There is no question that experience provides the proof of concept. The hobbyist can experiment with Native culture, tradition and spirituality for a while, but if the pursuit is done in sincerity, sooner or later, something will be experienced that solidifies their belief that there is more to Native culture than arcane curiosities.
I do not pray on the smoke of the pipe because it fulfills my need to appropriate an element of a culture that is not my own. I have seen enough of those prayers be answered that I cannot attribute them to a “law of averages” alibi. There have been odd coincidences that have accompanied pipe ceremonies which make me believe that I am not just blowing smoke!
I no longer go to a sweat lodge for a good detoxification sauna. I have experienced the “sweat lodge vision”, and it has colored my journey across the intervening years.
I will relate two particular incidences that completely solidified my confidence in Native spirituality. The naysayer may scoff, but I saw these events. The reader may make of them what you will.
I was at a powwow, as a storyteller, and the day was going well. After lunch, clouds began to gather and it became apparent that rain was imminent. This was not a fortuitous circumstance; it was the second day of the first year for that powwow and the public would be disappointed to have their experience foreshortened. Nonetheless, soon the rain began.
I had read the book “Fools Crow” (Thomas E. Mails, 1990; apparently no longer in print) sometime previously and the account of him stopping the rain for the benefit of his people was stuck in my mind. I would not place myself on a par with Frank Fools Crow, but the idea appealed to me and I felt an inner urging to attempt something similar.
I borrowed the emcee’s microphone and told the audience that I was going to allow them to hear a Native prayer. Call me presumptuous… I addressed the four directions and other spirit helpers and asked them to push away the rain so that we could complete our dances until the microphone was taken from me because of the shock hazard and to protect the equipment from water damage, I imagine. If I remember correctly, I completed my prayer under an awning. Within fifteen minutes, the clouds passed, the sun returned, and we completed the day without further incident.
The second incident was similar. The details of the account are not as interesting, but the results are imprinted in my memory. We were staying at a camp when the area was placed under a tornado watch. I was impressed to climb an embankment and offer prayers for the tornadic activity to skirt around us. Some of the camp experienced straight-line wind damage, but the tornado did indeed touch down elsewhere, in the direction I had indicated.
I cannot say with certainty that either event had anything to do with my prayers. I have only my belief that it did. Nevertheless, it solidified my belief that there is something to the Native spiritual traditions. The grandfather to the west, the keeper of the rains, heard and answered my request. Believe it or don’t.