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A great man has passed from this place. Kevin Locke, Tȟokéya Inážin, our friend and colleague and spiritual brother, flew away from his physical frame on September 30th, 2022. He was 68 years old.
Kevin would say to all of us that we should not weep for him. He would say, and did say, many times, that this world is only a staging area from which the everlasting human spirit goes on to its eternal journey.
He would ask us to learn about the rich history of Turtle Island, the Indigenous name for the Western hemisphere, and seek to understand the messages the Creator repeatedly sent its native peoples about the eternal nature of the human soul.
He would tell us just to look up at the Milky Way – and point out that we can all see the spirit road to the afterlife right there in the stars. Or maybe, depending on how ready he felt your soul was, he might quote from the Baha’i writings, especially this powerful passage written by Abdu’l-Baha:
These few brief days shall pass away, this present life shall vanish from our sight; the roses of this world shall be fresh and fair no more, the garden of this earth’s triumphs and delights shall droop and fade. The spring season of life shall turn into the autumn of death, the bright joy of palace halls give way to moonless dark within the tomb. And therefore is none of this worth loving at all, and to this the wise will not anchor his heart.
He who hath knowledge and power will rather seek out the glory of heaven, and spiritual distinction, and the life that dieth not. And such a one longeth to approach the sacred Threshold of God; for in the tavern of this swiftly-passing world the man of God will not lie drunken, nor will he even for a moment take his ease, nor stain himself with any fondness for this earthly life.
Nay rather, the friends are stars in the high heavens of guidance, celestial bodies in the skies of divine grace, who with all their powers put the dark to flight.
Kevin had a remarkable, legendary life in this staging area we call the world, and we do weep for him, along with thousands upon thousands of others, unable to bear the thought of going on without his insight, his knowledge, his humor, his beaming countenance, his facile mind, and most of all his huge, generous, encompassing spirit.
Kevin Locke truly did, with all of his powers, put the dark to flight.
If Kevin read this, he’d surely say “Oh, stop!” out of pure humility. He would smile and his eyes would twinkle while he said it, though, letting you know that he meant no offense, but also telling you that he wasn’t comfortable talking about himself or being talked about in any praiseworthy way by anyone else. That humble quality made him a spiritual giant.
His wife Ceylan Isgor-Locke said “First and foremost he is the humblest human being you would have ever met in this life, and you are very lucky if he ever called you his friend.”
You may have seen Kevin speak, and been moved by his connection to his culture and his devotion to not only his roots but to the Baha’i Faith. You might have heard about his legendary Lakota hoop dancing, his traditional Indigenous flute playing, or the stunning performances he gave in more than a hundred countries. Or maybe you had the privilege and bounty of encountering Kevin out there in the world somewhere, serving humanity as a cultural ambassador for the United States Information Service. Perhaps you’ve perused his highly-praised autobiography, Arising, which was first published in 2018. You might know that in 1990, Kevin won a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest award granted to Indigenous American artists, or that he won the Bush Foundation Enduring Vision Award in 2009.
If you’re reading this on BahaiTeachings.org, you’ve probably read Kevin’s groundbreaking work first published here on the Indigenous Messengers of God, the 108-installment series about the Indigenous great prophets and spiritual teachers of the Western Hemisphere. Both of us had the honor and privilege of working with Kevin, who co-authored 70 of those articles. One highlight of this series came when Kevin wrote and BahaiTeachings.org published, in the form of a prayer, this model “Indigenous Land and Spiritual Acknowledgment:”
Grandfather above, we acknowledge the holy ones you have sent upon this land to kindle the sacred fire in the hearts of us — your grandchildren. We are eternally grateful that, in ancient times, you have sent Deganawida, the Peacemaker, White Buffalo Calf Woman, Breath Maker, Sweet Medicine and a myriad others to breathe holiness and beauty upon this Turtle Island and your grandchildren here, and to teach us Your laws and to enable us to draw close to You and especially to love and cherish our relative, Grandmother Earth, and all that dwell upon her. In particular we acknowledge the holy ones You have sent to the spot upon which we stand and the nations and kindreds who have been the custodians of that sacred trust. We ask that You breathe upon and fan the embers of the fire of love and faith in our hearts and minds, that our footsteps may tread Your path and we may restore peace and order upon this blessed land.
But no matter how you met Kevin Locke, you likely came away enriched, invigorated, and enlarged.
If you never encountered Kevin – whose Lakota name, Tȟokéya Inážin, means “the first to arise” – you have a major life treat waiting for you. Just search for his name online, and you’ll find his talks, his Hoop of Life performances, and his great well of wisdom there for the asking. You’ll see a true artist at work, dancing his meaning-freighted dance with 28 hoops, a feat rarely equaled. In Arising, Kevin explained the deep purpose of his dancing by quoting Black Elk:
I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of the many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.
If you read one of Kevin’s dozens of media interviews, like one from Indian Country Today in 2012, you probably heard him express this all-encompassing theme, which ran through his entire life: “All of the people have the same impulses, spirits, and goals. Through my music and dance, I want to create a positive awareness of oneness of humanity.” Kevin’s entire life centered around Baha’u’llah’s primary injunction to all people:
Before the face of all men I have arisen … My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peoples. The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. …
Through the power of the words He hath uttered the whole of the human race can be illumined with the light of unity, and the remembrance of His Name is able to set on fire the hearts of all men, and burn away the veils that intervene between them and His glory.
“Attach great importance to the indigenous population of America,” Abdu’l-Baha wrote on April 8, 1916, adding that “these Indians, should they be educated and guided, there can be no doubt that they will become so illumined as to enlighten the whole world.” Kevin Locke may well represent the beginnings of the fulfillment of this remarkable prophecy.
In one of his last public talks given in May of 2022, which you can find here at WilmetteInstitute.com, Kevin guided listeners through the traditional Lakota practices regarding the passing of a loved one. He said that his culture recognizes that the human soul is immortal – that it endures throughout time. He also said that the Lakota people practice releasing departed loved ones by performing good deeds on their behalf. If you’d like to remember Kevin, he would no doubt approve of that practice.