This post is dedicated to Thomas Deegan and his efforts, which like Old Dan’s are all for ‘the children.’
I hope these word taken from Kent Nerburn’s book, The Wolf at Twilight: An Elder’s Journey Through A Land of Ghosts and Shadows, will encourage you to read the full book. Dan, whom I first met in Neither Wolf Nor Dog is now old, and he takes Kent on a journey with him to discover what happened to his sister, who as a child disappeared in the residential school system. It is a story filled with lessons for all of us and goes as far, I think, as any of Kent’s books to explain why we need to take the time to understand the genocide that was planned for the indigenous as far back as the Papal Bull published in 1452 in order to keep us from making a connection with them. Black people have been enslaved for the same reason. We are not supposed to see any value in what they have to offer, and those who would control us have destroyed both of these groups, making it all but impossible for many to get close to their true story in order to understand them. I lived in the black community at the invitation of my best friend in D.C. for a semester when I returned there to take some art courses at the Art League in Alexandria, and I can tell you they are a beautiful people with a wonderful culture. I am so grateful I took the opportunity with which I was gifted, because I can now speak from personal experience 🙂
My first ‘meeting’ with an indigenous person was with a guide we had for an afternoon as we toured the Canyon Lands in Arizona. I’d learned the indigenous would never speak about their beliefs and culture unless we invited them, so I approached our guide, who I found was not only our guide, but a visiting professor at one of the Colleges in the Southwest, and more importantly, a leader of his people. When he shared that what he’d learned at his grandmother’s knee was what I had spent an (insurance) fortune learning from an incredible therapist —about the hemispheric divisions in our brains, the importance of our heart connection, the way to live an honorable life, and so on, I only wanted to learn more. When we left the area and stopped at a tourist stop, I grabbed onto a book by Kent called Wisdom of Native Americans. Thus began my interest in all of Kent Newborn’s books as someone Native Americans trust to speak for them. There were people on the bus who laughed at me for buying this book, but I was way beyond being intimidated by that kind of behavior. Every time I have read the words of Native Americans, I have felt like I was in church, something I have never felt when I actually went to church. Their words are simple, a breath of fresh air, and they are simply common sense to me. There is no mystery about them. Anyone, and I mean anyone can understand them.
Until now, I feel like I’ve shared much that I have learned that I have found to be of great value and helpful to us as we move ahead into our new earth but I have not been able to share with you my understanding of the indigenous way of life. This then in that regard —one small section of Kent’s book—is my gift to you. I hope you will find the time to slow down and read it:) If you do read it, you will come to understand my smily face. For me, these words of old Dan help fill a great emptiness that is really a great longing for the world to become as I know we can and will create it. I feel it is another one of those posts that is invaluable, but that is something you will have to discover for yourselves.
Here, I begin to quote from The Wolf at Twilight . . . as Dan speaks to Kent, trying to share with Kent his people’s belief system . . .
“The way we see it, the Creator put his lessons everywhere. Built them right into the earth before he even put people here. Our job is to learn those lessons in the place we were given, and the way to learn those lessons is to sit still and listen”
He reached in his pocket and pulled out the stone Bronson [his dog] had given him.
“Look at this.” He kept it cradled delicately in his hand like an egg. “Some of the wise ones, they could actually hear this stone talk. It would help them find out where an illness was in someone’s body, or they could walk along with it and it would pull their hands toward a medicine plant. You can’t even image something like that, I bet.”
“Not very easily.”
Well, I’m not surprised. It’s not in that Black Book. But I remember back in the boarding school those priests told that story about the guy who went up on the mountain and got those tablets.”
“Moses. The Ten Commandments.”
“Yeah, That’s right. So what were those tablets made of?
What did they have on them?”
He poked me again. “See. even your people have God talking through stones. But the way you figure, he’s got to write on them. We just listen.”
He gave me a great, wide grin.
* * *
“The Creator stopped being a teacher who filled the world with lessons. Instead you turned him into some kind of judge or policeman who’s sitting way up in heaven keeping track of everything. When you die, if he thinks you’ve been good he sends you to a good place. If he thinks you’ve been bead he sends you to a bad place. I don’t like that. I like our way, where the Creator wasa teacher who gave us the earth to discover. I’d rather think of the Creator as a teacher than a policeman.”
* * *
“You have spent too much time trying to learn about things and not enough time trying to learn from them. You have thought too much and honored too little.”
He paused and took several deep breaths, as if gathering his strength.
“Do you remember what we said in the sweat after we prayed>”
“Yes, Mitakuye oyas’in.”
“And what does that mean?”
“All my relations.”
“That’s right. All my relations. Not ‘all the things I can use to make my life better.’ All my relations. That means everything in the world—the plant, the animals, the sky, the trees, the rocks—everything. When you feel that everything is your relation, you feel that everything is connected.
“That is the secret to living a life of the spirit. If you see that everything has spirit and that everything is connected, you honor everything because you know that it has a part to play in creation.
“Now, this is where the trail leads back to the children. The way we are living today is not good for them. It takes the light out of their eyes, because it does not teach them to see the spirit in all of life. It takes away their connection to everything else. It does not allow them to see the part they play in creation.
“Instead, they think of themselves as part of a straight line that runs from birth to death, and their task is to wait their turn until they reach the place in the line where they are strong and powerful. They are not taught that they have an important role to play just where they are, and that it is they alone who can fill that role.
“Remember when I said that the children have pure hearts because they are closest to the Great Mystery? This is their gift, and that is their part—to remember the goodness of the Great Mystery and to reveal it to us. The rest of us get hard with life; the children remain soft with hope.
“Your way harms the children because it confuses being useful with being important. The little children are not useful because their hands are not yet strong and their minds have not yet been filled with knowledge of how the world works. But they are important. They are important because of where they stand in the circle of life. Like the elders, they are closest to the Great Mystery. They allow us to see the morning of creation.
“This is something we have tried to share with your people. We have tried to remind you that life is not a straight line from birth to death, but a circle where the young and the old hold hands at the door of the Great Mystery.
“If you see life as a straight line, where the young and old are weak and those in the middle are strong, and if you think that to be important you must be useful, you do not see value in the young and the old. You see them as burdens, not as gifts, because they cannot lift their hands to be of use to the community.
“But the young and old both have other gifts. The young have enthusiasm and hope. They give us dreams when we get weary, and they fill the future with promise. The old have the wisdom of experience. They have traveled far on the journey of life and give us knowledge about our own road ahead.
“In our Indian way, we honor these gifts, just like we honor the gifts of all creation. We do not call our old ones ‘senior citizens’ and put them in buildings away from the rest. For us, they are elders. They have lived what we are still waiting to learn. We go to them; we listen to them. ‘What do you know?’ we ask. ‘What has life taught you?’ They are the keepers of the memories. Their hands have touched the hands of our grandfathers and grandmothers. Their stories are alive with the heartbeat of the past.
“And we do not look at our children as full-growns waiting yo be. We see them as special beings who brings us the freshness of wonder. They keep our hearts soft and our hands gentle. They keep us from thinking only about ourselves.
“And they give the elders a reason to live, because we entrust the elders with the shaping of their hearts and with setting their feet straight upon the path of life.
“This is an important task, and one that the elders hold close to their hearts. They understand that once you have wandered far from the good path, it is hard to find it again. But they know that the children have not had time to wander far, so they share the wisdom of their life with them. And the children listen and know that what the elders say is true, because in their little hearts they know the elders are the closest to them in the circle of life, not the farthest from them on the road from birth to death.
“Do you understand this?” he said. “How the children are a gift to the elders and how the elders are a gift to the children? How they complete the circle of life like morning and evening complete the circle of the day/“
“Yes, Dan, I think I do, I think I really do.”
He reached his shaking and toward the glass of water on the table. He seemed emotionally spent.
“Good. Now just a little more now, and I will be done. Here is why it is important that I say these things. The lives of my people and your people once ran like separate waters. But now they have come together. I am not saying that this is good or bad. Only the Creator knows such things. I only know that the stream of our children’s lives has merged with yours and that all of us must now travel together on the journey of life.
“What we must do now is learn from each other — the way it was when your people first came here. We must reach our hands out to each other again. My people must keep our hearts open to what is good about your ways, and you must open your hearts again to what is good about ours. It is time for our Indian voices—the voices that have been silenced—to be heard again.”
He reached across the table with both hands and grabbed me by the wrists.
“This is why I come to you. Your people do not hear us because they do not see us. They see drunks. They see shacks. The see casinos and wise men and people with their hands out. They see everything they want to see, but they don’t see us. And if they don’t see us, they don’t hear us. And if they don’t hear us, they can’t learn from us.”
Dan coughed several times and took a deep breath.
“I am sorry I get angry. But your people need to hear us. We Indian people know many things. We know how to wrap our arms around a larger family. We know how to be poor without thinking that we should be rich. We value our elders because we know they are the keepers of the memories, and we value our children because we know that they carry the hope for the future. We know how to honor the mysteries of life without always thinking that we’re supposed to solve them. And we know how to keep the sacred on our lips, because we know that what is on the lips eventually makes its way to the heart.
“These are good things. They are good things for everyone. They are the gifts the Creator gave us, and we want to share them. But your people need to listen. They need to learn how to listen.”
I carefully set the cassette recorder back in front of him. “I believe you’re right, Dan.”
“I know I”m right. But it does no good to be right when your voice never reaches another person’s ears.”
“I’ll try to change that, Dan, “ I said. “I promise.”
“Don’t make promises to me,” he said. “Make them to the Creator.”
“All right, I make the promise to the Creator.”
“Then here is only one more thing that I have to say. I have left it for last, because it makes me say hard words about your people, and I do not like to say words about another people. But where your way has been wrong and has washed over our way, I owe it to the children to speak the hard words.
“From the very first our people are taught to share. When one person has something, we all have something. When times are difficult we divide what little we have and share it with others. This is our teaching; this is our way. It fills or heart with the idea that people come first.
“From the beginning, you tried to take this away from us. You taught that we should forget about the people and think first about ourselves. It was why you put us in boarding schools and tried to kill our language and our old ways—you did not like that we put people first and tried to live for the people before ourselves.
“We did not understand this. Your Jesus taught people to share. He gave away everything he had to feed the hungry. He didn’t think about ‘mine’ and ‘yours’. But when we lived this way, you said it was wrong. You said we hd to learn to take care of ourselves and not rely on each other. You called it ‘self-reliance’ and told us that this was why your young people were so strong and why you had accomplished so much.
“You brought soldiers and ministers to make us live this way. You took the land the Creator had given us and divided it into little squares and gave it back to us with our names on it. You told us we should sell things instead of giving them away. We did not like this then, and we do not like it now, because it harms the heart and fills it with fear.”
“Fear?” I said.
“Yes. If you are living only for yourself, and you know that everyone else is living only for themselves, you know that there is no help for you if you fall. All people must fall at some time, just as there will always come rain and bad weather. You learn that you must protect what is yours, or you may lose everything.
“You put locks on your doors, locks on your hearts. You live in fear that you may lose what you have, as you spend your life getting more and more and trying to build walls around what you have. You learn to protect rather than to give.
In the old way there were no locks on our doors. We had no fences to make lines between ‘mine’ and ‘yours’. To be great among our people was not to gather the most for ourselves, it was to be the biggest giver and sharer and to protect the weak. We honored those who could help the most, not those who could have the most.
“Once a person starts to live in your way, everything changes, because everything has to be protected. You start making rules about what people can’t do, not what people should do. Look at those Ten Commandments you tried to teach us in boarding school: Thou shalt not, thou shalt not’
“I’d rather have rules that say, ‘You should, you should.’ It teaches us who we should be, not who we should not be. All your way does is tell someone how not to be bad. It doesn’t tell them how to be good.
“When we teach the children this fear way, we set their feet on a bad path. We teach them to grow up thinking about themselves. Sharing is just a small stick they hold out to other people, not the strongest branch on the tree of their lives. They learn to protect, not to give, and it builds a wall around their hearts.
“We need to change this. We need to teach them a helping way, to give them a vision of what is right, not only of what is wrong. We need to teach them that the way to be strong is to help the weak; the way to have wealth is to give things away; the way to lead is to serve. We need to let them know that they are an important part of the circle of life, and if they do not play their part, no one else can.
“If we teach them these things they will have hope in their hearts. If they don’t, their hearts will become hard. They will gather things to them and watch life from a cold distance. They will see the world as something to use, not something to honor.Their ears will stay closed to voices of creation, and the words of the sacred will die on their lips.”
He closed his eyes and grabbed my arm tightly, as if by holding it he would keep me from losing the understanding of what he had said. We sat this way for several seconds. then, slowly, he loosened his grip and sat back in his char.
“That is enough for now,” he said. […]