Chief Steve McCullough Sundance Chief and Spiritual leader is one of the original members of the American Indian movement. Still to this day he carries the AIM (American Indian Movement) membership card since 1972 signed by Dennis Banks. Steve McCullough was involved in 1973 during the occupation of Wounded Knee, Pine Ridge Reservation South, Dakota for the native American rights and issues. During the occupation he was arrested in March 3rd 1973 in Wounded Knee South Dakota for his participation in standing up for native rights.
Chief Steve McCullough was awarded the Presidential peace medal by Chief Leonard Crowdog at the Paradise Sundance at Rose Bud Reservation. Steve was first acknowledged as a chief and placed a war bonnet "ceremonial headdress" on his head by the Chasing Horse family. And later also recognized before the Rose Bud Sioux tribe as a ceremony chief by Chief Leonard Crow Dog who is the most known medicine man in modern times.
Holy Man Chief Frank Fools Crow (left) with Chief Steve McCullough (Right)
Chief Steve McCullough - Iktomi Sha.
First of all, I want to give thanks to our creator for all the many blessings in my life and to all the thousands of friends around the world. I am very thankful to the creator for the gift of life that has allow me to bring blessings peace and hope to millions around the world. As a young boy sitting in many native American homes on the reservation listening to their stories of their live and of their grandparent’s times. Some even telling me stories about their aunts and uncles killed in the 1890 wounded knee massacre. Many of the native elder’s grandmothers and grandfathers saying they wanted to share a dream they had about me as being someone very special who had spirits with me and they often told me about my future and helping the Indian people and how my life one day will affect many nations and tribes in a very good way. Then I spoke with them about a vision I had with our Indian people. Then they began to take me to their medicine people and ceremonies so that I could work with the vision that was given to me. This was in the late 1960s and 1970s’ which has taken me onto the most incredible life’s journey seeing thousands of healings peacemaking within family’s tribes and Nations.
I never asked to become a spiritual leader. I did not ask to become a medicine man; I also never did ask to be a chief or Sundance chief or a pipe carrier. Everything that I am was brought to be by our Lakota elders and medicine men. For so many years they would ask me when are you going to start preforming ceremonies. Because you know that you have a spirt with you. I was often called yuwipi man by them. It was because their dreams and visions they had about me, so here I am!
I remember back in the 1970s I was just coming into these ways. I went to a wake where a old man and sun dancer had passed away, I don’t remember his first name but his last was Brown. There was a sweat lodge going on. And this was the first time I was asked to bring in the hot stones one at a time into the inpinpi there was a old man running the sweat lodge he hands me his pipe to put on the alter. This old man was our holy man Chief Frank Fools Crow. It was said this was the first traditional funeral and burial allowed since reservation began. They made a burial scaffold over the old man’s grave with buffalo and horse sculls attached to it. This was at the Sundance grounds and home of selo Black Crow wanbli South Dakota.
Sometimes medicine men have asked of me to preform healing ceremonies for their family members. I was asked to come and set up my alter along with there’s doing yuwipi and lawampi ceremonies and doctoring the people. In 1998 my very close friend and medicine man Vernal Cross of Kyle, South Dakota suddenly passed away at his home and his family asked me to hurry and come there as I was Vernal's medicine helper at his Sundance in Kyle. I was asked to conduct the ceremonies for the immediate family’s members during his wake then Chief Leonard Crow Dog and medicine man Richard Moves Camp and my self-preformed his funeral and burial at his home. Vernal often said I was his closest friend and brother I still greatly miss him.
Chief Steve McCullough with his family the Chasing Horses.
FAQ with Steve McCullough
1.) What tribal affiliations do you have (Lakota Hunka Relations, etc.)? “I am adopted Lakota and Dakota through Hunka ceremonies with the Chasing Horse family, Bear Runner Family, Broken Leg Family”
2.) Where did you grow up? (Reservation) What was it like? “As a teen on the Rosebud Reservation (Brule Sioux) but I also spent time on Pine Ridge. I was eventually accepted within the tribe (Lakota/Dakota); many friends died due to racist practices of law enforcement. This inevitably led to my involvement in AIM.”
3.) When did you become involved with the American Indian Movement and why (Security of their Medicine People, etc.)? How did that shape the direction in your life as far as activism, ceremonies, and peacework? I joined AIM in 1972 by my friend and neighbor Jimmy Knife of White River South Dakota. I seen so much violence taking place against our Indian people. Friends being murdered beaten up by white vigilantes and by the police. Indian women being raped and nothing being done about it. It was all just too much. I felt a need to do something, I wanted to help protect Indian people. Then a few weeks before the occupation of Wounded Knee in 1973 a group of us took a stand at the Calico community center just outside of Pine Ridge I was ready to out my life on the line for Indian people, there I was a armed guard for the camp. While listening to elders telling me stories about there parents, aunts and uncles that were killed by the US solider's at the 1890 Wounded Knee massacre they asked me to protect them (so I did) this was a turning point in my life, it opened my life to more of a spiritual path as a peace maker.
4.) What was your role in the Wounded Knee Occupation in 1972-73 (Arrest, etc.—this ties in greatly with the DAPL conflict right now and the arrest of protestors there)? “I was trying to get back into Wounded Knee and I was spotted by the law. The FBI had a roadblock set up. We were searched, interrogated, and I was put in Pine Ridge Jail. I was scared and 19 years old. There were about 40-50 full-blood Natives in the cell. I heard my name from another cell. I acknowledged the voice. He knew me and my position within the Movement and the inmates began to sing the AIM song and began banging on the cells in celebration and solidarity. Riots occurred in the cells and I was taken to another jail in Hot Springs, SD. When the inmates at that jail found out that I was a member of AIM and was at Wounded Knee, they started to sing AIM songs, too. I was released and I went to a hardware store to buy ammunition for the occupation. As I was purchasing it, the woman at the counter harassed me and called the police. The police showed up and threatened to kill me. This was not the first time or last time. I rejoined my colleagues in AIM and we proceeded to occupy the Calico Community Center just outside of Pine Ridge. 1This became one of the main headquarters for gatherings during the Occupation.”
5.) What was your role in the protest/conflict in Uniontown, KY? How did this help awareness of mound desecration and the necessity to have NAGPRA passed? What was your role in the passing of NAGPRA? (this also ties in with the DAPL and the desecration of sacred sites) “In the late 80’s I was in Rosebud and went to a doctoring ceremony. The medicine man Robert Stead told me that when I went back east, I would be sharing the pipe with non-Indians. I knew no one that would be of this description—they didn't know the ceremonies or even what a canunpa was. I went back to Indiana I saw Dennis Banks on TV. I hadn’t seen him in years, so I went to see him in Slack Farm Uniontown, KY where there was over 12,000 Native American graves dug up and bones scattered all over, It looked like a war zone. Into Memorial Day weekend there was a 4 day ceremony for reburial. There were no laws against grave desecration at that time. For four years, there were native ceremonies during Memorial Day weekend. I had an inipi (sweat lodge) at my house at that time. People started to come to my home for ceremony. The medicine man who had been coming to my home asked me to share a pipe with him to bring a Sun Dance to the region. We were pushing for legislation against desecration in Indiana and the surrounding areas with John Craig (currently running for Governor)and it was eventually was passed on the state level, then eventually recognized on a Federal Level (NAGPRA 1990).”
6.) When did you receive your medicine bundle and bonnet? “Elmer Running’s medicine bundle—92-93 he left the Dance and I became the guardian of it. I took the medicine bundle to Earl Swift Hawk (my grandfather) to bring it to him. It was he who designated me as the guardian of the bundle. The bonnet came from the Chasing Horse family (Joseph Chasing Horse). I was recognized as a Chief since Elmer Running gave me my name Iktomi Sha. Chief Leonard CrowDog also recognized me as a Chief at the Paradise Sundance in Rose Bud, SD in 2008 and gave his blessings to our Salt Creek Sun Dance. He also provided me with a Presidential Peace Medal before all the people at the Paradise Sundance and referred to me as the Chief of Chiefs east of the Mississippi River.”
7.) Who are some of the medicine men that you have done ceremony with and who are some of the families that have supported you? “Chasing Horse family (adopted 2/26/1971), Bear Runner family (Pine Ridge), Carl Broken Leg & Bernice Spotted Eagle (Wounded Knee), Godfred Chips, Sam Wounded Head, Chief Lenord Crowdog, Tom Perkins (former logistics man for AIM), and several others.”
8.) What are some of the countries you have done ceremonies for people overseas? South America Columbia and Equator, India, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Rome Vatican, Turkey, Portugal, England, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Mexico, Canada and several more going to these places have allowed me to work with and meet so many people. I have had the opportunity to work for indigenous rights all over the world.
9.) What are some of the international events that have had the most profound effect on you? “The Gathering of Shamans in Columbia, praying with the canunpa at the Wailing Wall in Israel, a canunpa ceremony in Saint Peter Square at the Vatican, and leading a prayer in India to over three and a half million people. Pipe ceremony at Stone Henge. Canunpa morning sunrise ceremony at Mount Sinai Egypt. Blessing ceremony in Columbia with over 15,000 people in the city square. Ceremony in Ipers Belgium WW1 memorial. Early So many others.