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Medicine man

Bicknell’s McCullough followed
childhood passion for his people

By Konnie McCollum
Staff Writer

(June 2007) – Growing up on the Lakota Sioux Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Steve McCullough, had a vision when he was 16 years old. It would be years later when he learned what that vision meant.

Steve McCullough

Photo by Konnie McCollum

Steve McCullough travels
the world performing
Native American
ceremonies that
promote peace
and healing.

Today, McCullough, 54, is a Chief of the Sundance, or religious ceremony, for Native Americans. The Bicknell, Ind., native is also an intercessor and medicine man who travels the world performing Native American spiritual ceremonies for people of diverse faiths.
“I don’t try to make Indians out of people; I want them to connect to God, and then their relationship is between them and God,” he said.
Mona Wray of Bedford, Ind., is not of Native American descent, but she partakes in many of their spiritual ceremonies. She has taken part in the Sundance ceremony for years.
Wray met McCullough years ago at a Native American ceremony. She praises the work he does in educating people about Native American causes and spirituality.
“Steve is a wonderful man with a good heart,” she said. “He has become popular because he is so sincere in his beliefs and his work.”
McCullough’s unusual career actually began about a year after he had that vision. At 17, he went to the elders of the tribe and shared his vision. They worked with him and helped direct his path.
“I became a medicine man, but it wasn’t something I studied for; it was something that just happened to me,” he said.
At that time, McCullough also became involved in the political movement American Indian Movement (AIM), which became instrumental in shaping the path of Native Americans across the country.
In summer 1968, 200 members of the American Indian community met to discuss various issues facing Indian people of the time. These included police brutality, high unemployment rates and the federal government’s policies concerning Native Americans.
It was at this meeting that AIM was born. Years later, on Feb. 27, 1973, AIM came head to head with the federal government in a clash that became known as the historical Siege at Wounded Knee, S.D. McCullough was one of the Indians involved in the 71-day gun battle in the Pine Ridge Reservation.
“We just wanted the abuse and mistreatment of the Indian people to stop,” said McCullough.
At the end of the battle, McCullough left the reservation and traveled east to Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska looking for any work he could find. “I did whatever I had to do, including working as a cowboy, pumping gas and construction.”
Eventually, he ended up back in South Dakota for awhile.
In the meantime, in 1978, under President Jimmy Carter’s Administration, Native Americans were allowed to conduct their Sundance Ceremony legally for the first time in history. “Our way of life was finally classified as a religion, which gave it protection under our Constitution,” McCullough said.
The Sundance predates history; it is a celebration in which people come together for four days to give thanks. The dancers fast and then perform various ceremonial rituals.
By 1984, McCullough had relocated to his current residence because of work in Vincennes, Ind.
In 1986, led by a vision, McCullough went to Uniontown, Ky., to help AIM stop the desecration of a large Native American burial site. He said when he got there, he was shocked to find close to 400 holes with 1,200 human remains scattered along the ground. He and others protested and lobbied for the federal government to pass laws to protect Native American remains. This Memorial Day weekend, there will be a reunion in Uniontown of the people involved in that conflict, and McCullough will be one of the attendees.
By 1992, McCullough began conducting Sundance ceremonies himself.
“Somehow word of mouth traveled around, and people began asking me to come and conduct the ceremony.”
He stays in homes of people who have asked him to come and pray. He said it is people of all different walks of life and different religions, not just those with Native American beliefs, who invite him to conduct his ceremonies.
“We have even conducted pipe ceremonies for Muslims, although in Islamic-ruled Middle Eastern countries everything is actually forbidden and you have to really watch your step,” he said.
Today, McCullough travels throughout the world more days than he stays at home. “It is just mind boggling how word gets around,” he said.
He has been to places such as Brazil, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Asia, Istanbul, Jordan, Egypt, Israel, China, Russia and Africa. He works more on the spiritual level nowadays than any political level, unless there is an issue with a sacred site.
“I try to give people a way to have a spiritual connection, which brings hope, and I try to perform peace ceremonies without politics for those in areas with turmoil and conflict. While it’s not been easy, it’s been beautiful.”

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