Interpreting the Jeffers Petroglyphs: American Indian Elders

"Those who would understand the carvings would have to spend a long time learning before they could understand. The carvings are not man-made. The spirits are the ones that do this. That's what my people know. They are spiritually made for information. In the old days old men knew how to interpret these. This is a sacred place. The spirits are there. That's what our life is all about." -Francis Brown, Arapaho Elder, Wind River Reservation, Wyoming

"All these things had meaning and people would interpret them and reinterpret them according to their needs, too. Another thing people say is, 'This is only what we know today.' The old people knew way more than we could ever hope to remember. The only way you will begin to understand some of these things, is by living the life they lived. Since that is unlikely, at least for a long time, it is going to be hard to say." -Lance Foster, Iowa Elder, Ioway Tribe of Kansas

"What's the most important thing to take from this site? We were here for thousands of years.  And the spirit that we believe in, the Great Spirit – our creator – left here his marks, here… that's why, to us, it's a very sacred area.   These markings that are left here are the survival of the people – the spirit of the people… the markings here are what they used to survive.  This place is an encyclopedia of American Indian ways of being, put here by elders to teach us."  -Joe Williams, Dakota Elder, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, South Dakota

"…and the last thing I would suggest to a visitor who wasn't a tribal or indigenous person that came to visit this place.  Is that – I'd say to them, somewhere back down your family tree, if you can go back far enough you're going to find out you came from a tribal people and if you let that part of you speak to you as you're up here maybe you'll find something out about yourself and your own history and your place in the world." -Tom Ross, Dakota Elder, Upper Sioux Community Pejuhutazizi Oyate, Minnesota

"Several different tribes felt the site was a spiritual place. It's still a place of prayer, retreat; a place for meditation. Medicine men still go out there, but they don't advertise that.  Even the area surrounding the rocks has meaning." -Vernell Wabasha, Dakota Elder, Lower Sioux Indian Community, Minnesota

"The symbols are there for a reason. They are spiritual information." -George Sutton, Southern Cheyenne Elder, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Oklahoma

"This is a highly spiritual place here. This is like a church, direction of life- I look at it in that way." -John Tarnese, Shoshoni Elder, Eastern Shoshoni Tribe, Wind River Reservation, Wyoming

"And when you walk around out there and just take your time and it's like everything you feel is you're walking amongst the spirit of all our people.  And I know that they do enjoy our company.   And the things, the signs, everything that they had left out there for us -is to remind us of who we are."  -Carrie Schommer, Upper Sioux Dakota Elder, Upper Sioux Community Pejuhutazizi Oyate, Minnesota