Little did I know that my first task as Associate Director of The New Seminary for Interfaith Studies would be the catalyst for a profound voyage of self-discovery and a deep understanding of my soul’s purpose. Amidst the pandemic’s uncertainty, I had the privilege of meeting Hehakapa “Delwin Fiddler” Mahto, a remarkable Lakota Ceremonialist and Performer. My initial approach was to invite him to teach our seminary’s class on Native American Spirituality, but little did I anticipate that our encounter would lead to a profound soul connection and a much greater purpose.
In the following months, I delved into the traditional Lakota teachings, only to be surprised by the numerous misconceptions perpetuated about native people. My heart ached when I learned about the subpar living conditions that many natives still endure on the reservations. Hehakapa Mahto, too, had grown up on a reservation in South Dakota and knew that leaving it was the path to a better life for himself and his daughter, having experienced the hardships of a Boarding School survivor.
My initiation into the world of Lakota ceremonies commenced with my participation in the Sweat Lodge Ceremony (Inipi). Together, we constructed a womb-like structure, a Sweat Lodge, as a sacred prayer to Mother Earth. Every detail and step held profound meaning, connecting us to the Great Spirit (Wakan). We crafted our own prayer ties, with each color symbolizing a different aspect of ourselves. Among the sacred plants of Native culture, tobacco stood out, believed to be a direct messenger to the Creator above (Wakan). Encased in the prayer ties, the tobacco was hung inside the lodge during the ceremony and later burned in a fire, carrying our prayers upward. Emerging from the four rounds, about 40 minutes, I felt reborn and liberated, as though I had found my way back home.
Since then, I have actively participated in numerous native ceremonies and continued my support for Hehakapa Mahto’s non-profit organization, PAZA Tree of Life, where I now serve as the Director of Arts and Culture. Together, we work as educators and performers, acting as cultural ambassadors to International audiences, sharing history, and advocating for healing the planet and empowering all indigenous nations and people across Turtle Island (US, CA, & South American Territories). In this journey, I became acquainted with the term “Rainbow Warrior,” signifying a non-native person who embraces the vision of peace and harmony among all individuals. In native culture, a warrior (Akicita) (ah-kee-chee-tah) is one who actively supports traditions, utilizing them to bring healing to people in an honorable and respectful manner.
Among the seven sacred rites in Lakota tradition is the “making of relatives,” where family abundance is seen as a sign of wealth. The Lakota saying, “Mitákuye Oyásin, “(mee-tah-koo-yeh oh-wah-sing) meaning “We are all related,” beautifully captures their belief that family extends beyond blood ties to encompass the people in one’s closest circle. Tiospaye (tee-oh-shpah-yeh), the adopted family, provides lifelong support, and by becoming part of this circle, one becomes a member of the Lakota nation. During the ceremony, each individual is bestowed with a name that embodies their role in the family and their character traits. My adopted name, “Owanzila Win,” translates to “Woman who brings harmony.” As a ceremonial minister and founder of Common Ground Ceremonies who has officiated over 2,800 unions and baby blessings in the past 13 years, this name resonated perfectly with me. Additionally, I was honored with an eagle feather, a symbol of respect and honor. An exchange of star quilts followed, symbolizing being surrounded by love and support, with each diamond patch representing a person and forming the shape of an eight-pointed star (the morning star).
Discovering the beauty and sacred ways of the Lakota people has opened my world and given more profound meaning to my relationships and interactions with others. The original stewards of this land understood the interconnectedness of all life. Every plant, animal, stone, and element held a special place in the Circle of Life, and these essential teachings should be shared and embraced by all. Through embracing the Lakota Naming Ceremony, we can all gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, fostering harmony and unity among people of all backgrounds and cultures.
Rev. Dr. Samora Smith is a highly recognized and in-demand minister, coach, chaplain, author, speaker, and healer. As the Associate Director for The New Seminary for Interfaith Studies, she plays a pivotal role in promoting interfaith understanding and cooperation, and training of ministers. In addition to this, she serves as the Minister of Music for the Interfaith Temple , using her wide range of musical talents to inspire and uplift the community. Dr. Samora is also recognized as the Director of the Spiritual Coaching program at TNS, where she guides and mentors students on their spiritual journeys as coaches and leaders. As a Certified Hypnotherapist & NLP practitioner, Dr. Samora utilizes these techniques to facilitate personal growth and positive change in the lives of her students and clients. Her expertise also extends to the field of sound and vibrational therapies, as she holds the title of Master Sound & Vibrational Healing Specialist. Through her knowledge and skills in this area, she provides therapeutic and transformative experiences to those seeking healing. In addition, Dr. Samora's commitment to celebrating love, unity, and community building is evident in her role as a multi-award-winning wedding officiant and relationship coach. Over the course of her career, as the founder of Common Ground Ceremonies in New York City, she has officiated more than 2,800 ceremonies, creating memorable and meaningful experiences for her couples. Driven by a deep sense of justice and compassion, Dr. Samora is a Certified Human Rights Advocate. She actively supports struggling communities and contributes to the advancement of indigenous healing organizations and cultural exchange as a board member and active performer. Additionally, she is a staunch advocate for LGBTQ rights, promoting equality and inclusivity in all aspects of society. Her multifaceted background and unwavering dedication to interfaith understanding, spiritual coaching, healing practices, and social justice make her a remarkable and influential thought leader.