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Native American Sees Link Between Mideast, Indian Experience

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    Native American Sees Link Between Mideast, Indian Experience http://www.theday.com/eng/web/newstand/re.aspx?reIDx=06372366-9e2c- 4867-b9c5-5dd8789b9b30 By
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      Native American Sees Link Between Mideast, Indian Experience

      http://www.theday.com/eng/web/newstand/re.aspx?reIDx=06372366-9e2c-
      4867-b9c5-5dd8789b9b30

      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
      splitting up
      Palestinian territories and saw a re-run of his own people's tragic
      history.



      So many manifestations of life under occupation — border
      checkpoints, passes
      to get to work, searches — seemed all too familiar.



      "It was so sad," Blue Coat said last week while preparing a Sioux
      sweat lodge
      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,"
      said Blue
      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
      Interfaith
      group, including Waterford rabbi Aaron Rosenberg and Old Lyme pastor
      David Good,
      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
      South
      Dakota, home to four Lakota tribes, including his own Sans Arc. Back
      when the
      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
      First
      Congregational Church of Old Lyme. When Good began organizing the
      Mideast trip,
      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
      said.



      Most American Indians, he said, see the Mideast only if they join
      the
      military. "I wanted to go in peace," he said, "instead of with a
      uniform and a
      gun."



      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
      sweated
      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
      after him
      inside the tiny hut. They felt along the cool, hard earth for a spot
      to sit.



      Outside, friends and neighbors silently tended a tall bonfire of
      rocks with
      their pitchforks, awaiting Blue Coat's call to open the flap and
      shovel another
      smoldering rock into a small center pit.



      The flap faced east, like the painted buffalo skull on the ground
      by the
      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,
      Blue Coat
      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
      shooting stars.



      Indians don't travel aimlessly, Blue Coat said. Before he joined
      the World
      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
      the Bible.



      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
      ledge.



      "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
      Indians
      battling the white men, and of his own battles against the enduring
      reservation
      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
      Coat said,
      and American Indians don't like waste.



      Anyone could choose to leave the lodge by saying, "Mi-ta-q-ye-
      wose," a
      phonetic spelling of Blue Coat's mantra, "We are all related."



      Blue Coat has been leading sweat lodges since the 1970s but does
      not consider
      himself a medicine man. A medicine man, he said, is "a guy with long
      hair, dark
      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.
      A Jewish
      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
      aren't the
      only ones who will stoop to sell their culture.



      Before his trip to the Mideast, Blue Coat said, he was "neutral,"
      neither
      pro-Israel, nor pro-Palestine.



      Now, he said, he thinks differently. "The Palestinians are getting
      treated
      mean," he said. "The U.S. is giving Israel all these billions of
      dollars a
      year."



      Blue Coat compared Palestinians fighting the Israeli military with
      rocks and
      blowing up their own bodies to Indians with bows and arrows battling
      the U.S.
      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
      people."



      b.dufresne@...
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