Last week the Northern Cheyenne people lost an elder who may very well be one of the last women to fully fulfill an ancient tribal tradition. Rubie Sooktis (Soaring Woman) was a “sister” to the Elk Horn Scraper Society, one of five military (warrior) societies established by Sweet Medicine, the Cheyenne prophet, many centuries ago.
Within the Tribe, the societies maintain and conduct essential tribal ceremonies; advise the Chiefs and carry out directives given by the Chiefs for the best interest of the entire Tribe. Society members refer to each other as “brothers” a lifelong commitment and obligation to care for one another, their respective families and the Tribe as a whole. Traditionally, Cheyenne military societies formed the basis of law and order in the Tribe, the backbone of defense and regulating social and ceremonial behavior. Rubie was 70 years old, descendent from an honorable Northern Cheyenne family, deeply committed to the spiritual, ceremonial and cultural ways of our people. Her father Charles Sooktis was an esteemed and highly respected Sacred Hat Keeper for years, with his wife Josie always by his side, quietly and dutifully serving the Northern Cheyenne people. They were all fluent Cheyenne speakers, with Cheyenne being their first and most beloved tongue. In her later years, Rubie devoted much time and energy to preserving the Cheyenne language and knowledge of traditional ways.
Rubie’s good friend and colleague, Mina Seminole, shared her knowledge about how Rubie became a Sister to the Elk Horn Scrapers. When she was 16, three Elk Horn Scraper Society members, Charles White Dirt, Irvin Rising Sun and another man came to the Sooktis family home.
They spoke with Rubie and her parents, requesting that she become a sister to the society and explained the responsibilities involved with that. As society matters are not taken lightly, they allowed her one year to contemplate the matter. At the age of seventeen Rubie solemnly committed to the role of being an Elk Horn Scraper sister, a highly honored role.
She was taken into the Teepee to become a sister and was seated as a new member, giving away four times to commemorate the honor. Throughout her life, Rubie participated in many Cheyenne ceremonies and events, remaining an Elk Horn Scraper Society member. Her role was similar to her brothers, but had she ever married, she would have had to step down.
In July 2016, shortly before her passing, at a Sun Dance Rubie decided to pass her role on to a younger person. In tribal tradition she provided a dinner and give away at an Elk Horn Scraper dance, recommending her granddaughter to take over her role. Now that young lady, Cierra Simpson, and her parents have one year to consider this request.
Soaring Woman will be sorely missed. Because of her example and dedication, a critical and necessary part of the Cheyenne Way still endures. At times in contemporary society, it can be very difficult, I’m sure, to honor and live these old traditional ways. Let us hope that there will be Cheyenne individuals who can do so far into the future. It is part of what makes us unique as a people.
(Clara Caufield can be reached at email@example.com)