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Native American cultures and traditions

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Page Contents:

Bluejay Shield     Consecrated Raiment     Turtle Rattle     Turkey Prayer Fan     The Teacher     The Custodians of the Earth    The Long Walk    Celebrate Life    The Blue Spruce Way   


Bluejay Shield

Bluejay Shield I made a mandala the day I learned of Daddy's death. It was a tan wood hoop filled with dried wildflowers - Drummond lilies. They grow in sandy soil and come out after a gentle rain. They only flower for about 2-3 days. They have a long stem but no leaves.

On the east side, a Hopi kachina representing the deity Long Hair that brings gentle rains for flowers assumed his rightful position tied in place with a plume of bluejay feathers, white leather lace and crystal and lavender pony beads. He wore a necklace of ivory bone feathers, red hearts and blue Russian beads, reminding me of the necklaces worn by the mounted deer in homes during Shalako at Zuni Pueblo. Across the bottom was a strip of multi-hued fabric and violet ribbon, with silver hearts tied in place with white leather lace with crystal and lavender pony beads, and more bluejay feathers. A bustle of bluejay feathers graced the arc of the bottom of the hoop.

Tied to the west side was a dark blue, plain wooden Dalarna horse from Sweden. The horse had a multi-hued textile saddle blanket and a bluejay plume at his neck. His lead was white leather with crystal and lavender pony beads. Across the top a bluejay headdress served as a halo. Below the plumed headdress, there was a strip of the same multi-hued textile fabric from the saddle, with two silver conchas bracketing the strip. In the center of the strip was a triangular piece of silver decorated with turquoise and coral. A handle of white rabbit fur allowed me to carry it as I danced.

The blue wooden horse was a present to me from my daughter-in-law, Malin. It represented the riderless horse on his journey westward. The bluejay feathers represented the Navajo's sacred mountain, Mount Taylor. Mount Taylor was fastened to Earth with a knife of red stone. Turquoise Youth and Turquoise Maiden live there. It was covered in a blue cloud, moved by blue wind. Its gifts included blue corn and wild game. The silver conchas represented Shell Woman of the Navajo, and also served as a reminder of the concha designs Daddy hand-carved on all his furniture. The triangular silver piece with its coral and turquoise stones represented the unity of opposites, the singular reality of our universe. The Drummond lilies represented our poignant purity. I used it as I danced at the 5k Human Race sponsored by The Holocaust Museum.

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Consecrated Raiment

Consecrated Raiment - Sacred ReligionI took the time to begin studying Navajo and Hispanic culture and history and started writing stories and teaching classes in the community. I made traditional clothing for my children, saying the sacred prayers associated with each part. I made medicine bags which I filled with sacred medicine for them, beaded moccasins with tin cones, concha belts, breastplates with bone, chevron and red heart beads, cowry shells, and fetishes, porcupine, turkey feather and hawk feather headdresses with medicine wheels, shields made from deer hides tanned in my garage, lances with metal points and feathered handles, a family peace pipe adorned with eagle feathers, gourd rattles, feathered leg bells, feathered arm bustles, feathered back bustles, deer hide breechcloths, leggings and shirts, flutes, colorful feather plumed fans, goat hair leggings, bows and arrows, with sheaths and wrist guards, rabbit hair ties, war paint bags, horned powder kegs, turtle tobacco pouches, gourd canteens, tomahawks, scarves with concha ties, buffalo robes for them to decorate with their exploits, grizzly bear hides, saltillo blankets and star quilts.

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Turtle Rattle

Turtle RattleShe used a turtle shell for her prayer rattle. Inside she placed the seeds of the four sacred plants of the Navajo (beans, squash, tobacco and corn). She inserted a staff of tan and brown marbled chicory wood for the handle. A deer hoof at the base of the staff was held in place with a string of iridescent pony beads. She filled the shell openings with the thick, golden grizzly bear hide from the belly of the bear. From the top of the staff, she draped golden ties of deer hide tanned in her garage. At the base of the shell, dangled long tail pheasant feathers, encircling the shell with coral ribbon patterned with fresh corn stalks, decorated with abalone shells, a silver cross, and a silver feather. The abalone shells represented Shell Woman of the Navajo. On the shell itself was an intricate pattern of bone beads, ivory and turkey red. She put inch size spherical silver beads to ward off malevolent forces. The Navajo believe that silver has that power.


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Turkey Prayer Fan

Turkey Prayer Fan She used the sienna brown tail feathers of a wild turkey given to her by a friend, Susan, for her prayer fan. The turkey was revered in her culture for bringing the seeds for the four sacred plants (beans, squash, tobacco and corn) with him from the flooded lower fourth world. Hosteen Turkey's tail feathers were edged in ivory by the foam from the ocean waves as he clumsily climbed up the reed to the New World, burdened with the seeds. His efforts were rewarded by First Woman. Hosteen Turkey would live close to the hogan, the Navajo's home. She laced it with coral ribbon pattered with fresh corn stalks. The coral represented energy from the sun. The corn represented the sacred prayer offering to Dawn Youth and Dawn Maiden at sunrise. As one Navajo man had said, "Corn is the most important crop to the Navajos. I don't know how we would survive without it."

She put three-inch size spherical silver beads to ward off malevolent forces, along with two ivory pinpricked bone beads. She trimmed it with bone beads, bone arrowheads and grizzly bear fur, encircling the base of the turkey tail, holding the black rabbit fur trim in place. A red dyed deer antler served as the handle. Barred turkey feathers dangled from the antler points, along with red leather lace ties with blue, red, silver and ivory pony beads. She danced with her prayer fan at the White Buffalo Woman Pow-Wow in Houston.

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The Teacher

When I was a teenager, I took ballet every day in a summer program and on through tenth grade. The Ford Foundation was sponsoring a special accelerated program for Indian girls and several of us were selected. Me - I don't know how. The other girls went to St. Catherine's Indian High School and were either cheerleaders or athletes and it was assumed they had good coordination. I had terrible coordination but the teacher gave me great encouragement to continue anyway.

Our class was on the corner of Paseo de Peralta and the Old Santa Fe Trail in a long rectangular adobe territorial style building. Pink hollyhocks, taller than me, grew in a wildflower garden against the earthen stuccoed walls.

We stretched first then warmed up at the barre - the patterns practiced there serving as the building blocks for the more challenging combined movements, 'enchainements,' performed later, unsupported, at center floor. We did each form in first, second and third position. Fourth and fifth were beyond our ability. That would come with time.

We concentrated, eyes fixed straight ahead, free arms stretching sideways, 'allonge,' in graceful curves, our torsos tilted gently, 'epaulement', waiting for the wakeful kiss of Prince Charming as we moved through the time-honored port de bras arm placement exercises reaching for the sky with our fingertips while our shoulders and ribs remained low and relaxed, curving our feet like crescent moons, then balancing on them.

The melody of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker embraced our bodies, as we lifted our torsos, stretched, pointed a slippered-foot, first to the front, then to the side, then back, then to the side again, tracing the same patterns drawn since the 17th century, when classical ballet emerged from the rituals of the royal French court of Louis XIV. We bent in demi-plies in first position, with our heels flat on the floor, our legs turned out from the tops of our hips, our knees turned out to the side to the music, our teacher gently moving our bodies to the required position. Then we raised ourselves up, our releve requiring taut back and stomach muscles, straight knees and insteps. Then on to developpe and battement tendu done en croix and arabesques. Then like a spinning top, we spun around on one leg, performing 'pirouettes' in position.

As we moved to the center floor, our movements would be adage, at ease, with emphasis on sustained positions and balance: pas de bourree, pas de chat, pas de chavel, rond de jamb, and positioning of the feet, the arms, the torso, the neck and the head. We followed the instructions of our teacher, as her hands demonstrated the steps she desired us to perform. As the sunlight drifted across the room from the small, low white-silled windows, we repeated the positioning that would become automatic and instinctive, without the intervention of thought, the straight, classical lines merging with the pulverized powder in the air. The contrast of shadow and light in the room added dimension to our pursuit of perfection.

Near the end of class we changed pace as we spun across the floor from one corner of the room to the other, focusing on one spot, a quick turn of the head needed so we did not get dizzy or nauseated, our arms opening inward and outward instinctively to the beat of the music. Breathless from the allegro chaine turns, we came back to our place in line, only to cross the floor again in full outstretched feather light leaps, grand jetes. Time stood still as we glided across the room, elevated high above the wooden floor, suspended in mid-air. Class ended with an appreciative hand and bow to our teacher in 'reverence'.

In the Fall we had to take a physical test. I didn't qualify for the program - wrong body build - no natural turn out which is the ability to turn out your legs so your knees and feet face perfectly sideways, but our teacher let me be a free student. She said, "Yagniza, you'll never be a ballerina but this will be good for your poise and coordination."

She understood our discomfort with revealing our bodies and helped us feel comfortable anyway. It was great for me too because she never made any of her students feel like a star or a klutz. We were treated equally - whether we were in the front row center or in the back row, which is where I was, on the far right. It carried over to my classmates and no one ever made fun of each other or me even though I would have been considered last in the class in dancing ability. A true humility pervaded our class. Two of the students ended up qualifying for the American Ballet School in Philadelphia!

I had never seen a ballet even though I had been studying for a year. I listened to what we were supposed to do, watched our teacher, and did it to the best of my ability. Then a movie ballet version of Romeo and Juliet came to Santa Fe with Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn at the El Paso Theater. Our teacher took all of us. Ballet's beauty and dazzling grace astounded and overwhelmed me.

I still love the ballet. What our teacher did for me was to teach me through example, never through word, what generosity meant, what discipline meant, what tolerance meant, what understanding meant, what encouragement meant. I found a balance in her class, a centering and lightening of my spirit.

image005.jpgWhen I went home to celebrate my niece's recent wedding, I visited the adobe-stuccoed building which still resonated with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, stroking the earthen front wall.

[The mandala was a brown hoop with a web made from a photo of pink tulips taken in Holland at the Fiornade. On the East side, a ballerina in a pink ballerina length-dress stood on pointe, held in place by a bouquet of pink tulips and leather lace with pink pony and clear heart beads. From the bottom dangled a wooden pink and a wooden blue tulip with an Easter egg in the center. On the West side, a fan with a picture of me was held in place with another tulip bouquet. A bow, made from pink and yellow ribbon patterned with tulips and bunnies, graced the top.  It represented our new family values: tolerance, understanding, love, encouragement and peace.]

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The Custodians of the Earth

While I was working on my sons’ traditional clothing, I visited the vultures on the dam at Addicks Reservoir. Vultures have been misunderstood through time. For the Navajo, they were first thought of as malevolent, then seen as responsible custodians of the Earth. I loved their strength and beauty, their effortless flying.

I would go early in the morning and sit and talk to them. I decided I wanted to dress like a vulture and sit with them in the early morning before the sun dried the dew from their feathers so  I made a mask and cape.

Vulture Mask My cape when finished had over three hundred feathers collected over three years. Around the collar it had silver hearts held in place with black leather lace ties with silver, black and ivory pony beads. Encircling the bottom was a row of 3” bone pipe beads strung with silver and black pony beads. Two oversized blue chevrons served as the buttons.

My mask made from plaster of paris molded to my face, was bright red. Its plume of feathers wrapped in variegated corn patterned ribbon and fringed bangs from small downy vulture feathers topped its head. It had a long sharp beak with an ivory tip. Its double earrings were made of conchas, claws, and turquoise silver bears and ivory bone with red hearts. Its face was decorated with bone, black and silver beads, with arrowheads spaced in between.



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The Long Walk

I visited Fort Sumner's Bosque Redondo Reservation on the Pecos River in southeastern New Mexico in June. I walked on the dusty parade grounds of the United States cavalry that guarded the 10,000 Navajos marched 250 miles from their homeland in 1864 to Fort Sumner. I tasted the salty water of the Pecos that was to feed the crops of a nomad turned farmer. I read this poem:

Hweeldi (Fort Sumner, New Mexico)

A place where the land is parched.

Where cries of my grandmother and

my grandfather

are heard over the land.

Where soldiers marched my mother and my


This is the place called Bosque Redondo.

She is a memory that all children have of a



The People

lived in holes,

starved and were ill.

Their fight to live and be remembered was for

our homeland


Tso Dzil



(From Navajo Division of Education, An Indian Shrine at Fort Sumner.)

I toured the Museum, with artifacts of the Navajo's and the soldiers displayed in cabinets behind locked glass doors. I imagined the Navajo man wearing the red, blue and white striped Chief's blanket. I wanted him to have it now, to take it to a realm where no one could ever hurt him again. I pictured the soldier drinking water from his tin metal cup, his rifle on his soldier.

I read an article and saw a picture when I was little about the Navajo's at Bosque Redondo - they endured starvation, dysentery and syphilis. The Navajo women for sale sat silently, stoically in front of a camp store.

My People put up a shrine in 1971 at the Fort:


A tribal medicine man started a wood and rock memorial, each Navajo visitor asked to leave behind a twig or rock. Later, a big red sandstone rock from Fort Defiance was placed at the Monument site. This was all that was needed to commemorate my People.

We revere the land. We are one with the land.

We revere the air. We are one with the air.

We revere the water. We are one with the water.

We revere all. We are one with all.

We are one with Bosque Redondo. We are one with you.

Many do not see this. Many do not feel this. Many do not know this. Many do not want this. Many have forgotten.

I took the stick I carried with me, an extension of my arm, no separation between it and me, and left it there, a reconnection born. I placed a stone from my home in Santa Fe on the pile. I needed that simplicity. I needed that clarity.



My Prayer Stick



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Celebrate Life

Dreamcatcherpic.JPG The mandala was a dark brown hoop with a web made from photos of indigenous women and children. Faces from the tribes of the Mayan, the Tzotsil, the Seri, gazed at us from a backdrop of ancient rock temples. On the East side, a tin, horned sphere representing the Navajo moon with a feather headdress of blue bird and brown sienna Egyptian geese feathers was held in place by brown leather lace with blue, yellow, brown and ivory pony beads. The moon wore earrings of abalone shell with blue chevron beads and silver arrowheads. From the bottom dangled three angels with trails of brown leather lace with blue, yellow, brown and ivory pony beads and triangular shaped bells. One angel was a wooden painted Mexican carving; the next one was an angel regaled in the velvet broom skirt and blouse of the Navajo woman; and next to it another burgundy-cone tin angel. Two Egyptian geese feathers separated the angels. On the West side, a variegated, multi-colored corn stalk with pale yellow wheat stalks represented the fertility of women. Tied to it was a tin tree of life with two ladybugs on its base. Again, a piece of brown leather lace with blue, yellow, brown and ivory pony beads held the corn firmly in place. At the top, a Hopi chief katsina, representing the deity Corn Mother, stood erect on an arrangement with pine cones, dried yucca flowers, brown and blue feathers and a turquoise and silver eight-pointed tin star.

The power of the female resonated from this dreamcatcher - her intimate connection with the cyclical energy of life, her divinity, her role as birth giver, and her role as leader of her people. I could set aside the female shame of the Western world

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The Blue Spruce Way


I am the Director of The Blue Spruce Way Art Studio. "A way is a Navajo ceremonial. So I named my Art Studio after my favorite tree and a ceremonial. I specialize in quilting, photography and framing, collages, writing stories and whatever else pleases me. It is a place I can dream, imagine and wonder."





The symbols in the Blue Spruce Way mandala are from the Navajo culture, the native mound building cultures of Wisconsin, and the flamenco culture of southern Spain.




The Circle

The mandala is circular because it is an enclosure of sacred space. Initially, I was going to spray paint the hoop gold. Then I decided to leave it as plain wood, remembering how my Daddy told me, he wanted to create woodwork, unvarnished, the natural wood untouched.

Mother and Child

The base represents the love between Mother Earth and her children. If a biological mother is unable to provide this common human bond, the child need never fear that love is not present for her/him in Mother Earth.


The colors of the rainbow represent the rainbow on which our deities travel. They come upon our request.

Father Sky and Mother Earth

The base map represents Father Sky and Mother Earth.

Grey-Blue Triangle

The grey-blue triangle represents a tall, healthy blue spruce tree bedecked with snowflakes.

Four Sacred Mountains

The Four Sacred Mountains are our cradle of origin, our Holy Places. One's spirit can travel beyond each Mountain and it is there that one can be healed. Mount Blanca, decorated with white shell, covered with a sheet of daylight, is the eastern boundary of Navajo land, 'Dinetah.' Mount Taylor, decorated with turquoise, covered with blue sky, is the southern boundary. San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, decorated with haliotis shell, covered with a yellow cloud, are the western boundary. Mount Hesperus, decorated with cannel coal, covered in darkness, is the northern boundary. Dawn Boy, Dawn Girl, Turquoise Boy, Turquoise Girl, Twilight Boy, Abalone Shell Girl, Darkness Boy and Darkness Girl, as complementary to one another, live at these sacred sites.

The deities of each Mountain have gifts for us as we seek our healing. Dawn Boy and Dawn Girl remind us of our purity, our innocence, with which we are born and which we never lose.

From the Turquoise Mountain, we are given the gift of silence and a place of rest.

From Twilight Boy and Abalone Shell Girl, we are given the gift of acceptance for longing.

From Cannel Coal Mountain, we are given the gift of seeing in the darkness, of feeling without as much pain, and a way, a light and a guide.

The Shells on the Eastern and Western Mountains

The shells represent Changing Woman and Shell Woman.

Green Oval Shapes

The green oval shapes represent God's tears. I saw Him far beneath the Earth near my childhood home. He was crying for us because the forlorn lives He sees us leading are not what He intended for His beloved children.

Four Hearts

The four hearts represent the love of Mother Earth as She supplies us with Her sacred plants.


The plants represents Mother Earth's gifts to us and Her abundance.


The child's moccasins represent the peace the child should know. Without shoes of peace, the child cannot journey through life. The child cannot climb the mountain it is meant to scale.

The Turquoise Mountain

I am seen journeying up the Turquoise Mountain, nearing the Atom and the All. To make this journey, I had to enter the fire within the mountain to be purified. If we are willing to step into the molten lava of a volcano, it will burn away the shadow and leave us free to travel forward to our Source, the Sun. My ego is shown left behind.

This can only be done with God's help, not by our own effort. God shoots His lightning bolt to strike the Big Giant, our self-indulgence, to help us slay it so that we may use the gifts He has given us for the service and benefit of all, not just ourselves. The eagle feathers worn by First Woman steady the lightning bolt. Imagine if the Navajo Twin Warriors had used the weapons given them by their father, the Sun, for their own benefit.

I have not taken this journey for myself alone; I have taken it for all of us.

The Great Archer and The Bow

There are two effigy mounds near my granddaughter's home in Madison, Wisconsin - a bear and a lynx, along with a tree sculpture. The archer themes in the mandala relate to the nomadic Paleo-Indians that lived during the Middle Woodland period from 700-1200 AD. These Indians made mounds of dirt into the shape of birds, animals, and forms that are thought to represent water spirits. About 900 effigy mound centers were built, including more than 15,000 mounds, of which about 3,000 were actual effigies, images of an identifiable or allegorical animal or bird.

The "four lakes" area near Madison was the center of the effigy activity in Wisconsin, especially in variety and number built (around 1,500). A journey among them reveals a story of ancient rituals of life and death, of clan memory, of homage to Water, Sky and Earth, to totemic animals, and alignments to the cycles of the Sun and the Moon.

Harry Whitehorse, a Ho-Chunk artist, carved a hackberry tree at the Park, struck by lightning, into an Indian man encircled by an eagle, a wolf and bears. He stands watch over the sacred mounds and Lake Monona. Harry Whitehorse remembers, "My mother told us that the mounds were built by our ancestors, the ancient ones. We were always taught to respect the mounds and not damage them in any way." As a child, Harry Whitehorse's uncles passed on to him the craft of woodcarving. He was taught to fashion useful items that have been a mainstay for Ho-Chunk people for countless generations. From the ash tree, he carved bows and arrows. Basswood proved useful for common eating utensils like spoons and bowls. As a child, he was taught, "that nature has definite patterns and that nature is perfect in what it does. Those lessons define my approach as a realistic sculptor and painter. I strive for the qualities of attitude, accuracy, and detail within my art works."

I imagined the Indian man in the sculpture as the Great Archer that pulled the bowstring and shot each arrow into the world, straight, firm, without deviation. He set each of us on our course, using all of His knowledge and strength. Along the way, we lost the awareness of who we are, arrows of the Great Archer. We lost the understanding of the great knowledge and strength from which we were launched. We started trying to find our own way. We forgot that we were safe, that we were protected, that we were on a great journey in which we would encounter new worlds, new peoples, and new experiences. We did not have to be afraid, the balance of the Great Archer transfused into the arrow.

Some arrows fell along the way and they were buried. The grass and plants that grew upon their burial mounds only served to anchor them more firmly to Earth's bosom. Totems guarded these arrows. They were important teachers for the future. They would be nurtured by the Earth and sustained by the Sky until the lessons they had for humanity could be mastered. They would be fed by the natural bounty of the Lake - the Sturgeons, the Walleyes, the Big and Small Mouth Bass, the Bluegills, the Muskies, the Northern Pike.

Wildflowers bloom at Elmside Park in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Birds pollinate the flowers. Swallowtail, Sulphur, Gossamer-Wing, and Skipper butterflies siphon off nectar through their proboscis, protected by their ocellus patterning. Moths congregate near dim outdoor lighting.

"Hear us," the totem animals say.

"We will speak to you, if only you will listen.

There is no need to dig us up, to take us apart, to analyze us.

We will tell you what you are seeking to know.

You are the arrows, fashioned by the Great Archer, sent as His emissaries into this universe, to manifest His knowledge and strength, and the Bow's unparting love.

Though you do not know it, you are here to share your energy with a dying Planet. The Planet is dying because of an absence of love, of respect, an absence of the presence of the Great Archer, of the Bow that released us.

You are not alone. The Great Archer would not abandon you, would not shoot you forth without purpose, without direction. The Bow would not withhold its love, but instead would inculcate you with every particle of love within Her.

Trust the Great Archer. Trust the Bow. They are present, aware of your mistaken forlornness."

Just as the Ice Age passed, so the time in which we could not understand the mounds passed. We came to learn the lessons of the mounds, the Earth and the Sky, the totem animals and the Great Archer and the Bow. We fly through the Air, propelled by Holy Wind, supported by Earth's gravity, certain of our purpose, certain of our destination.

The Atom and The All (Red Sphere, Smaller Violet Sphere in Center)

In a vision seeking God, I came to a blazing ball of gas similar to the photos of the Sun taken with a telescope. In front of the blazing ball of gas was an Atom. The Atom told me: "Yagniza, you are unique, unrepeatable and a miracle. I kept only what I needed to retain my identity and the rest I gave away."

It helped me to understand that our God is a God of simplicity and generosity, of whom we are a part.

The purple atom is representative of the unification of duality (red and blue), the medicine wheel design symbolizing the healing needed for this integration to occur.


Corn represents the sacredness of life. Its pollen is used in many ceremonies and to greet the Dawn gods each day. Here it is at its fullest growth.

The Flamenco Dancer

I, at my height and fullness, am flamenco. See Bailare.

The Star Kite

My first memory of myself is flying a kite made by my Mom from a sheet of a magazine. My brother, Pat, and I, are outside of our home, running freely, trailing our kites behind us. The sun shines gloriously and warmly above us.

The Particles

The two spheres in the northern half of the Earth represent dots in the center of the whirls of our middle finger, symbolizing our powerlessness before Nature, and our willing recognition of this state, connecting with Nature, membrane to membrane.

Opening to the East

The triangular opening to the East allows the exit of all that is within this holy space.

Prayer of the Earth

"In life unending and beyond it, Yea, seated at home behold me,

In joy unchanging and beyond it, Yea, seated at home behold me."

The Blue Spruce Way Mandala (Reverse Side)

On the reverse side of the mandala are two hands. One hand holds a medicine bag; the other one is filled with many ants. If we do not use our traditional healing to heal ourselves, the stinging ants will freely and continuously propagate. Each generation of our flesh will suffer more.


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