Today I wanted to write about my Great Grandmother. Her name was Julia Ivy Youquesa Lucien, an Oglala Lakota living from 1851 – 1932. Her close adult relatives and friends would call her Julie Tanka (Big Julie). I never knew her full Lakota name, but the children who knew her called her Grandma Clifford. Great Grandma Clifford was a short stocky woman, and reports have her over 200 pounds. Everything that I have heard of her is that she was kind, but firm. Relatives would talk about her always walking around with a belt around her waist and a knife tucked into her side. She would grow vegetable and had many cattle and horses. You see, around this time in Reservation history, the Government had allocated Lakota families a certain amount of cattle for them to start-up ranching on their lands.
It was around this same time, late 1800’s to early 1900’s, that the Government’s tactics changes. They no longer were concentrating on moving the Lakota to the Reservation, but were headlong into assimilating the people into “Western” society. For Great Grandma Clifford, this was a very difficult time. For she was required by Lakota tradition to uphold her Oglala customs and duties as a Medicine Woman.
Grandma Clifford was seen as a very powerful Medicine Women who had learned the secret languages on the spirit world. She knew the messages from the Coyote, who would regularly talk to her. Plus she would listen to the owl and all of his messages. Her power was given to her by authority from Tito Kon Lati Win (She’s Gone Home or Move’s Camp Woman), her Mother (my Great Great Grandmother) another powerful Oglala Lakota Medicine Woman. You see to become a Medicine Person, one would need to have the authority of another Medicine Person, so they can teach them the proper way to communicate with the spirits of the animals, plants, rock, sky, sun, moon, and the stars. If the authority is not given, or bestowed upon you, then you will not know how to practice your medicine and misread the spirit’s language, which can harm or lead to death.
So being a Medicine Woman was a very complex and lifelong goal. Tito Kon Lati Win had taught Grandma Clifford all about ceremonies, the plants and animal spirits, special songs, the drum, and the pipe. All were essential in her practice to heal the sick and fulfill her duties. Not only did Grandma Clifford have to learn the complexities of being a Medicine Women, but she lived in a time when the use of the Lakota language, beliefs, rituals, and ceremonies were not condoned and if caught using it you would be punished. This is why Great Grandma Clifford spoke very little Lakota to her children and grandchildren and use English instead. A relative once related that Grandma Clifford told the children that they would not be taught how to speak Lakota properly, for she feared that when they were at boarding school and accidentally spoke their own language, they would be severely punished by the Nuns.
Personally, I found this a huge loss, but unlike Great Grandma Clifford, my mother, who was a teacher on the Reservation in the 1970 – 1980, took it upon herself to learn our language again. By the time I went to school Lakota language was a required subject, which we all needed to learn. It was funny though, as a kid you always seem to learn and remember more the swear words. Mum use to hate that.
Anyway, back to Great Grandma Clifford. As mentioned above, all knew her as a very powerful and experienced Medicine Woman. It was said that she had a cure for everything, even Tuberculosis, and when people use to see her horse-drawn cart coming up the road, they knew it would all be OK. Great Grandma Clifford used to sit on her porch in the evening and with her special bag “medicine bag” she would give thanks to the four corners of the earth via a tobacco offerings. Then she would sit down and light her pipe.
One account by an old relative of mine, tells that one day a Coyote came to her and started howling and making noise. She told her children to help her gather special plants for her trip away, for the Coyote told her that her sister was very sick in Denver. The next day she joined a number of carts that were headed that way and made the long journey from Kyle, South Dakota to Denver, Colorado. When she arrived she found her sister extremely sick and help to heal her over the next month. Her sister recovered and became well again, so Great Grandma Clifford made the long journey back to South Dakota. Through all the stories I have heard and read about Great Grandma Clifford, this one sums her up perfectly, a women with a power that is so grand, yet her humility, love and kindness for her people, relatives and humankind was the true essence of this generous soul. I wish I had the chance to meet her, but at least I can hear the stories and know that I am privileged to have a part of her in me.
Thank you (Pilamaya) friends (Kola)
Founder and CEO of Hanblechia Designs