Culver Academies students had the rare opportunity to hear, see, and experience many of the cultural aspects of the Shoshone Indian tribe during a three-day visit by three members from the Wind River Reservation in central Wyoming.
James Trosper, a seventh generation Sun Dance chief; his daughter Josie Trosper, a traditional dancer; and Willow Pingree, a competitive singer and drummer; met with students during classes, spoke at an all-school meeting, and conducted a series of sweat lodge ceremonies over their visit.
Their time on campus was part of the Global Studies Institute’s sustainability series and the Montgomery Lecture Series.
Trosper told students at the all-school session that the Eastern Shoshone share the Wind River Reservation with the Northern Arapaho. Under the original agreement negotiated by his great-grandfather, Trosper said, the tribes received 44 million acres in Utah and Wyoming. That agreement lasted until gold was discovered on the land. Then the government wanted to renegotiate.
The land size was reduced from 44 million to 3 million acres, Trosper explained, but the tribes received free housing, medical facilities, and schools. Trosper said his great-grandfather – who lived to 113 – told him to always take care of the land “and it will take care of you.”
Shortly after his great-grandfather’s death in 1985, natural gas and oil deposits were discovered on land. Now the 15,000 tribal residents (approximately 5,000 Shoshone and 10,000 Arapaho) receive regular payments from the gas and oil companies.
The Shosone believe the Creator made the world and everything in this world contains part of his spirit, which can be used to our benefit. This can be seen in the sweat lodge ceremony, he said. The lodge is made using 12 willow branches for support beams. “The number 12 is very sacred,” Trosper said.
The lodge is shaped like a turtle, a figure that carries spiritual significance for the tribe since it is believed the turtle brought the mud from the ocean floor which became the land. The “grandfather rocks” that are heated and placed in the sweat lodge will capture what is ailing you physically and spiritually. The fire pit that holds the rocks is called the “womb of mother earth.”
Using the sweat lodge can help with something as small as easing the symptoms of a cold easing the major burdens of life. That is why it is considered a purification ceremony, he said.