Below is Whisper #19 from my latest book, 48 WHISPERS, which is a collection of photographs and personal meditations created across a decade of travel to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and the surrounding northern plains.
I once attended a powwow in honor of Tamokoce Te’Hila at the Prairie Wind Casino. Billy Mills, as he is also known, is the most accomplished modern athlete to hail from the Oglala Sioux Tribe. His gold-medal run in the 10,000-meter at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is still considered one of the greatest upsets in track history.
What I learned that night while listening to Billy speak was that he almost didn’t try out for the Olympic team. The 1960s were a challenging time for reservation communities, and this was particularly true at Pine Ridge. Billy felt that leaving his home to race was perhaps a selfish act. In search of wisdom and advice he shared his conflicting emotions with several tribal elders.
“When you strengthen yourself, you honor your tribe,” the elders told him. Billy was encouraged to run and run he did, bringing a gold medal home to the people of Pine Ridge.
The Seventh Power that lives within us all is meant to shine. Following your voice, talents, and inspirations is ultimately a selfless act. When you light up, the world around you becomes brighter. So follow your dreams and make yourself a priority. That which excites and captivates you is your gift to the world. In Lakota spirituality the direction one faces is considered important. Each of us must strive to walk (or run, like Billy Mills) toward our own true light. Serving yourself honors your tribe, provides inspiration for others, and advances humanity.