West River Eagle

Lakota elders connect with Indigenous Costa Ricans


COURTESY PHOTO Manny and Renee Iron Hawk (right and center) recently traveled to Costa Rica at the invitation of Dr. Brian Ely. They met with Costa Rican Indigenous leaders of six different tribes and discussed mutually beneficial trade agreements.

Manny and Renee Iron Hawk, Cheyenne River Lakota elders from Red Scaffold, South Dakota, traveled to Costa Rica February 17-27, 2023, and met with representatives of six Indigenous tribes. Manny (Titunwan Okowozu) said meeting them was “awesome,” like seeing a reflection of himself. “They are our brothers and sisters. …Their struggles are the same as ours: language preservation, land sovereignty, reclaiming traditional culture, being recognized as a nation. … I felt their strong energy.”

The Iron Hawks began a conversation with Costa Rican Indigenous people about the possibility of mutually beneficial trade agreements. All beef available in the small Central American country is imported and therefore very expensive. The Costa Ricans are very interested in trading coconuts, plantains and coffee for bison meat.

Expatriate Brian Ely, who has lived in Costa Rica for eleven years, invited the Iron Hawks to visit him. They met Ely in 2019 at a gathering organized by Zen Peacemakers International. At the time, Ely mentioned that he would like to have them come to visit Costa Rica.

After they attended a Zen Peacemakers “Bearing Witness” Retreat in Poland in the winter of 2022, Ely told them, “You have your passports now…you can come to Costa Rica and visit me.”

Renee (Tituwan Oohenumpa) says Ely was a “generous and gracious host that also served as our interpreter as the language spoken in Costa Rica is Spanish.”

The Iron Hawks traveled to Costa Rica on Friday, February 17. The following day, about 20 friends, neighbors and acquaintances responded to an invitation from Ely to gather at his home to meet the Iron Hawks.

The Iron Hawks say the guests at Ely’s home were very interested in learning about them and their life’s work of advocating for the Lakota. They were especially interested in hearing about the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre and the repatriation of Wounded Knee sacred belongings back to the tribes.

For the remainder of their stay, the Iron Hawks visited Indigenous elders and activists in six different locations scattered all over Costa Rica. Again, Brian Ely made the arrangements for the meetings and served as translator.

They learned of Central American ceremonies and rituals similar to those of the Lakota. One tribe has a fish hatchery to raise tilapia. They learned about Indigenous Costa Rican arts and crafts. Renee received the benefit of Indigenous healing practices including massage and medicinal tea.

They met proactive women who are suffering persecution for their activism and are not backing down. Renee says the women she met are “really strong, all business, focused, and direct.”

Immediately upon meeting them, one woman very pointedly asked the Iron Hawks, “Who are you and why are you here?” Manny assured her that he and Renee had come in the “wolakota” way, meaning the traditional sacred way of peace, balance, harmony, and coming together for mutual benefit. He sincerely hopes that trade agreements can be arranged that will benefit everyone involved.

In addition to meeting the Indigenous leaders in Costa Rica, they also saw amazingly beautiful beaches on both the east and west sides of the country, some of them unusual black sand beaches created by volcanoes.

Another impressive experience was their visit to Rancho Mastatal, “an education center and community rooted in environmental sustainability, meaningful, place-based livelihoods, and caring relationships,” according to ranchomastatal.com.

Rancho Mastatal “encompasses more than 300-acres of wildlife refuge with beautiful waterfalls, pristine rivers, idyllic swimming holes, impressive trees, extraordinary wilderness views, and intact habitat for the area’s rich flora and fauna.”

Renee learned and used the phrase “pura vida” which literally means “pure life” in Spanish. In Costa Rica the phrase is used as both a greeting and as a farewell. More broadly, the phrase refers to a Costa Rican philosophy that encourages the appreciation of life’s simple treasures, slowing things down, celebrating good fortune, and refusing to take anything for granted. “pura vida” means living life to the fullest.

Renee said that when she began to say “Pura Vida” in greeting and in farewell, she could tell by the looks on people’s faces that she had made a special connection.

The Iron Hawks say that the concept of “pura vida” is similar to the idea of “wolakota.” Manny says, “As a Lakota man I want to be balanced, look into my inner space, be an example, and help others any way I can.”

Renee added, “It was such an awesome trip, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I will treasure and cherish for my memories. Just beautiful! …I’m 60-plus years old. At this age, going to Auschwitz and to Costa Rico within six months has given me lots of food for thought. I’m still processing it all.”

On July 9-15, 2023, the Iron Hawks will be co-hosting a Zen Peacemakers Retreat in Wyoming and Montana along with Lakota elders Violet Catches, Wendell Yellow Bull, and Ivan Looking Horse. For more information, go to zenpeacemakers.org/programs/native-american-retreat/.

(NOTE: Read about the Iron Hawks journey to the infamous World War II death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland at www.westrivereagle.com/articles/lakota-elders-bear-witness-at-holocaust-concentration-camp-in-poland/).

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