Ancestors in High Places
BY DAVID S. LEWIS
For propriety’s sake, we will address the Native American Star People legends, what might be termed the folklore traditions of various Indian tribes, of having been in contact with extraterrestrials, or as being their ancestors, as a study of human societies and cultures, as anthropology, so that the more incredible aspects of this topic might be afforded a conventional context. Not to do so could present too great a challenge to standard ways of thinking and certain shared concepts of reality, at least in the white man’s world.
That standard way of thinking was not necessarily found in native cultures throughout history, and so our story begins long ago, in an antiquity recorded as mythology but passed down as belief, yet “myth” that takes us to the present, and to familiar places in Montana and the West, where legends of Star People endure, along with reports even of personal contact between extraterrestrials and American Indians.
It may be perhaps the norm for native legends to reference the Sky, and ancient interactions with those who dwell in the sky, or that resulted in celestial fixtures, such as the formation of the Pleiades, due to events on earth. That constellation, in fact, pops up with some regularity among ancient native peoples, in part we might assume due to the “outdoor” nature of native cultures, with the sky, particularly the night sky, looming overhead so mysterious and unavoidable—a living reality, as it were, that is rarely contemplated by those who reside indoors.
A Lakota legend speaks of seven maidens being chased by a bear. On their knees, they prayed for divine intervention, the result being that the ground beneath them erupted, high into the air, lifting them out of harm’s way, as the bear clawed at the risen ground. The result was Devil’s Tower (Wyoming), the bear’s claws having carved vertical geological features into the rock, and the seven maidens having been installed above as the Pleiades.
The Hopi believe their ancestors came from the Pleiades, the place, or people they call Chuhukon, or, those who cling together, a reference it seems to that tightly grouped starry cluster, as it appears to the naked eye. Likewise, early Dakota legends speak of the Pleiades, or Tiyami, as the abode of the ancestors.
Other native oral histories, or legends, speak of an origin, if not in the Pleiades, then in the stars generally, or other constellations. The Cree, for example, arrived on earth from the stars, as spirits, and then became human beings.
Other native legends, including those of the Lakota, about which we were recently informed by a prominent Montana-based tribal member, speak not necessarily of Star People, but of mysterious beings coming from above, we were told, as spheres of light, that in turn abduct children, a reference to which we will return, and that corresponds eerily to popular “folklore” about alien abduction and breeding programs (that are not for the faint hearted).
The Zuni Indians offer one of many belief systems, if not actual experiences, related to ancestors who came from the sky, a phrasing that has since morphed into the more new age Star People reference, as opposed to Sky People.
Clifford Mahooty, a Zuni elder and member of the Kachina Society, tells us that his “grandfathers” taught him about a “very direct connection” his people have had with “beings from space.” Mahooty at the same time explains that the language of his grandfathers (his elders) was not, of course, English, and that he has interpreted their words and concepts using modern phrasings that nonetheless accurately represent the old beliefs. And Mahooty does this, it seems, so as to be able to account for what many would deem outlandish developments that seem to have gained a foothold in some quarters of modern Native American thought—that the ancestors were extraterrestrial aliens, and that they continue to visit and interact with peoples to this day (a claim independent of the Peyote religion and hallucinatory experience).
Having examined some of the legends, and as with the Ancient Alien theory now being propagated on cable TV, revisionist concepts (if that’s what they are) about spiritual figures having actually been aliens from other worlds seems often an all too easy and glib reinterpretation of traditional beliefs that, rather than “space people,” the players were spiritual in nature. Televised proponents, what’s more, of the ancient alien notion, seem to serve more as talking heads than experts, enlisted for TV appearances rather than bringing intellectual discipline to the extraordinary revisions of traditional beliefs that they propose. One might ascribe that lack of rigor to the idea of aliens in general, as being far fetched (extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, as Carl Sagan said) but the idea of extraterrestrial visitations has taken root persistently in modern culture, certainly in the entertainment business, but also due to the quantity and types of people who have supported the premise, including former astronauts, high military officials, former military personnel, a former president, and a great number of credible eyewitnesses (such as the thousands who observed the Phoenix Lights incident in 1997, in which a massive unexplainable object moved silently over the state of Arizona, Phoenix in particular, and the then governor of that state having since acknowledged that he was an eyewitness).
While ancient alien proponents on TV readily ascribe mystical passages in religious texts as referring to ETs, the famous Oglala Sioux holy man, Black Elk, who lived from 1863 to 1950, toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show as a young man, and later converted to Catholicism, makes distinctions between that which is spiritual, or mystical, and that which is alien and extra-terrestrial. Much of his writings come off as arcane and symbolic as the Book of Revelations, but in the following passage from Black Elk, The Sacred Ways of a Lakota by Wallace Black Elk and William Lyon, the Sioux shaman does not mince words, having said, “So when I went to vision quest, that disk came from above. The scientists call that a…Unidentified Flying Object, but that’s a joke, see? Because they are not trained, they lost contact with the wisdom, power and gift.…So that disk landed on top of me. It was concave, and there was another one on top of that. It was silent, but it lit and luminesced like neon lights. Even the sacred robes there were luminesced, and those tobacco ties lying there lit up like little light bulbs. Then these little people came, but each little group spoke a different language. They could read minds, and I could read their minds. I could read them. So there was silent communication. You could read it, like when you read silent symbols in a book. So we were able to communicate…They are human, so I welcomed them. I said, “Welcome, Welcome…”
In no uncertain terms then, one of the most prominent Sioux Indians of all time, a historic figure, a cousin of Crazy Horse, tells us that he met ETs who arrived in a luminous disk.
Others, such as the modern day new age figure Standing Elk (also known as Chief Golden Light Eagle), widely featured on You Tube and a regular at Star Knowledge Conference, proffers a blend of “wisdom teachings” purportedly emanating from “Star People,” of the “Star Nations,” who include everyone from White Buffalo Calf Woman to Buddha, the Egyptian god Thoth, and Krishna. Dressed in chiefly regalia, he speaks of karma and the energy of the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth dimensional frequencies, attracting both white conferees and native skepticism, all the while offering spiritual teachings that, while embracing Star Beings, veers significantly from the sensibilities of many of his own people, many of whom are Christian and therefore reject his spiritual panoply, and others who are merely suspicious. More specifically for our discussion, the “Chief” seems to have taken up with Star People owing to their popular cachet, as a means through which to create an eclectic new age religion suitable to the Sedona set.
A prominent Lakota from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, a political activist with a direct family connection to the American Indian Movement, told us, for example, that he does not accept notions of Star People as spiritual beings, due to both his traditional Christian and native beliefs, and he said that he knows of no such beings.
“I never heard of those Star People stories until just recently,” he said, “when folks started watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel, and as far as I am concerned they are all made up—what I have been told by the Chiefs of Dakota and Lakota, as well as Northern Cheyenne, is that we are all born with a spirit helper…I don’t think my creator would like it very much that someone buzzing out of a spaceship is one of his helpers.”
This tribal person then conveyed beliefs that his people do hold regarding extraterrestrial phenomena.
“We do talk about folks coming down to earth,” he said, “in round shaped objects or balls of light from the skies.…I was told [by elders] that we had to use [sacred] songs to protect against these folks…as they stole Indian people and mainly our children.”
He then spoke of petroglyphs at the site of Sitting Bull’s final Sun Dance, just before the Battle of the Little Big Horn, depicting, he said, beings who came down to earth “helping our Indian women and children the morning of June 25th  and all who actually died fighting in hand to hand combat.”
He went on to describe an almost supernatural encounter that he and others experienced, he said, in 2009 at a solemn ceremony dedicated to the passing of a close family member and significant native figure. The incident occurred while he and others engaged in a sweat lodge ceremony, and involved lights in the sky along with paranormal experiences that he said have continued in his life since the encounter.
“I saw a [hovering ball of light] and it was with us for four days and four nights, March 2009, as we were holding four days of prayer, fasting, pipe ceremony, sweat house ceremony, and I am not the only one who witnessed this, brother,” he said.
He told us that nearby “children were screaming and pushing all trying to get inside the sweat house, as a big ball of light was right above them, and it broke off into little lights and were buzzing all around the sweat house.” On the last day of the ceremony, he said, “a flash or beam of light” emanated out of the hovering object to the sweat lodge.”
To bolster his claim, he sent a clipping from that time that he said appeared in the Glasgow Courier related to the incident.
Here in the Bozeman and Livingston area, new wrinkles have emerged in this peculiar area of “anthropology,” one being Joan Bird’s appearance at a local book store in December promoting her recent book, Montana UFOs and Extraterrestrials, and another release more pertinent to our discussion, Encounters With Star People: Untold Stories of American Indians by Ardy Sixkiller Clarke.
We recently spoke to Clarke, a Belgrade resident and former Assistant Professor of Education Leadership at Montana State University, whose native heritage is Cherokee and Choctaw. She is also the author of Sisters in the Blood, a book about American Indian women from the Northern Plains Indian Tribes.
The daunting premise she conveys in Encounters With Star People began in her own childhood, and is representative of many of the accounts told in her book. Clarke told us that, when she was quite young, she came upon a man and woman not of this world, who told her they were “her ancestors.” The incident (not conveyed in her book) occurred late at night, Clarke said, as she made her way to an outdoor privy, continued for hours, and involved advanced technology, a craft that she entered. She went on to say that her contact with the man and woman was not an isolated event, but continued later in her life.
Clarke’s book is filled with similar accounts, some of which describe benevolent visitors, others not so benevolent ones that abduct people against their will. One account, given by Native American hunters in Idaho, just outside Yellowstone, describes a large craft settling down in a valley and discarding a bison carcass that the hunters found the next day, surgically mutilated.
The initial account in the book is told by a tribal police official and his wife, a school teacher, Tim and Sarah, whose names were changed to address their concerns about job security, according to Clarke. While driving in Eastern Montana, on their way to Billings, Tim pulled over, having spotted dead cattle by the roadside, and then saw a light emanating from an object resembling a “large cylindrical propane tank” the length of a football field. The object, the couple told Clarke at a restaurant off I-90, circled to the other side of the road then settled above Tim’s pickup truck, emanating a blinding light. The next thing they knew, the couple reported, according to Clarke, was that they found themselves inside their truck but on the other side of the road, and the cattle carcasses were gone. Later that night, arriving at a Billings hotel, they could not account for four hours of lost time.
When asked about the reception such stories, and her book, receive among the public and in academic circles, MSU in particular, Clarke told us that among Native Americans, traditional legends about Star People provide a more accepting context than among whites, and that her mother for example readily accepted the account she told her as a child—yet she was instructed not to speak of it to others because they would not understand. Clarke said she has heard no reaction from MSU or academia, but that she has heard from people all over the world as a result of her book and has been invited to speak at conferences.
Although retired, Clarke retains the position of Professor Emeritus at MSU, where she has established a scholarship fund. Working extensively with indigenous peoples, she has been adopted and given traditional names by the Blackfeet, Northern Cheyenne and Lakota.
Her recent work (published by Anomalist Books) hardly fits the mainstream academic or non Indian intellectual paradigm. Encounters With Star People presents many fantastical stories told to her by, she emphasizes, sincere American Indians free from drug and alcohol problems that came to her as credible people, including three Native American men, who, as members of the United Sates Air Force, say they witnessed an event, similar to other encounters recorded in Clarke’s book, at a military base, all three having given the same description of what they saw after not having spoken to one another for decades.
For years, Clarke gathered her accounts from Indians across the West and in Montana, she told us. Names of interviewees, though, are changed, and specific locations that might help identify them are left vague. While one understands privacy would be a concern for those conveying such controversial accounts, journalistically speaking having at least some interviewees on the record would help support the book’s extraordinary premise (although we have similarly concealed the identity of our tribal source, an individual, incidentally, we have known and worked with professionally for many years).
Clarke, though, crafts her book in the context of native people interacting with ancestors, Star People, chronicling previously unreported aspects of native culture, her understanding of which dates to childhood, while promising anonymity to those who told their stories so that they could speak freely.
Taking a step back, let us state the obvious, that the concepts expressed here push the boundaries of what many consider reality. Our purpose is merely to present an unusual but accurate report regarding “cultural legends,” past and present. Some legends prove factually true, such as the archaeological discovery of the legendary city of Troy, others remain nebulous. Clarke’s work though, it may be said with certainty, and the testimony of others offered here, present modern day accounts related to ancient traditions, those of American Indians having ancestors in high places.