One thing Attorney General Mark Vargo isn’t changing about South Dakota government is its inability to separate church and state. In announcing the impending hire of a liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons cases, A.G. Vargo immersed the public event in religious trappings:
Pastor Jonathan Old Horse from Rapid City’s Woyatan Lutheran Church also addressed the gathering. “We are very honored to be here and to start on a new life chapter with our two communities with our two distinct peoples to share in these medicines and move forward,” he said.
Following the courtyard welcome that included the ceremonial burning of sage, or smudging, the Attorney General convened a meeting of Indigenous leaders from across the state to advise him as he prepares to hire the state’s inaugural MMIP liaison officer [Office of the Attorney General, press release, 2022.09.21].
Smudging is heavy spiritual stuff:
Smudging is a traditional ceremony among Native Americans and other indigenous culture that is used to purify the body, aura and energy of a ceremonial space or personal space. It utilizes the spirits of sacred plants to remove negative energies and restore balance. Remember there are many tribes and many ways to do a smudging ceremony. Do all things with a good heart for the right reasons.
A variety of plants are used in smudging ceremonies:
- Sage removes negative energies
- Sweet grass attracts positive energies and sweetness
- Cedar wards off sickness
- Lavender brings spiritual blessing
Many tribes consider tobacco to be the most sacred plant in a smudging ceremony, as it both removes negative energy and replenishes positive energy, and connects people to the spiritual world. It can also be used as a medicine [Keepers of the Sacred Tradition of Pipemakers, “Prayer & Smudging,” Pipekeepers.org, retrieved 2022.09.22].
Smudging is an act of prayer:
Smudging is something we do as part of the whole person education to show the students that what they do is a beautiful part of who they are as Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people. It can be very prayerful and medicinal [St. Joseph’s Indian School, “Spirituality and Smudging at St. Joseph’s Indian School,” 2014.08.22].
Lakota, Lutheran, Sunni, Sikh—prayer is prayer, and it’s not for the state to promote in its public activities.
But at least when he gets done promoting prayer on the public dime, Attorney General Vargo plans to accomplish a task that his impeached predecessor illegally ignored for a year and a half and didn’t manage to finish before his impeachment, even with private donations to cover the hire.