Luther Standing Bear
"We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling
hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as 'wild'. Only to the
white man was nature a 'wilderness' and only to him was it '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."
"If today I had a young mind to direct, to start on the journey
of life, and I was faced with the duty of choosing between the natural
way of my forefathers and that of the... present way of civilization, I
would, for its welfare, unhesitatingly set that child's feet in the path
of my forefathers. I would raise him to be an Indian!"
"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, or 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 giving time for thought was
the truly courteous way of beginning and conducting a conversation."
"From Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, there came a great unifying
life force that flowed in and through all things -- the flowers of the
plains, blowing winds, rocks, trees, birds, animals -- and was the same
force that had been breathed into the first man. Thus all things were kindred,
and were brought together by the same Great Mystery.
"Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water was
a real and active principle. In the animal and bird world there existed
a brotherly feeling that kept the Lakota safe among them. And so close
did some of the Lakotas come to their feathered and furred friends that
in true brotherhood they spoke a common tongue.
"The animals had rights -- the right of man's protection, the
right to live, the right to multiply, the right to freedom, and the right
to man's indebtedness -- and in recognition of these rights the Lakota
never enslaved an animal and spared all life that was not needed for food
and clothing. For the animal and bird world there existed a brotherly feeling
that kept the Lakota safe among them."
"This 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."
"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 were humble and meek. 'Blessed are the meek, for
they shall inherit the earth' -- this was true for the Lakota, and from
the earth they inherited secrets long since forgotten. Their religion was
sane, natural, and human."
"The old Lakota was wise. He knew that a man's heart away from
Nature becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things
soon lead to a lack of respect for humans too."
"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
THE LIVING SPIRIT OF THE INDIAN
by Luther Standing Bear
Chief of the Oglala, Lakota (1905-1939)
The feathered and blanketed figure of the American Indian has come
to symbolize the American continent. He is the man who through centuries
has been moulded and sculpted by the same hand that shaped the mountains,
forest, and plains, and marked the course of it rivers.
The American Indian is the soil, whether it be the region of forest,
plains, pueblos, or mesas. He fits into the landscape, for the hand that
fashioned the continent also fashioned the man for his surroundings. He
once grew as naturally as the wild sunflowers; he belongs just as the buffalo
With a physique that fitted, the man developed fitting skills --
crafts which today are called American. And the body had a soul, also formed
and moulded by the same master hand of harmony. Out of the Indian approach
to existence 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....
Becoming possessed of a fitting philosophy and art, it was by them
that native man perpetuated his identity; stamped it into the history and
soul of this country -- made land and man one.
By living -- struggling, losing, meditating, i'm-bibing, aspiring,
achieving -- he wrote himself into the ineraseable evidence -- an evidence
that can be and often has been ignored, but never totally destroyed....
The white man does not understand the Indian for the reason that
he does not understand America. He is too far removed from its formative
processes. The roots of the tree of his life have not yet grasped the rock
and soil. The white man is still troubled with primitive fears; he still
has in his consciousness the perils of this frontier continent, some of
its fastnesses not yet having yielded to his questing footsteps and inquiring
eyes. The man from Europe is still a foreigner and an alien.
But the Indian the spirit of the land is still vested; it will be
until other men are able to divine and meet its rhythms....
When the Indian has forgotten the music of his forefathers, when
the sound of the tom-tom is no more, when the memory of his heroes is no
longer told in story ... he will be dead. When from him has been taken
all that is his, all that he has visioned in nature, all that has come
to him from infinite sources, he then, truly, will be a dead Indian."
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The Indigenous Peoples' Literature pages were researched and organized by Glenn Welker.