee Standing Bear Moore, MAIC Secretary who attended the lecture. “It was tantamount to an attack against the validity and history of Jesus Christ.”
Mr. Blaeuer insults the intelligence of his listeners. Mr. Blaeuer, and the National Park Service in their tourist displays, would have us to believe that Native American tribes from other regions never visited the Hot Springs area and that the local natives were unaware of the healing properties of the hot springs. These assertions fly in the face of our intelligence as well as the testimonies of living residents in the Hot Springs area. Praying on the sacred mountain is not only a part of history; it is a reality in the lives of many living descendents of those that prayed throughout history.
“My mother, who is Cherokee, has prayed at the Hot Springs Mountain all her life. My grandparents and great grandparents also prayed and performed ceremony at the mountain long before the Nation Park Service has been around,” says Reverend David Furr of Hot Springs. “I have prayed at the sacred mountain all my life, which has been almost 53 years now. It is holy ground.” Reverend Furr is the pastor or a local ecumenical church.
Patricia Burdette, also a resident of Hot Springs, reported “It was a sad thing to hear.” The reason for her sadness – “ . . .the presentation did serve to demean and insult American Indian beliefs.” Ms. Burdette expressed her opinion that Mr. Blaeuer and the Nation Park Service “have their own ideas about what you and I should think and believe about history. . .[and] they are spending our tax money writing books and creating slide presentation pushing their propaganda.”
Now the Elders of Manataka must face some difficult decisions. Can an organization dedicated to preserving the sacred history of Manataka Mountain allow such open attack on that sacred history to go unchallenged? “He [Blaeuer] misrepresented the actual events surrounding the Callahan Pottery Issue. He misrepresented the Caddo creation story; he falsely attacked the name Manataka; he attacked Indian history,” reports Lee Standing Bear.
Yet, can an organization dedicated to a sacred history of PEACE, allow itself to be involved in a legal battle which will surely disrupt the spiritual peace of it’s members and cause friction in the Hot Springs community it serves? And how is an organization who has no paid staff and is funded totally from the pockets of its members, fund a resistance? It is a predicament, a challenge, and the resolution will require a lot of prayer.
Surely, in today’s world of unrest and fear, we need a Place of Peace. A Place where all people, regardless of ‘tribe’, religious affiliation, skin color, sex or age can come together, lay aside their differences and special interests and pray together. Myth or Reality? Unfortunately, such a place does sound like a myth. But it has been a reality in the past and we – all of us – can make it a reality for our Children.
And so we ask you, our readers, to pray with us. If possible, pray on the great Manataka Mountain. And if the Great Spirit of Peace should touch your heart, please, let us know. We seek your counsel.
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