Native American Sees Link Between Mideast, Indian Experience
By Bethe Dufresne
Day Staff Columnist Published on November 27m 2003
Lyme Ira Blue Coat, a Lakota Sioux who traveled to Israel-
Palestine with an
interfaith group from eastern Connecticut, looked at the wall
Palestinian territories and saw a re-run of his own people's tragic
So many manifestations of life under occupation border
to get to work, searches seemed all too familiar.
"It was so sad," Blue Coat said last week while preparing a Sioux
deep in the woods of a Lyme estate to give thanks for a safe return.
"The Israelis are doing the exact same thing to the Palestinians,"
Coat, "that the U.S. government did to us in the 1800s and 1900s.
"They took our land and put us on the reservation," he said,
then "cut it up
and made lines" to divide the people.
Several of Blue Coat's fellow Mideast travelers in the World House
group, including Waterford rabbi Aaron Rosenberg and Old Lyme pastor
were on hand for one of two sweat lodges he conducted last Wednesday.
It was to
cap off the group's peace-seeking mission.
Blue Coat, 51, grew up on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in
Dakota, home to four Lakota tribes, including his own Sans Arc. Back
Lakota were split up, he said, his grandmother was shut off from
family on the
Pine Ridge reservation.
The Cheyenne River Sioux have long had a relationship with the
Congregational Church of Old Lyme. When Good began organizing the
he thought Blue Coat would add an unusual perspective.
Blue Coat was baptized a Christian and confirmed at age 10 in his
reservation's Congregational Church. But he's "always prayed the
Indian way," he
Most American Indians, he said, see the Mideast only if they join
military. "I wanted to go in peace," he said, "instead of with a
uniform and a
In a terrible turn of fate, however, Blue Coat learned during the
trip that a
19-year-old nephew had been killed in the collision of two Black Hawk
helicopters in Iraq.
To launch the Nov. 8 journey, Blue Coat built a small circular
sweat lodge out
of birch saplings, wool blankets and tarp. The travelers prayed and
before they left, as a cleansing.
Last week it was time to sweat again.
"I am not a holy man," he told a half-dozen people who crawled
inside the tiny hut. They felt along the cool, hard earth for a spot
Outside, friends and neighbors silently tended a tall bonfire of
their pitchforks, awaiting Blue Coat's call to open the flap and
smoldering rock into a small center pit.
The flap faced east, like the painted buffalo skull on the ground
bonfire. Blue Coat said the Sioux build all dwellings open to the
east, so they
will flood with sun in the morning.
Between ancient Lakota songs, drumming, prayers and native stories,
dipped a long ladle into a bucket of water and splashed a few drops
on the hot
rocks. The water popped and hissed, creating sparks like tiny
Indians don't travel aimlessly, Blue Coat said. Before he joined
House group, Blue Coat said, he had a strange dream. In it he was
driving up a
steep hill, toward Zion, when one by one he came upon figures from
He saw Mary, then Jesus, and finally John the Baptist, a favorite
of a Lakota
relative who is a Methodist minister. They looked down a steep, rocky
"I was scared," he said. "I didn't know what it meant."
Then, he said, he saw that John the Baptist looked like Rev. Good.
As the heat intensified, Blue Coat told stories old and new, of
battling the white men, and of his own battles against the enduring
plagues of beer and whisky.
"More rocks!" he called out when the heat had already permeated
every pore of
those inside. There were many rocks left cooking on the bonfire, Blue
and American Indians don't like waste.
Anyone could choose to leave the lodge by saying, "Mi-ta-q-ye-
phonetic spelling of Blue Coat's mantra, "We are all related."
Blue Coat has been leading sweat lodges since the 1970s but does
himself a medicine man. A medicine man, he said, is "a guy with long
glasses, rings on every finger, a black leather coat, tight pants,
and a white
woman, or two, on each arm."
The American Indian sense of humor, often self-deprecating, often
misunderstood, is legendary.
Blue Coat told of his experience at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.
man there, he said, offered to pray for him, then started bargaining
for a big
tip. Blue Coat said he was happy to discover that American Indians
only ones who will stoop to sell their culture.
Before his trip to the Mideast, Blue Coat said, he was "neutral,"
pro-Israel, nor pro-Palestine.
Now, he said, he thinks differently. "The Palestinians are getting
mean," he said. "The U.S. is giving Israel all these billions of
Blue Coat compared Palestinians fighting the Israeli military with
blowing up their own bodies to Indians with bows and arrows battling
Army in the 1800s.
If he were to do anything for the Palestinians, he said, it would
be to urge
other Indians to write to their congressmen.
"I can't help them," Blue Coat said, "but I can get a message to