Why Rosa University and Rise Commemorate Wovoka
Great American Indian Seer and Medicine Man
Michael Quinn and Gaellen Quinn lived in Sparks, Nevada, in the early 1970s, when they were in their early twenties. There they met Marion West, the wonderful Baha’i teacher and her husband Tom. In her youth, Marion was the apartment roommate of Juliet Thompson, the renown Baha’i artist who drew Abdu’l-Baha when he visited New York City. At the time, they also lived across the hall from their friend Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, and admirer of Abdu’l-Baha.
Marion and Tom West, along with Jane Ward, and others like Ken and Dorothy Stephens in Reno, Nevada, the city adjacent to Sparks, were stalwart members of the Sparks and Reno Local Spiritual Assemblies.
Marion, who was of advanced age, and found it increasingly difficult to travel by car over long distances, asked Gaellen and Michael to go in her stead to the Walker River Paiute Indian Reservation in the area of Schurz, Nevada, to visit with Andy Vidovich an Indian who was interested in the Baha’i Faith. Andy was a holy man among the Paiutes because, among other things, he was the attentive and diligent son-in-law of the iconic American Indian seer, Wovoka.
The Paiute Reservation was some two hours away in the area of Schurz, Nevada, about 100 miles southeast of Reno.
Over the course of two years, Gaellen and Michael visited with Andy many times in his home on the Paiute Reservation. During this time, Andy would read the Writings and ask us to pray with him. Andy was a devout Mormon, but, more importantly, he was a life long seeker of truth and was reading the Baha’i Writing to see where they fit in with his deeply Indian and spiritual view of the world. Interestingly, Andy said, Wovoka said, “Christ has already returned.” Perhaps this is what fired Andy’s interest to enthusiastically read The Book of Certitude, Gleanings, and the Prayers and Meditations of Baha’u’llah.
During some of these visits Gaellen was pregnant with Ruhi, their first daughter. Also, during some of these visits, after Ruhi was born, Andy would hold Ruhi, and he would talk about Baha’u’llah and the Creator of All Things – often referring to the Baha’i Writings, of which he had several books with bookmarked pages, to make a point about a spiritual matter.
Rosa University commemorates Wovoka because when Andy was signing his declaration of belief in Baha’u’llah, he looked at Michael several times and said, “Tell the Baha’is about Wovoka.” And not knowing how, or where, or when, Michael, nonetheless, looked in Andy’s eyes and nodded his head indicating he would tell Baha’is about Wovoka.
The purpose of many American Indian dances serve to recall the Creator of All Things and make Him the center of the lives of the people. Andy taught us that Wovoka was a great seer who often traveled into the next world. He said, “I loved Wovoka, but I tested him too.” When Wovoka was going to travel into the next world, he would tell Andy and his daughter, Alice, Andy’s wife, “I will look like I am dead. I will be gone three days. Do not bury my body.” On several such occasions, Andy, would put smoke near Wovoka’s nose to see its movement. There was none. He would light matches and apply fire to Wovoka’s soles. There was no response. He would stick pins in Wovoka’s toes. Nothing.
Years before, on several of Wovoka’s travels into the spirit world he saw a dance that caught his attention which he called both “The Dance of Friendship” and “The Dance of the Rainbow”. Representatives of many Indian nations traveled to see Wovoka because Wovoka said, “If you dance as I have seen it, the grass will turn green, and the buffalo will return.”
Unfortunately, Andy said, “They changed the dance. Today they call it The Ghost Dance, but Wovoka never called it that. They changed it and they made up many things that Wovoka never said. Things that are not true.”
A portion of the work-study programs of Rise and Rosa University is for American Indian Baha’is to serve humanity by dancing the “The Dance of Friendship” the way Wovoka saw in his spirit travels and thereafter taught Andy it should be done, and how Andy then taught us it should be done. This dance is vitally important to the Indian spirit and will influence hearts across the earth to enter the Baha’i Faith because it is a precise reenactment of what Wovoka actually saw in the spirit world, and it is known to deeply move participants, because they experience how life should be here.
The day Andy became a Baha’i he said, “My son and wife are in the spirit world. The Mormons say I will never see them again if I change my religion. But, with what I know about the Creator and the Creator’s love for the Creation, and the things Wovoka taught me, and what Baha’u’llah says, I know I must become a Baha’i or my life would be for nothing, and, for all these reasons, I know the Creator will put me with my family, and I am now a Baha’i with all Baha’is.”
Andy never said, “Remember me.” But, he said, “Tell the Baha’is about Wovoka.” He was concerned that “The Dance of Friendship” would be forgotten. This was Wovoka’s spiritual discovery and greatest gift to humanity.
Andy said, “Wovoka was wise, honest, and peaceful. He was humble. I loved him.”
Andy also said what Wovoka taught has been distorted. He spoke symbolically in the Indian way, and what journalists reported is false. They wrote books full of made up stories. Andy said Indians also took what Wovoka said and changed it to suit themselves. This made Andy and Alice sad and for many years – for decades – they made it taboo to speak about Wovoka. Later, Andy chose to speak to the Baha’is about Wovoka because Baha’is have a great respect for the people and religion.
Andy trusted the Baha’is. He took us to Wovoka’s bedroom and said, “This is where Wovoka slept, and also sometimes traveled to the spirit world.” On another occasion, Andy took us to the cemetery and said, “This is where people think Wovoka is buried, but he is not buried here. Alice and I were afraid Indians would come and steal his bones for magic. I want the Baha’is to know where Wovoka is really buried.” Then he took us to that place in the cemetery to say prayers.
Each time we saw Andy, he would tell us a little more about Wovoka and his extensive, long standing, and wide ranging prophetic abilities. For example, once, Andy showed us an old newspaper clipping from the early 1900s with an article that said when his grandson, Harlan, was born Wovoka placed his hand on his head and said, “This boy will be a great warrior in the sky.” At the time, both white people and Indians openly laughed at Wovoka’s prophecy and said the old man had lost his senses. Years later, after Wovoka had passed away, Harlan Vidovich was the first American Indian to graduate from West Point. He joined the Army Air Force, flew combat missions in North Africa against German forces, and Harlan went on to become “a great warrior in the sky” when he volunteered to fight with General Chennault’s heroic Flying Tigers who fought against the superior forces of the Japanese Naval and Air Forces in China during World War II – where Harlan gave his life in defense of his country in the proud tradition of the American Indian warrior spirit, an unrelenting and unstoppable spirit which will find expression in the work-study programs of Rise and the Rosa University system.
During one of our visits – the son-in-law of Wovoka, and father of Captain Harlan Vidovich, a decorated and respected World War II fighter pilot – Andy Vidovich, a memorable American Indian Baha’i and holy man, taught us, “When you pray, you have to pray with your whole body, and your whole mind, and your whole spirit, and your whole soul.”