Today, 250 cottonwood seedlings were delivered to the Oglala Sioux Tribe Natural Resource Regulatory Agency. The trees will planted by children from the different schools across the reservation in the coming weeks. This project will help to ensure that the sacred trees will be available for future generations of Lakotas for Sundance ceremonies, one of the seven sacred rites for the Lakota people. The practice of the Sundance has been on the rise in recent years and is viewed as a positive sign of Lakota cultural resurgence. This is taking place despite over 100 years of religious suppression by the Federal Government and Christian mission schools that broke apart families and exacted unspeakable physical, sexual and emotional violence upon its students. Black Elk tells why the Cottonwood is a sacred tree: “Long ago it was the cottonwood who taught us how to make our tipis, for the leaf of the tree is an exact pattern of the tipi, and this was learned when som of our old men were watching little children making play houses from the leaves. This too is a good example of how much grown men may learn from very little cihldren, for the hearts of the children are pure, and therefore the Great Spirit may show to them many things which older people miss. Another reason why we choose the cottonwood tree to be a the center of our lodge is that the Great Spirit has shown to us that, if you cut an upper limb of this tree crosswise, there you will see in the grain a perfect five pointed star, which, to us, represents the presence of the Great Spirit. Also perhaps you have noticed that even in the very slightest breeze you can hear the voice of the cottonwood tree; this we understand is its prayer to the Great Spirit, for not only men, but all things and all beings pray to Him continually in different ways.”
The project is a collaboration between the Calvin White Butterfly of the Wounded Knee Tiyospaye Project (An affiliate of Village Earth), Dennis Yellow Thunder of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Natural Resources Regulatory Agency and Dr. Kurt Mackes, Colorado State Forester. After learning about the need for the trees, Dr. Mackes applied for a small grant from the Colorado State Forest Service to purchase the trees. Village Earth also provided a small grant to the Wounded Knee Tiyospaye project to assist with the coordination of the project among the various schools on the Reservation.