Trail of Tears, Immigration, and Healing of Nations

Author of well-known Medicine Cards and Choctaw Pipe-Carrier, David Carson, shares stories of hope and healing with historical roots and contemporary relevance.

From the Trail of Tears forced relocation of Native Americans to displaced Syrian or African refugees, the stories may differ but the wounds and opportunity to heal remain the same. Native Americans have a unique perspective historically, and a wisdom that can help us inform our current situation. Invasion, displacement, genocide have been with humanity forever. In the culture and in the land that surrounds us, even in our blood, all of history is alive within us. This includes the glory and the trauma of our individual and collective past. Healing this history requires looking within one’s self and perhaps taking a moment to hear the untold stories of our history.

“I wouldn’t be here without this history. So to rage against this history is to rage against myself…”   -David Carson

Today people are more willing to re-examine colonial attitudes and the ways these archaic belief structures are still playing out in the world today. Along with this has come a global discussion about our relationship to the land, and a scrutinizing of current political/economic systems. Indeed, we stand at the crossroads of a great opportunity for healing. In many tribes this time of healing has been spoken of in stories for generations.


In 1994 Alison “Tootie” Montana, a prominent Black Indian Chief from New Orleans, had a vision of bringing together many diverse tribes to celebrate their shared history. David Carson, Choctaw author of “Medicine Cards” and Kam Nightchase, a Lakota Pipe-Carrier, also shared a similar vision. Reverend David “Goat” Carson of New Orleans led the organizational effort to make this vision a reality at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong Park. The gathering was called “Sacred Medicine Circle at High Noon” on Aug. 20, 1994, and a White Buffalo was born later that week. This is said to be a good omen of unity and healing between all tribes and nations.

Unity looks like an impossible dream today though with racial division, immigration, and refugee crises continuing to make top headlines. The lines dividing nations are always changing yet there are no borders in our blood or our common humanity.

Is citizenship or identifying with your own culture more important than recognizing the common humanity in other human beings?

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Only through making the inward journey can this story ever be healed. Remembering, honoring, and making peace with our personal and shared history is something that each of us can do to bring peace into the world. As you will see in the video below, David Carson knows this as well as anyone. His stories and understanding are unparalleled because he has lived them his whole life.

What happened to natives in America provides a good window to understand a universal struggle that is playing out all over the world today. After the Trail of Tears, when natives were forcefully marched off their ancestral lands and onto reservations, natives were required to register themselves on the Dawes Roll. This was an “official” government list of “card carrying” natives.

Some bands of Indians refused to be listed on the Dawes Rolls because they considered it an insult to have the government that abused them be the ones to make their heritage/citizenship “official” or not. These people had children and grandchildren who are still with us today, some assimilated and some continuing to keep their culture outside of the official “books”.

“Outside Indian Country most don’t realize that over the past 10 years, several thousand people have had their tribal citizenship status terminated. Most were not dismembered for wrongdoing or adopted by other Native nations. They were simply identified by their elected officials as allegedly no longer meeting revised citizenship criteria.” –Dismembering Natives: The Violence Done by Citizenship Fights

Citizenship is based on a set of man-made, ever-changing rules usually devised to serve a political or economic agenda. The end result can be devastating when these ideologies become internalized and a sense of belonging is lost. Externally this becomes wars, internally it can become self-hatred. We heal when we extend the welcome-mat, and allow ourselves and others to belong. We are connected by the good, bad, and ugly parts of this history. Connected it what’s most important.

David Carson speaks about healing the trauma from within by “taking the bitter with the sweet” and his wisdom is applicable to all of us no matter what culture we come from. Carson speaks of, “Coming into a new world that we don’t know how to describe… It has to do with light,  it has to do with self-understanding, it has to do with inner-dimensions.” He shares about the “snake of energy” that went from the northern to southern tip of the Americas and the heritage of Mound Builders.

“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” -Joseph Campbell




When we look to knowledgeable elders and explore our own historical struggles, we begin to see similar patterns emerge for every culture. The oppressors and the oppressed have changed roles on many occasions while the triumphs and suffering continue to be present with us today. Together we can resolve these wounds while deepening our sense of respect for other cultures as well as our selves. This is how new stories are created, this is how we can fulfill a dream of peace and unity, but it will take doing some work within. Deepening compassion for yourself will help you be compassionate for the struggles of others. Cast away your fear, ask questions, explore… only you can heal your history.

White Buffalo Day Wisdom, A Call to Take Heart

If those making decisions at the upper levels of government have a heart, how can we encourage them to listen to it? With so much distraction happening in the head and constant external pressure, listening to the heart isn’t always so easy to do. It requires taking a moment to stop, breathe, listen within, and the willingness to let go of the demands placed on us by our minds and others. Accessing the wisdom of the heart almost always involves clearing the mind. Elders remind us on White Buffalo Day to step back and consider the larger picture of our roles on this planet, our impact, and our potential to come together and make much needed changes. Clearly this can only happen if our political world leaders are listening as well. What will it take to call them back to the heart?

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Goat Carson at White Buffalo Day 2005.
Photo Courtesy of Jeffrey Ehrenreich

White Buffalo is a story passed down for 19 generations in The Lakota Tradition with a beautiful vision of harmony between nations and healing for the land. Sounds like something we could really use right about now doesn’t it? The story speaks of a White Buffalo being born to send a warning to the people, but to also symbolize a great potential for change. If the people choose to wake up and return to living in a harmonious way with Mother Earth, miracles can happen. In 1994 a White Buffalo was born in Janesville, Wisconsin the same week of a historic a pipe ceremony in Congo Square in New Orleans. Regardless of coincidence or divine intervention, this was the beginning of White Buffalo Day.

On August 27th every year around the world and in Congo Square, New Orleans people gather to consider the implications of this powerful idea. Congo Square is one of the birth-places of jazz and blues though it’s history to local natives predates the colonial era. It is a place where Native Americans and African Slaves traded, danced, and drummed freely thanks to progressive French Plantation Owners in the area. Nestled in the heart of The Treme Neighborhood made famous by the HBO series of the same name, Congo Square is also known as Louis Armstrong Park.

New Orleans has a rich history of cultural cross-pollination in art, food, and its music has brought people together joyously for decades so it is a perfect place for the vision of The White Buffalo to be honored and celebrated each year. Perhaps, The City of Dreams, as New Orleans is commonly called is also a place of prophecy…

Central to this story is a man named David “Goat” Carson. He is Cherokee elder, reverend, poet, musician, oral-historian, and community organizer in New Orleans. He has hosted The White Buffalo Day Celebration for 20 years. Carson is most known for his Grammy-Awarded songs performed by Dr. John and his thought-provoking social commentary masked in works of fiction like Shallow Graves.

Respected Black Indian Chief, Allison “Tootie” Montana, is also central to the birth of White Buffalo Day in New Orleans. Black Indians have a hidden past and their blood lines stretch across continents. During times of slavery, Indians raided plantations and freed slaves. These varied African and Indian cultures mixed and inter-married, keeping aspects of their ancient indigenous heritage alive through their cultural ceremonies. Some of the bands of Indians that fled during the fall of Montezuma had migrated north and east around the gulf, others had migrated north and to the west. As these histories become known, the term “All My Relations” begins to make sense in a whole new way. The American Melting Pot pre-dates America as we know it today.

David “Goat” Carson and Tootie Montana felt that it was time that some of these untold histories be celebrated in public with a pipe ceremony in Congo Square in late August of 1994. During that same week, thousands were gathered in the pine forests of Northern Arizona with Hopi, Havasupai, Apache, and many other traditional elders for council of Rainbow Nations. Drumming around The World had also been organized for that week with people in 38 countries and 42 US states all drumming simultaneously for Unity. None of the elders or organizers were aware of the others gatherings, this was before the days of cell phones and Facebook. The White Buffalo was born that same week in Wisconsin.

Musicians like Cyril Neville, known for his soulful musical expressions of social justice, along with his wife Gaynielle have also participated in making White Buffalo Day special over the years. With a growing list of New Orleans cultural dignitaries and artists, the event has continued to be at the spiritual heart of the city, attracting people from all ethnic backgrounds to share a worthy vision. Always a small and spirited gathering of those who know and remember the old stories.

In South Dakota, The 19th Generation Keeper of The Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe and Bundle today is Chief Arvol Lookinghorse. Lookinghorse, author of White Buffalo Teachings, is an advocate of maintaining traditional spiritual practices, founder of The Bigfoot Riders which memorializes the massacre of Big Foot’s band at Wounded Knee. Lookinghorse is also the founder of World Peace and Prayer Day.

Each year, The City of New Orleans releases a proclamation for White Buffalo Day, often authored by David “Goat” Carson and Arvol Lookinghorse with a specific focus of intention for the years event. Appropriately, 2013 was dedicated to “A prayer for the healing of the hearts and minds of our leaders”, and the full proclamation states:


WHEREAS Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of The Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe of the Nakota, Dakota & Lakota Peoples of the Great Souix Nations and Honorary Citizen of his beloved… New Orleans has these words for the people of New Orleans & the world.

“Today I witness a lot of sickness on the face of the earth” and

“We have come to a time when we the people are the ones bringing
all the prophecies of all the peoples closer & closer” and

The humans are so disconnected from the Spirit Mother Earth now
to succeed we must use the power of prayer. The signs of the white
animals are all over the world. We must be the voices of these white
animals, and

The Tar Sands is the biggest cancer on Mother Earth now they say the
Keystone Pipeline will not leak yet we witness pipe line leaks in Yellowstone
Arkansas and other places which they cannot clean up, and

Even now the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico are poisoning the waters
which are the blood of Mother Earth, and

We must realize that Grandmother Earth is the Source of Life not a resource.
We must pray that our leaders stop thinking only of their personal profit
and open their hearts for healing and their minds to understand they are
risking the future of their own children and grandchildren and

On August 27th we gather on the Sacred Ground of Congo Square to pray for
the healing of the hearts and minds of our leaders. We shall be as fearless in
our prayers as the Spirit is fearless in our protection.
and now therefore



in the name of and by the authority vested in the Council of the City of New Orleans

If you have followed Idle No More, Forward on Climate, and One Billion Rising through the past few months you have noticed that many different movements are gaining momentum to end the abuses of indigenous communities, women, and the environment through acts of love, beauty and non-violence.

Leaders throughout the world still appear to be sleeping in regards to our sacred obligation as human beings to the planet and each other. This is not a time for hollow words and rhetoric from our political leaders. Wars, corruption, colonialism, imperialism, greed, short-term personal gain, and ignorance are cluttering the minds of leaders everywhere. Perhaps together we can psychically nudge them to slow down and listen to their heart for just a moment.

White Buffalo Day is August 27th but we invite you to hold this vision of healing, and unity alive every single day of the year. To learn more about and download PDF’s of previous proclamations, visit here. To listen to an NPR radio interview with Cyril Neville you can click here. In case you missed this story in last years Huffington Post piece about White Buffalo Day (which also has some more in-depth history), please take a moment and listen to the words of Chief Arvol Lookinghorse here.

***This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post but has been updated with added details for Culture Collective***