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Legacy of Eagle Man
~ Mary Burrows
Eagle Man (Ed McGaa) was a colorful character who
regaled guests at Crazy Horse Memorial with his many
stories about life, particularly his experiences as an F4
Phantom pilot during the Vietnam war, and who was
not shy about expressing his opinions about the world
in general on his Facebook page.
But Ed was also a spiritual leader and teacher; a prolific
writer, especially with regard to dire circumstances now
facing Mother Earth, and Lakota activist. He and his wife
Mary raised their family, and Ed also “adopted” many
people whom he mentored on the pathways of their lives.
He was born into a large family, one of the youngest, and while his older siblings attended boarding schools, Ed had opportunities thanks to high school sports that led him to the path of a college education. He joined the service right out of high school and took advantage of his GI benefits to attend and graduate St. John's University with a focus on pre-med. The Marines then encouraged him to re-enlist because of Vietnam. Ed agreed, but only if he could fly! After vowing to do a Sun Dance if he returned safe from war, Ed went on to fly 110 combat missions. Eight days after he was discharged from the service, he was in law school at South Dakota State University.
During this time, Ed became interested in the Native ways of his Lakota ancestry, and he began to learn about the repression by government and churches of his people's spiritual life and ceremonies. He determined within his own mind in the early 1960s, after undertaking the study of Lakota ways and ceremonies that such suppression would have to change. Whereas Lakota ritual had mostly been practiced in secret, with the advent of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Civil Rights movement and act, which recognized that Indigenous peoples had the right to their own spiritual lives and beliefs, an awakening to Nature's Way was mobilized.
Because a Lakota is true to his word, McGaa prepared for his first Sun Dance. His guides, mentors, and spiritual leaders along this path were Lakota Medicine men Fool's Crow and Eagle Feather, and translator of John Neihardt's epic “Black Elk Speaks,” Ben Black Elk, son of (Nicholas) Black Elk, who informed the book. Because Ed did not have his own pipe for his first Sun Dance, Black Elk offered his father's pipe for Ed to carry during this profound fulfillment of his vow as a warrior.
Ed McGaa was born in April 1936, and began his journey to the Spirit World on 24 August 2017 in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Those in attendance at his passing attest that the Thunder Beings awoke at just that moment to welcome Eagle Man across the veil.
Ed, a participant in six Sun Dance ceremonies, was an outspoken advocate for the practice of Native American spirituality and for the protection of Mother Earth from the Blue Man of Corruption, Greed, and Environmental Destruction as forewarned in Black Elk's Great Vision in the late 1800s.
A narrative and updating of Black Elk's vision was published by McGaa in 2015, entitled “Black Elk Speaks—Creator's Planetary Warning” Within its first pages are described the three significant gifts given to Wasicu by Indigenous Americans: Agriculture, Democracy, and The Great Environmental Warning. Following is Ed's admonition about the extreme importance of heeding the warning:
“Yes, this spiritual warning projected to Black Elk back in the 1800s could not be presented other than Creator utilizing what surrounds us daily and these Natural forces are the base of Indigenous belief. (my emphasis)...Spirituality is from Nature—God's Creation...
“What importance is this third gift? It will come to pass that human will have to become spiritually aware as human once was with Earth Based Spirituality as Climate Change, Planetary Heating and Mass Extinctions unfold. Fortunately, many environmental respecters are doing so despite a host of deniers mainly from Organized Religion who are man based. The denier's religious teachings come primarily from man and not from Creator's created Nature....
“To explore the ability to keep our planet from overheating, the solution has to rely upon a solid confidence and dependence upon teachings of creator's Nature. They must also sternly observe Nature's strict laws or eventually perish. Creator imparts that knowledge only from what IT has created. It cannot come from mere man alone. Down through time man was wandered away from environmental respect led by his overwhelming Greed and Addiction to Power, Manipulation, and Control through Fear and Superstition. Neither of these can lead one toward adequate environmental knowledge to solve the ongoing environmental disaster. The Indigenous kept this land pristine for the thousands of years they lived here—sheer proof of their Earth stewardship cannot be denied.”
At the end of Black Elk's vision, a “Blue Man” in human form was shown wreaking havoc upon Mother Earth. The Six Powers (East, South, West, North, Above, Below) attacked the Blue Man but were unable to destroy it.
“Black Elk was called upon. He held a bow as he sat upon a Bay horse. The bow changed to a spear and his horse reared, charging the Blue Man. Black Elk's spear killed the Blue Man.”
McGaa interpreted Black Elk's victory as a message that only humankind can remedy the calamity that looms over our Earth.
“And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”
In 1990, McGaa published what was undoubtedly his best selling book, “Mother Earth Spirituality.” In the book's foreword, Ed responds to a query about why he would share Lakota ways and ceremonies to non-Natives.
“A question that will be asked is why I am willing to teach non-Indians about Native American spirituality and about my own spiritual experiences. I believe, like Fool's Crow, Eagle Feather, Sun Bear, Midnight Song, Rolling Thunder, and a host of other traditional peoples, that it is time that spirituality is shared.
“Frank Fool's Crow, Oglala holyman and ceremonial chief of the Teton Sioux, said in reference to the pipe and the sweat lodge, 'These ceremonies do not belong to Indians alone. They can be done by all who have the right attitude...and who are honest and sincere about their beliefs in Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit) and follow the rules.'
“We do not have any choice. It is one world we live in. If the Native Americans keep all their spirituality within their own community, the old wisdom that has performed so well will not be allowed to work its environmental medicine on the world where it is desperately needed.
“Global warming, acid rain, overpopulation, and deforestation are real. It is a mess, and all of us two-leggeds will have to work together to get ourselves out of it. A spiritual fire that promotes a communal commitment to worldwide environmental undertaking is needed. Native or primal ways will fuel that fire and give it a great power. I call on all experienced Native American traditionalists to consider coming forward and sharing their knowledge. Come forth and teach how Mother Earth can be revered, respected, and protected.”
The book goes on to describe traditions and ceremonies, along with the deep reverence for our natural Mother, without which we are nothing.
“Nature's Way: Native Wisdom for Living in Balance with the Earth” was published in 2004. Within it, Ed teaches the sacredness of Nature as inspired by animal life and lessons thereof. “Nature's law calls us to understand and protect relationships in the web of life supporting and preserving the harmony within each ecosystem. The Indians recognized the importance of the web, heard Nature's plea for protection, and worked to preserve the environment that Creator had given them.” (pg 30)
Nature's Way presents ten lessons from Mother Earth to instruct humankind in the rescuing of our planet.
The emphasis of these, and others of Ed's works, is the urgency with which we must address pollution and over-population, especially as they relate to global warming and The Blue Man of Greed and Corruption foreseen by Black Elk some 13 decades ago.
McGaa warns of dire outcomes as Dominant Societies continue to deplete the finite resources of Earth Mother in the name of profit. He laments the taking of Sacred Lands, and the exploiting and polluting of them for gold and other minerals. He mourns the separation of humans from the Nature Creator has created for them, even as the hunger of two-leggeds for Nature is manifested in the millions who visit and utilize our parks and public spaces every year.
Chapter eight of “Nature's Way” discusses Heat and the Lesson of the Cottonwood Tree (whose deep roots always find water). Given the fire season of 2017, which is ongoing in Southern California as I write, Ed's and Black Elk's Great Planetary Warning speaks presciently to mankind. It meshes with prophecies of those like Edgar Cayce, who warned in the 1930s and '40s, of massive storms and powerful winds that will occur in preparation for a planetary pole shift.
Also discussed is the correlation between the devaluing of Nature from a nurturing spirit to a “mechanized,” passive entity, and the devaluing of women within the Dominant Society, which began in earnest in the 1600s.
“Symbolized as a passive female, Nature could be used as a commodity and manipulated as a resource. She could be 'tamed and subdued,' her 'primary function' being 'to comfort, nurture, and provide for the well being of the male.' “ (quoting Carolyn Merchant, pg 186)
We are seeing women of today standing up to such devaluation, and powerful men are falling.
Indigenous peoples world-wide are rising up to protect, or try to protect, sacred lands and waters over which they have held stewardship for millennia.
So, how will Nature stand up for Herself? Are we seeing Her hand in the massive fires and monster storms?
In 2004, Ed McGaa argued for “Conservation as a Spiritual Matter.” He urged making different choices regarding one's relationship with Mother Earth and Creator's gifts. Ed advised an “attitude of gratitude.”
“The Indians preserved their bountiful buffalo before white man arrived by living in harmony with it and by not wasting out of ignorance or greed. It was a spiritual matter for them to honor Buffalo and use all of it as a way to honor its gifts and Creator.
“We can do the same: we can begin to be grateful for our resources, appreciative to Creator for Nature's gifts That is not an empty gesture, for when we cultivate gratitude for something, we find it more difficult to ignore or waste that thing.”
In these and other works, Eagle Man has left a legacy of information for those who wish to seek the wisdom of Nature's truth and save our beloved Earth Mother. Ed was a Warrior, Teacher, and Conservation Activist for most of his life. His presence among us will be missed.
Ed McGaa performing singing and drumming.
Ed discussing his life and Lakota Values.
Ed discussing Viet Nam stories
Image Courtesy the Author