By WILLIAM SHANNON
Chief Richard Earl Grimes, known also as Altar Man, led a group of a few dozen people last week as they participated in a Lakota ritual called Hanbleceya—Crying for a Vision. The ritual spans many days and is also called a vision quest. It was held in High Falls, New York. There are many aspects to it, but its core feature is that some, called questers among the larger group, go to their own spot deep in the woods, after much preparation and ceremony. There, they spend the next one, two, three or more days, alone, reflecting, considering their place in the universe and welcoming any epiphanies that occur. I arrived in High Falls on the final day of this Hanbleceya, in time for a ceremony designed to cleanse the spirit and bless the parting feast. After sharing in the passing of a peace pipe, and other aspects of the ceremony, I spoke with the chief.
WS: Where were you born?
RG: I was born in southern Indiana.
WS: Can you describe what the vision quest is and what it means?
RG: I would say relatives come together, seeking health, harmony, peace in their lives. It’s a very ancient, indigenous ceremony for someone’s wellbeing, to help guide them in the future. To make life better. Heal. Get rid of things that don’t belong in them that society has imposed on them.
You know, you have to jump through hoops just to survive in today’s world. This can bring them back to the general balance of being a human being.
We live in a world that will eat your spirit. You want to have a home, a roof over your head, and they’ll take it from you if you don’t pay taxes. Electricity, food, prices of everything, gasoline. There’s a lot of emotional pressure; it’s almost like an emergency state. We come back to help them get their mind right, their heart right, their spirit right and get well. And that’s what’s happening here.
It’s a very ancient ceremony here on this continent. Hanbleceya they call it—Crying for a Vision. And through that, they’ll go through the purification rite and purify their mind, body and spirit. Go out and be in nature. Make sense of their life and reconnect with what they were, before this modern technological world that we live in. Just getting back to being a human being. Wake back up. Not being desensitized. Get their senses back.
WS: Where do you live now?
RG: Right now I’m taking care of my mom, ’cause she’s in ill health. So I stay down in Texas; I live down there. Because her health is bad. She needs help. And, even before we moved back down there, there was thinking about nursing homes or something like that.
Nursing homes were never supposed to exist. It’s part of the cultural breakdown—the madness of people having to jump through hoops just for survival.
WS: Is everyone here associated with the Lakota tribe?
RG: No, there’s many different tribes, nationalities here this year.
Some of the people, it was their first time coming into this Hanbleceya ceremony. I would say there was many different tribes represented here. Many different nationalities.
So, it was basically experiencing living a red life. And that doesn’t mean Native American.
Like the fire, the rock, the water and the green. You put these together and it equals flesh and blood. Just as you could think of how you live and what you need—that’s based from this fire. And from that fire is the rock. And out of that rock comes the water. And from the water is a little sprinkle of sage—a little piece of grass pops up, or a plant. And then, from that green leaf, there’ll be a flower that comes. And that’s what we call the green and that’s what we eat. And what we eat eats that. So that’s why we say it’s the basic foundation of life is fire, rock, water and green. And that equals flesh and blood. So we can say we all, you and me included, live a red life. The red blood that pumps their heart.
So, what we share with the relatives is that it’s their natural birth rite. Everyone was born on planet earth, mother earth.
How did we get so far from it?
WS: What tribe are your roots with?
RG: Well my roots are Tchalaquei (commonly called Cherokee). And I’m a chief. A headman. I’ve been recognized by the Sundance council.
But I have grown up and prayed with many different tribes throughout the United States. Seneca, Lakota, Mohawk, Potawatomi, Ojibwe.
For our basic ceremonies we follow Lakota ways. So, yes, I’m what they call a wo Lakota chief. They’re the ones who put the bonnet on me. For peace, harmony and love.
And we do not tell the people to follow these ceremonies or put them up high. No, we’re not saying that. We’re saying, be a human being. Take care of one another, love one another, help one another. Respect this earth. Take care of this earth. Help this earth. Help yourselves.
Be human. Don’t be part of the destruction or the disease or the cancer. Be conscious. Do something for yourselves and others.
WS: Why is the Hanbleceya here in the Hudson Valley?
RG: Some of the relatives wanted to pray, so we came over here. There’s many other ones here that I’ve heard of. And, so a group of beautiful people wanted to come together and make a difference in their lives. There were some people who cared enough and loved enough for all of us to come together here in the Hudson Valley. To make this prayer together. Make it a better place. For all.
Way before Columbus, this is what happened in the Hudson Valley. Long before Columbus or Hudson arrived.
One of the greatest holocausts there ever was is never talked about.
WS: What was your childhood like?
RG: Well, with my ethnic mix, it was hard to be accepted in normal culture. I looked one way, but my mind and heart was another way. Wasn’t accepted by, you could say, the white culture. And, the way I looked, I wasn’t accepted by the red culture either. So, it was real hard.
Finally, through prayer and trial and error, becoming what I was, what I am, which is, they call heyesca—mixed breed. But, also growing up in these ceremonial ways too.
I never went beyond the eighth grade. ’Cause it didn’t make sense; it was like a brainwashing.
So, I wanted to stay connected to the nature. What my grandpa showed me. What my grandma, my mom, my dad showed me.
Overall, it was, I’d say, a great childlife. Just accepting who I was or finding where I fit and finding my way back to my roots.
WS: What’ve been your greatest struggles?
RG: I would say, living in a world that wants to eat your spirit—waiting for you to trip and fall, so they can attack you.
Just wanting the world to be a better place.
I guess you could say civilization. Society.
It’s not the truth.
It’s a struggle for me to exist here in a normal way. I want to be normal, just like everyone else. And not be challenged. Not be ridiculed. Or made fun of.
Just, making my way back to being a human being.
And finding other human beings. Real human beings, here on earth.
I just want to go back. Most people don’t even know their spirit’s meaning in the world that we live in.
WS: Can you describe your parents and your grandparents?
RG: Oh yeah, they’re beautiful. Beautiful.
Normal people, worked their jobs. Did the best they could. But also, growing up in a time that if you weren’t your picket fence kind of people, then you were judged. Outcast. But, basically, they had to live a false sense of who they were, to be accepted.
But, we learned how to live off the land in today’s world, and make the best of it.
My mother, she was an indigenous peace elder—she traveled the world. She traveled this North American continent. Spreading the word of peace.
They’re just beautiful. And sometimes I think it was hard, but hindsight says how lucky I was, how blessed I was to have parents push me to learn how to survive the best you can in this world.
It’s not a very fair place.
WS: Generally, when we talk about the history of the Hudson Valley, we talk about the last three hundred to four hundred years, from when the Dutch came in the 1600s, to when the English took control of New York, to the Revolution and everything since then. But, Native Americans were here 6,000 years ago and probably further back than that.
So we seldom talk about the first ninety-five percent of the human history of the Hudson Valley. That’s certainly not unique to the Hudson Valley. But what are some of the major reasons you think this is the case?
RG: Oh yes. Well, it’s like—you know how high the taxes are. Everyone’s paying federal and state taxes and they’re paying ’em to the wrong people. You know what I mean? Like you said, the Dutch and the English—no, they came and murdered and raped and took. And, you know, that was the first introduction to biological warfare—the poison blankets that they gave, with chicken pox, smallpox, that made everybody sick; they weren’t immune to it.
Just murdered and killed. Then again, the corrupt system got into some of the tribes’ leaderships, too. They saw what was coming. So, even some of our relatives became corrupt. ’Cause they didn’t want to get murdered and killed. And they saw what was happening. So, they don’t want to talk about one of the hugest genocides that ever took place on the planet earth. Which was here in the western hemisphere. That’s what really happened. It made, like what you’re talking about, the last two-three hundred years, look pretty tame compared to what happened.
How you said it, I like. Six thousand years plus. Yeah. We’re talking about a long time. And they only want to talk about history three, four hundred years—well, no; let’s tell the people the truth.
You could say this is one of the reasons we’re here in the Hudson Valley. Praying for the people.
We’re praying. We’re not being political. Or doing anything like that. We’re just common people making a common prayer.
Being a free person. A religion, you have rules and regulations and you’re wrong, you’re born into sin. But, when you’re spiritual, you take responsibility for your life. Pledge to be a human being. And, there’s a difference. And, it’s all prayer and love and kindness. We just want real beautiful things for one another here on earth. That’s all we want.
We want to be able to grow food and grow herbs that help us. There’s stuff you can even run your car on—but, society’s based on just a few can have it. Mass society’s not allowed to touch it.
Like I said, the income taxes and state’s taxes are being paid to a big lie. You know what I mean? Just a big lie. No, there were two-legged human beings here. And, in the name of God—religion—they came and killed the heathen savages, who still lived here mostly in peace and harmony.
And where the mistake was, like I said, hatred and greed touch all races of man. The corruption came. It all came to a head.
But, no, I think the truth needs to be told about the massacres and genocides that took place, not only here in the Hudson Valley, but all throughout this western hemisphere. From the tip of South America all the way up to Alaska. The truth. The people need to know the truth. That way, maybe somebody will take responsibility and understand why there’s problems that are rooted and there’s madness that drives them. We just want things to be real beautiful for everyone. And for everyone to care for each other. Help each other.
Like I said, nursing homes, incarceration, sinners—none of this stuff was supposed to be. Nowadays, the young nation, they let ’em go to school; there’s not very many jobs for them; they owe all this money for schools. Just a few make it and the rest of ’em, it boils down to: how are they going to pay their bills? How are they going to survive? They’re getting their tax bills, which should never be—like I said, they’re paying it to the wrong people. So what do they do? They make a mistake. They get incarcerated. One of the biggest businesses is privately-owned penitentiaries. It’s such a scam. It’s so wrong. They’re doing this to their own children.
WS: That’s all the questions I have. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
RG: I’d say, what has been done here, it’s a sacred way of life. Very beautiful, very holy. I’d like to say peace and love and happiness and health and strength to all people. And, bless everyone. Because greed and war is a disease. And they’re not conscious. So whenever we can learn how to communicate and learn how to be human beings again and take care of our elders and our children, and love one another and care for one another, and stop the judgment—it’s going to be a much better place to live.
We’re all learning. We all want a better place to be. And a better place to live. We want all our little children, of all nationalities and all races, to know how beautiful they are and that they are not wrong. And they shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of who they are.
We’re in the Garden of Eden. This beautiful garden that we live in called planet earth. Mother of us all. Let’s just learn how to care for one another and help one another. It could be a lot nicer. For everybody. We just want beauty and kindness. Kind words never die.
We just want a new day.
And for people to be conscious of their actions and the purpose of what they’re doing. If I could give a message to the world, it would be: Try to be all for one and one for all. Come together right now and help save this planet. Global warming’s on us. Our economy—it’s not if, it’s when it will crash again. We’re on the verge of everything. First, get your connection. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. Help others. Give and receive love. For real.
We just want a beautiful place for our children. We want to leave something good for them. We don’t want to leave a big mess for them to clean up.
How do you feel about what’s been handed to you in society—what’s it like for you? What’s it like being twenty-six and living in this world that we’re in?
WS: There are a lot of schemes. Student loans—I pay a 7.9 percent interest rate on my loans, which are publically-funded. But they’re making eight percent, which is double what the going rate is for mortgages. So I’m paying a lot of money every month and the majority of that money is going to pure interest, pure profit, to the company that bought the debt from the government. And there’s millions of other people in that situation, which holds a lot of money out of the economy. That’s just one thing that I’ve experienced. I don’t doubt that the other things you’ve mentioned are having bad effects, too.
RG: Yeah. One of the top ten businesses: putting people in a cage.
But, yeah, we can all come together and make this a better place to live. And learn how to be responsible, conscious and make a real effort. Each person.
Floating plastic islands in the ocean don’t work. Dumping toxic waste in the oceans does not work.
Let’s stop creating this poison and learn how to create something good for future generations—every one of them. You’re going to be here. My prayer is that you and your generation and all the ones underneath you will have a much more beautiful place to live than what we have.