Pete S. Catches Sr.,
Oceti Wakan (Sacred Fireplace): Life & Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man
(Clear Light, 1999)

Pete Catches Sr. (Petaga Yuha Mani, He Walks With Hot Coals) is something of a legend among the Lakota Sioux. He was the 37th generation of the Spotted Eagle Way medicine and is credited with bringing the traditional Sundance ceremony back to the Lakota culture. He was the first, and only, man named Sundance chief in tribal history. Oceti Wakan (Sacred Fireplace): Life & Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man is his story.

Oceti Wakan, the Sacred Fireplace, is "the fire pit at the head of the sweat lodge, and where the fire is built during a Sundance." Pete Catches came up with an idea years ago to build a spiritual encampment that he would call the Sacred Fireplace. There would be a winter sweat lodge inside a building and a summer sweat lodge outside so they could use the facility at any time and in any weather.

He imagined teaching in the Lakota language and performing the traditional sacred ceremonies and using the Pipe. He wanted this to be a place where people could overcome their problems, such as alcohol or drug abuse. It would be a place of spiritual purification and worship.

This book is one step in passing on the Lakota teachings -- one portion of the Sacred Fireplace. It combines his teachings, Lakota ceremonies and legends, stories and anecdotes, and his observations and remembrances of his own life and the history and culture of his people. Some sections of the book were written by Peter V. Catches (Zintkala Oyate), Pete's son.

In the foreword, Peter explains that when Lakota is translated into written English, there is distortion and something is lost (which is true of almost any native language being translated into English). He says they have attempted to keep the translation as authentic as possible while retaining the energy and spirit of the language.

They certainly did a fine job of instilling energy and spirit into these pages, along with heart. You can feel the heart within Pete as he speaks. It is an excellent read, though it propels you forward and you feel like you read the entire book in just a few minutes. You cannot put it down. It has plenty of places that would be convenient stopping points, if you could put the book down long enough for a break.

Pete's message to the world is a vital one and one that needs to be heard and understood by every person, regardless of race or gender. That is one thing that he makes perfectly clear: we are all creations of the one and only Creator, no matter what you call Him. We must learn to live in peace and harmony with every living thing in the world around us. That does include the other people of the world.

Peter V. Catches is the Keeper of the Spotted Eagle Way medicine, oral history, sacred rites and experiential teachings of the Lakota Sioux. He has conducted the Spotted Eagle Sundance on Pine Ridge reservation for the last 23 years.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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