Pueblo, Colorado

The Walk of Life: Itsa Eagle Bear Shash and Flint

First Recorded

September 15, 2018


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Itsa Eagle Bear Shash and his nephew Flint are members of the Apache community, where they find a sense of spiritual belonging while performing Native American rituals. In this conversation, the relatives reflect on how Native American spirituality has shaped their approaches to life and consider the close connection between Native American religion and the land.

This story was produced by David Dault at Sandburg Media, LLC.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Itsa Eagle Bear Shash and Flint

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Itsa Eagle Bear Shash: If you look at it, the extent of the Comanche Empire, you can see how, with our people, we didn't really have divisions. Many people call it the Lakota tribes, the Navajo tribes, Apache tribes. People spoke the same language or close to it, or they could sign, but there were not divisions. They've made divisions when the Europeans came here and tried to say, "Well, who's your chief? Where's your tribe? Where's your tribe, and your tribe?"

They didn’t know that a lot of us that were intermarried, a lot of regions and territories overlapped. A lot of people's bloods overlapped. Even if you look at the history of many Native American people, and there was not a separation that you can see as it is today.

Even with the Seminoles. Seminole people are Native American people married to the African slaves that ran away. They took them in because there were tribes from Africa. At that time, took them in, said, "Come on." We're not a racist people.

And you could see our history. And that's what's good about having this opportunity today, is we can speak about our history, not his history. We say that's his story, history, his history. Now, it's time for our story.

Flint: It brought me home to the people. Like you said, we're one people. And we were one people at one time. And for many nations to come together of all walks of life for eight days out of the year. And our ceremonies, it's a beautiful thing. We find peace and let go of ourselves.

When I turned about 19, 20, I want to say, I met a brother of mine that is a nephew of yours. His name's Juanito. He helped me come home to the Red Road, to the walk of life. It's not a religion to me. It's how I walk every day. And he helped me cleanse myself first, an [foreign language] ceremony, purification ceremony. And he started asking questions. And that's when I met you. And it's been a blessing ever since.

And I supported and helped at Sundance for multiple years. It changed my life. It touched me to where I see myself out in the arbor, giving of myself for the people, letting my spirit come to me. In time, I was healed through these ways, through this walk of life. And it's helped me raise my kids. I was blessed. I stumbled for many years, just me and my kids, just being lost. And when I say lost, I mean lost without religion or with focus on God, Creator, [foreign language], or whatever you want to call him. There's only one Creator. And it brought me home to him is what I mean when I say, brought me home. And it's put an impact in my children's life that I could... I'm so blessed for that. I would never want to change.

Itsa Eagle Bear Shash: We say, we never separate our life from our walk, from our path. And my whole life I try to walk in that way, the Native way. It only became a religion when they separated us from the land, where we were once living the land, close to nature, close to the animals, close to everything. They took everything pretty much away from us that all we could have then, people say, was the religion.

But to us, you see, we never had religion. It was always a way of life. Our religion and our life were never separate. And that's why we say, "Walk your life in that way. Walk your life in the way of your path. And that is your religion."

And for us, it's our same idea of God. They came over and put their idea of God, to a lot of the Native people here, all over Mexico, everywhere. And they said, "You can't believe in your gods. You got to believe in only one." And that's what they did. They killed many people because of that.

We say we're people, we believe in that mystery. We don't quarrel about what God is. We just know that, all around us, everything is that spirit, what they call the great spirit of life, of creation. And so that's why we say it's a breath of life. And so, it's the same way with our religion. We never really had one. Just had to walk ,the way we walked.

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