Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Being a Red Indian

I have an American friend who told me he "became" a red indian by applying to be one.And he had this document to show how to join an indian tribe.

I had never heard of such a thing, and didn’t even know it was possible.

The document reads:
“Wakondah, the Great Mystery, will make the coming days to be calm and peaceful.
The Sky People and the Earth People have called to Wakondah to make the days calm and
peaceful so that the little ones may come to us and pass through the four valleys of life,
through birth and youth, through adulthood and old age.”
---Osage Indian


I am an Indian. I am proud. I stand straight and tall.

Insofar as I am able, I pledge:
-to study the history, language, and customs of my tribe;

-to live as simply and naturally as possible and to stay free of the commercial pressures that
would enslave me if they could;

-to instantly come to the aid of any Indian, especially those of my own tribe;

-to acquaint myself with the needs of my people, and to render aid whenever possible;

-to obtain for myself the highest educational standard that I can;

-to work for the conservation of our environment; and

-to keep myself from alcohol and drug addiction and anything that would dishonor my name or
that of my people."

“Let us put our minds together to see what life we will make for our children.” - Sitting Bull

This is something out of the ordinary.

It was a way of life that—as any adult could clearly see—was the total antithesis of western society, of capitalism, individualism and materialism.

But I felt an immediate affinity for it. It is an “awakening” for me.

What have we lost, that our children no longer feel a connectedness with the natural world around them or a rootedness in family, culture and community?

More important (and more positively) how did the ancient wisdom reflected in Native American traditions help to guide each individual through life?

Does it not, perhaps, have something to teach us as well?

Consider these thoughts:
"Indians do not make fun of each other or of their children. If a child is trying to do something, a dance or whatever it might be, that is good. This gives the children courage to dare to do things. " --- Black Bear (Mohawk)

"Children were taught that true politeness was to be defined in actions rather than in words. They were never allowed to … speak while others were speaking, or to make fun of a crippled or disfigured person." - Chief Luther Standing Bear (Oglala)

"Show respect to all people, but grovel to none." - From the teachings of Tecumseh

"Respect the earth and that which created her. Respect yourself, children, elders and the beliefs of others. " ----- Chief Rock-of-Safety

"Children exercised constantly, running footraces, riding horses and playing ball games.
Girls took part in all these activities and were as skillful as the boys. All these lessons conditioned children’s bodies and focused their minds. "
--- Dottie Raymer, in Kaya’s WorldIndian

"Children grow up without fear because their mothers may say: “be careful”, but they do not say: “Don’t do that, you might fall”, or “Don’t do that, you will hurt yourself.”
--- Black Bear (Mohawk)

"Children were encouraged to develop strict discipline and a high regard for sharing. When a girl picked her first berries and dug her first roots, they were given away to an elder so she would share her future success. " --- Mourning Dove (Salish)

"It was our belief that the love of possessions is a weakness to be overcome. Its appeal is to the material part, and if allowed its way, it will in time disturb one’s spiritual balance. Therefore children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving."
--- Ohiyesa (Lakota)The Ten Commandments of White Cloud (Talataw)

"Remain close to the Great Spirit.- Show great respect for your fellow beings.- Give assistance and kindness wherever needed.- Be truthful and honest at all times.- Do what you know to be right.- Look after the well-being of mind and body.- Treat the earth and all that dwell thereon with respect.- Take full responsibility for you actions.- Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater good.- Work together for the benefit of all mankind."

In reading Native American texts over the years, I have come across some remarkable insights that begin to clarify the strength and depth of their way of life.

Being no authority on the topic, but merely an interested learner, I will let these words speak for themselves. I have divided the passages below into four groups—birth, youth adulthood, and old age—in accordance with a Native American belief that life is a passage through these four valleys.

The First Valley

– Birth In Native American culture, each child is seen as a great gift - the ultimate gift - a gift lent by the creator.

“Your children are not your own, they are lent to you by the Creator.”
- Chief John Snow

Already before birth, the child was thought of and cared for: “The mother’s spiritual influence was supremely important. Her attitude and secret meditation must be such as to instill into the receptive soul of the unborn child the love of the Great Mystery and a sense of connectedness with all creation…” - Ohiyesa (Lakota)

At birth, the child was welcomed into the tribal circle, and each member was committed to a parental responsibility toward him.

“A tribal leader may enter a dance with an infant [in his arms] in order to instill spirituality and rhythm at an early age.”

The role of the mother remained central in the child’s education. She was his main companion through the first two years of life. She never left his side.

“The mother continues her spiritual teaching, at first silently—a mere pointing of the index finger to nature—then in whispered songs, at morning and evening…...At night she points to the heavenly-blazed trail through nature’s galaxy of splendor. Silence, love, reverence- this is the trinity of first lessons, and to these she later adds generosity, courage, and chastity.”
- Ohiyesa (Lakota)

Grandparents or “elders” were respected as teachers for the many years of work they had contributed and the wisdom they had gained in their lives.

“The distinctive work of the grandparents is that of acquainting the children with the traditions and beliefs of the nation… It is reserved for them to repeat the time-hallowed tales with dignity and authority, so as to lead the child into the inheritance of the stored-up wisdom and experience of the race.” - Ohiyesa (Lakota)

The Second Valley

– YouthNature is a teacher.

From a child’s earliest years, nature instructs him in the value and sacredness of the world around him. With this wisdom imbued into his consciousness, a child will love the earth and care for it.

“The old Lakota was wise. He knew that man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too. So he kept his youth close to its softening influence…Out of the Indian approach to life there came a great freedom—an intense and absorbing love for nature; a respect for life; enriching faith in a Supreme Power; and principles of truth, honesty, generosity, equity, and brotherhood as a guide to mundane relations..…“Knowledge was inherent in all things. The world was a library and its books were the stones, leaves, grass, brooks, and the birds and animals that shared, alike with us, the storms and blessings of earth…This appreciation enriched Lakota existence. Life was vivid, pulsing; nothing was casual and commonplace. The Indian lived—lived in every sense of the word—from his first to his last breath.”
- Chief Luther Standing Bear (Oglala)

Silence was a way of life for the Indian. From early on children learned to be attuned to the world around them and to revere it.

“Training began with children who were taught to sit still and enjoy it. They were taught to use their organs of smell, to look where there was apparently nothing to see, and to listen intently when all seemingly was quiet. A child who cannot sit still is a half-developed child…” And in the midst of sorrow, sickness, death, or misfortune of any kind, and in the presence of the notable and great, silence was the mark of respect. More powerful than words was silence with the Lakota.” - Chief Luther Standing Bear (Oglala)

The Third Valley – Adulthood

“From childhood I was consciously trained to be a man; that was, after all, the basic thing; but after this I was trained to be a warrior and a hunter, and not to care for money or possessions, but to be in the broadest sense a public servant."

"After arriving at a reverent sense of the pervading presence of the Spirit and Giver of Life, and a deep consciousness of the brotherhood of man, the first thing for me to accomplish was to adapt myself perfectly to natural things—in other words, to harmonize myself with nature.

To this end I was made to build a body both symmetrical and enduring—a house for the soul to live in—a sturdy house, defying the elements. I must have faith and patience; I must learn self-control and be able to maintain silence.

I must do with as little as possible and start with nothing most of the time, because a true Indian always shares whatever he may possess.”
- Ohiyesa (Lakota)

“You must speak straight so that your words may go as sunlight into our hearts.”
- Cochise (Apache)

“Boys became braves, not warriors. Married men became warriors because of the responsibility of caring for wife and children, that is, warriors against evil influences, for the sake of the family’s safety and protection.”
- Dwight Bruyere (Ojibway)

“A man tried and proven is at all times clean, courteous and master of himself. If a man is given over to his sexual appetites, he is harboring a rattlesnake whose sting is rottenness and sure death.”
- The Teachings of Wabasha

“When you address the council, carry a green sprig in your hand, that yours may be living words.”
- Laws of the Lodge (Teachings of Crazy Horse, Tecumseh, and others)

“The whole tribe would be kind to the orphans and the aged. Although a reputation for bravery in fighting would be eagerly sought, that same mighty warrior, when at home with his wife and children and old parents, was gentle as he smoked his pipe by his wigwam.”

“Try to do something for your people—something difficult. Have pity on your people and love them. If a man is poor, help him. Give him and his family food, give them whatever they ask for. If there is discord among your people, intercede."

“Take your sacred pipe and walk into their midst. Die if necessary in your attempt to bring about reconciliation. Then when order has been restored and they see you lying dead on the ground, still holding in your hand the sacred pipe, the symbol of peace and reconciliation, then assuredly will they know that you have been a real chief.” - Winnebago lesson on further lessons on adulthood

The Fourth Valley – Old Age

“When an elder speaks, be silent and listen—don’t argue back as though you know more..…
Our elders have taught us that a very important role and responsibility of the tribal members was to help our brothers and sisters. In simple terms the teaching is that you be your brother’s keeper.

So the basic traditional teaching has been to help our fellowman in life, and to help our fellow travelers in the journey of life. Today, I know that this kind of teaching is fading away from the Indian society because of the effects, influence and impact of the European civilization of the western world.”
- Chief John Snow

“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light. Give thanks for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food and give thanks for the joy of living. And if perchance you see no reason for giving thanks, rest assured the fault is in yourself.”
- Teachings of Wabasha

“Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.”
-- Teachings of Wasabha

"The white man’s creed is the fear of dying; the Indian’s creed is the joy of living.”

With their care of the earth, and the heritage of wisdom they passed down to their children, they guarded the worth of future years as well as the living present.

“In our way of life, in our government, with every decision we make, we always keep in mind the Seventh Generation to come. It’s our job to see that the people coming ahead, the generations still unborn, have a world no worse than ours – and hopefully better…”
---Oren Lyons (Onondaga)

Isn't it amazing to learn such great truths from such simple and almost forgotten people?


At 8:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Truth - timeless as the sun
Is something man - cannot run from
Ancient wisdom - will never fade
And while Truth may get tarnished - it is never staid

Wisdom - from those who know the earth
Tread lightly - lifelong from birth
Seeing beyond - the dream of money
Like those searching for the land - of milk and honey

Native peoples - walking trails of tears
Marched by men - consumed by fears
Of what they choose - not to see
That we are ONE - you and me

Truth - is timeless as the sun
Like the seeds we plant, for generations - yet to come.

Linda Sonnett Carlson
copyright 2007


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