As the new calendar year starts, I am reminded of all the ways that people keep track of the passing of time and when we look hopefully toward what the future brings. The calendars for indigenous people are as varied as we are, some mark the passing of each day, some are based on the moon’s cycles, others come from the seasons. Still others come from ceremonial events often tied to natural occurrences. Wicahpi, the stars of the night sky and wi, the sun, guide our understanding of time. Our understanding of time is evidence of our profound knowledge of the universe and of the conception/ birth to physical death cycle. Our deepest connections to the spiritual world are contained in our understanding of time. Although we have adapted to the use of the Gregorian calendar to mark time in our contemporary lives, most of us are still connected to seasons, ceremonies and the natural world as the markers of our calendar. We might make resolutions, go to New Year’s Eve parties and watch the 2012 ball drop, but we are waiting for the thunders, hunting and fishing seasons, and when the timpsil or camas bloom.
The first days of school were my calendar year when I was a child. The new year beginning on January 1st has little meaning to a young person. When a child goes to school, that is the beginning of a new year – there are new clothes and shoes, new books to read and new things to learn, new friends to make and old friends to see.
Lakota people mark the passing of time with ceremonies for the new moon, with our Sundances, and with the seasons. In our grandparents’ day, in the days of horses and feathers, the wakinyan, thunder beings, returning in the spring told of beginning of the new cycle of seasons. Our people prepared during the spring, summer and fall seasons for the winter. Hunting and harvesting and preparing foods, sewing warm clothing and fixing our shelter were the focus of time. Gathering together to trade, celebrate and pray are the events which marked the seasons. The summer was the time of our most powerful personal and communal ceremonies, the wiwang wacipi and the hanbleciye, our sun dances and our vision quests.
When I was older, the wiwang wacipi became the beginning of the new passage of time for me, it became the calendar that marked one year to the next. At the end of the sundance, we would begin to get ready for the next year. It takes all year to be ready spiritually, mentally and physically. Like my ancestors before me and my relatives today, I still mark the passage of time through connection to the ceremonies of the summer.