An interview with Tom Wilson, of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Paranormal Society

Published in Indian Country Today in 2011. For more on topics like this, see my book, American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle....

Tom Wilson and orbs.
SW: How did you get involved in this work?
TW: When I was a little boy, I saw things I didn’t tell anyone about. When I grew up and watched TV programs about the paranormal, I realized other people saw these things, too. Last year, I decided to put out an invite on my Facebook page, and people responded. The ones you met have made a commitment to do this on a regular basis. We meet on Thursday nights, and the group continues to grow. Last night, we got a new member, who’d also experienced things through the years and wanted to work with us.

How do people usually respond?
This work gives them a sense of confirmation. Now, they know they aren’t going crazy.

Is your presence required for other people to see and hear what I observed the night I joined you?
I don’t know. I can’t answer that. However, I don’t recommend people going out and doing this on their own. I can tell you that we’re very careful; we put away our equipment after each meeting and don’t take it out till the next time.

Don’t try this at home?
Definitely don’t try this at home. As an elder explained to us, you can pick up a spirit, and it can follow you home. And not all of them are friendly.

Can you give an example?
The night after the group was at Tekakwitha, we went to an antiques store that was once a hospital. There was something in one room that threw a candle at me and hit me in the back. Everyone saw it. Then in a chapel-like area that had been part of the hospital, the podium slammed shut while we were in the room and then became very difficult to open or close. Again, everyone saw and heard this. I explained to the owner that spirits are attached to personal things, and he has a lot of artifacts around. On a lighter note, in a room with LPs in it, I heard a radio playing. We made a recording there, and when we played it back we heard a guy talking in that particular rhythmic way deejays used to talk in the 1950s.

Do only old buildings have spirits?
We encountered something in a new building on the rez last year. It could be that spirits from a building that was on the site moved into a new one. Spirits can also hang around an area after a building is gone. There are so many scenarios for why they might be somewhere, and time is nothing to them, so it’s all hard to assess.

Do you collaborate with other paranormal groups?
Not yet, though we’ve been invited to work with a group on the Wisconsin–Minnesota border. We just haven’t had time, because there’s so much around here to keep us busy. Recently, for example, we were invited to a private house in which a child had seen a man come out of the closet, point at him, and return to the closet. The child was frightened. I picked up a name, and we realized it was an older gentleman who’d died suddenly of a heart attack in the house. It turned out that he was appearing whenever the kids were acting up, essentially telling them to behave. The boys’ grandma was relieved and thankful. Now the family knew it wasn’t a bad spirit and could be more comfortable with it.

Do spirits have fun?
Absolutely. The day after the group went to Tekakwitha, there was a festival and cookout on the site. I was there to provide music, so could observe the event. So many [living] children and families showed up, and the spirit kids had a blast. I could feel it. I thought of going back that night, but felt I should just leave it alone.

Are paranormal abilities more typical of children than adults?
Kids are pure and more in tune with the spirits. They’re not contaminated in ways that might interfere with that. When the radio station where I work was in the old Tekakwitha building [after it closed as a school and was turned over to the tribe as a multi-use facility], a colleague’s daughter went missing, and we found her hiding in a closet where she said she had been talking to another girl. When we asked where that girl was, my co-worker’s daughter said her little friend had gone through a vent into another room when we grownups came along. The daughter is grown now, but still remembers that incident.

Do you learn more as time goes on?
Each time we go out, it’s a learning experience.

Text and photograph c. Stephanie Woodard.

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