Prairie Island, MN -- The discovery of what appears to be an 18-inch long human-like footprint on Prairie Island Indian Reservation is more than a curiosity or topic of conversation among the tight-knit community.
To Indians living here who follow traditional beliefs, it is a signal to find renewed spiritual strength at a time of difficulty.
Wayne Running Wolf was sitting in his living room on the reservation at about 9:30pm Thursday when his dogs began barking frantically. He said he noticed something out of the corner of his eye through a window as he got up to see what the commotion was about.
"I saw a shadow or a shape, but I don't know exactly what I saw," Running Wolf said Friday.
"Whether it was a shadow or a shape, I don't know," he added. "I would be a liar if I claimed either one. I thought someone was messing with my car."
"Our dog in the house, he was barking at the time," added Dwight Wells, a neighbor.
Time of grief....
What Running Wolf did discover, and has no doubts about, were two huge footprints crossing his driveway and heading toward a nearby wooded area. One print became obscured in the soft sand, but the clearer one definitely appears human-like with five distinct toes on the end.
What outsiders might easily dismiss as a hoax is seen by several spiritual leaders here as a sign that Cee-ha-tonka, referred to simply as "the big man," has paid a call. "We have our old legends about "the Big Man," Running Wolf said "If it exists, it exists. You accept it." Common misunderstanding of Indian Culture and sense of spirituality may cause some to scoff, "but I know what I'm looking at," Running Wolf said, carefully covering the print under a wheelbarrow.
"That big man, he's been around for centuries," Wells added. Both men referred questions about the meaning of the big man to tribal spiritual leaders.
The big man appears "mostly near where there are Indian communities that are struggling or having problems," said Amos Owen, spiritual head of the community. "That's a message for us."
The Prairie Island community is in grief this week over the untimely accidental death Thursday of 27-year old Clayton Wells, Dwight's brother.
A sign is always left behind after the appearance: a footprint, a musky scent, a tuft of hair or broken tree limbs too big for normal-sized human to smash, he said.
"In our way of belief, they make appearances at troubled times," said Ralph Gray Wolf, an Alaskan spiritual leader visiting Prairie Island. He helps those troubled communities "to get more in tune with Mother Earth" and gain spiritual energy and inner strength. With the renewal comes the ability to face the difficulty.
Before appearing, the big man sends "signs or messages" that there is a need to change, a need to cleanse," Gray Wolf said. "Right afterward, is when he makes his appearances."
"The legend has a way of teaching you. It disciplines you in certain ways," said Ray Owen, Amos' son. "It's to make you become more aware of other things."
The sign of the big man is preceded by a sense of foreboding among the tribe, he said, adding he could sense that before this week. "I was up in Minneapolis and I just had to get back down here," he said. I felt that pressure, that tension."
The trio said the big man has appeared in many Indian communities: Standing Rock, North Dakota - Pine Ridge, South Dakota and even Prairie Island five years ago, to name a few.
Legends of a "bigfoot" or "Sasquatch" among Indian tribes of the Pacific Northwest, along with claims of footprints, photos and other purported evidence had been sensationalized in the same class as the Loch Ness Monster and UFO's.
But for some Prairie Island residents, it is a time of looking quietly inward and seeking spiritual guidance.
Scientists have tried to debunk the evidence of the big man's existence, Gray Wolf pointed out, "But they have never been able to disprove it."
Source: From the extensive files of investigator Peter Guttilla October 2010
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