by Arjun Walia: Luther Standing Bear wisdom will make you question everything about your world…
It’s 2016, and across the globe we are seeing indigenous elders from various locations on the planet coming forward to share wisdom that is so desperately needed. All of us who live on the planet are feeling the heat as we recognize that the time for change is now, and that this window of opportunity won’t be open forever.
Not long ago, Indigenous Elders and Medicine People of North and South America came together in South Dakota to deliver a fundamental message to humanity and the Earth:
We are part of Creation, thus, if we break the laws of Creation we destroy ourselves. We, the Original Caretakers of Mother Earth, have no choice but to follow and uphold the Original Instructions, which sustains the continuity of Life. We recognize our umbilical connection to Mother Earth and understand that she is the source of life, not a resource to be exploited. We speak on behalf of all Creation today, to communicate an urgent message that man has gone too far, placing us in the state of survival. We warned that one day you would not be able to control what you have created. That day is here. Not heeding warnings from both Nature and the People of the Earth keeps us on the path of self destruction. This self destructive path has led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, Gulf oil spill, tar sands devastation, pipeline failures, impacts of carbon dioxide emissions and the destruction of ground water through hydraulic fracking, just to name a few. In addition, these activities and development continue to cause the deterioration and destruction of sacred places and sacred waters that are vital for Life. – Chief Looking Horse (source)
The world is in great need of this kind of wisdom. Our knowledge of and respect for the natural world have been greatly diminished over time, but the pendulum seems to be, slowly, shifting in the other direction now. Many people are starting to wake up, to pay attention to what is really happening on our planet, and to express their desire for change.
LUTHER STANDING BEAR
Luther Standing bear was an Oglala Lakota Chief who lived before and during the arrival of European pioneers, at a time when, arguably, the greatest genocide in human history was taking place. You can read more about that here. He was born as ‘Ota Kte’ in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, and was one of the first students to attend the Carlisle Indian School of Pennsylvania. After that, he toured with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, entered into the world of acting in California, and spent his life fighting to improve conditions for Indians on American reservations. He wrote several books about Indian life life and governmental policy.
- Praise, flattery, exaggerated manners, and fine, high-sounding words were no part of Lakota politeness. Excessive manners were put down as insincere and the constant talker was considered rude and thoughtless. Conversation was never begun at once, nor in a hurried manner. No one was quick with a question, no matter how important, and no one was pressed for an answer. A pause of giving time for thought was the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation. (source)
- Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky, and water was a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close did some of the Lakota come to their feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue. (source)
- 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 a lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence. (source)
- We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, and winding streams with tangles growth, as ‘wild.’ Only to the white man was nature a ‘wilderness’ and only to him was the land ‘infested’ with ‘wild animals’ and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. Not until the hairy man from the east came and with brutal frenzy heaped injustices upon us and the families we loved was it ‘wild’ for us. When the very animals of the forest began fleeing from his approach, then it was for us that the ‘Wild West’ began. (source)
- Silence was meaningful with the Lakota, and his granting a space of silence to the speech-maker and his own moment of silence before talking was done in the practice of true politeness and regardful of the rule that ‘thought comes before speech.’ Also 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 the words was silence with the Lakota and his strict observance of this tenet of good behavior was the reason, no doubt, for his being given another fallacious characterization by the white man – that of being a stoic. He has been adjudged dumb, stupid, indifferent, and unfeeling. As a matter of truth, he was the most sympathetic of men, but his emotions of depth and sincerity were tempered with control. Silence meant to the Lakota what it meant to Disraeli when he said, ‘Silence is the mother of truth,’ for the silent man was ever to be trusted, while the man ever ready with speech was never taken seriously. (source)
- Children were taught the rules of woyuonihan and that true politeness was to be defined in actions rather than in words. They were never allowed to pass between the fire and an older person or a visitor, to speak while others were speaking, or to make fun of a crippled or disfigured one. If a child thoughtlessly tried to do so, a parent, in a quiet voice, immediately set him right. (source)
- The concept of life and its relations was humanizing and gave to the Lakota an abiding love. It filled his being with the joy and mystery of living; it gave him reverence for all life; it made a place for all things in the scheme of existence with equal importance to all. (source)
- The Lakota could despise no creature, for all were of one blood, made by the same hand, and filled with the essence of the Great Mystery. In spirit, the Lakota was humble and meek. ‘Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth,’ was true for the Lakota, and from the earth he inherited secrets long since forgotten. (source)
- In talking to children, the old Lakota would place a hand on the ground and explain: ‘We sit in the lap of our Mother. From her we, and all other living things, come. We shall soon pass, but the place where we now rest will last forever. So we, too, learned to sit or lie on the ground and become conscious of life about us in its multitude of forms. Sometimes we boys would sit motionless and watch the swallow, the tiny ants, or perhaps some small animal at its work and ponder on its industry and ingenuity; or we lay on our backs and looked long at the sky and when the stars came out made shapes from the various groups. (source)
- The contemplative and spiritual side of Lakota life was calm and dignified, undisrupted by religious quarrels and wars that turned man against man and even man against animal. Not until a European faith came was it taught that not life on earth but only life after death was to be glorified; and not until the native man forsook the faith of his forefathers did he learn of Satan and Hell. Furthermore, until that time he had no reason to think otherwise than that the directing and protecting guidance of the Great Mystery was as potent on this side of the world as on the other. (source)
- The Lakota . . . loved the earth and all things of the earth, the attachment growing with age. The old people came literally to love the soil and they sat or reclined on the ground with a feeling of being close to a mothering power. It was good for the skin to touch the earth and the old people liked to remove their moccasins and walk with bare feet on the sacred earth.
- Everything was possessed of personality, only differing with us in form. 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. We learned to do what only the student of nature ever learns, and that was to feel beauty. We never railed at the storms, the furious winds, and the biting frosts and snows. To do so intensified human futility, so whatever came we adjusted ourselves, by more effort and energy if necessary, but without complaint. Even the lightening did us no harm, for whenever it came too close, mothers and grandmothers in every tipi put cedar leaves on the coals and their magic kept danger away. Bright days and dark days were both expressions of the Great Mystery. (source)