Basic Call to Consciousness
History & Imagery
In the Beginning
First Nations Governance
Trail of Tears
Impact of European Immigrants
Called ‘Indian’ or....
Cultural Genocide - Boarding schools
Native Values &
Way of Life
Living Two Lives
Leaders or Rulers
Written or Oral
Impact of European Immigrants
“But soon the strangers came. At first, they did not bother us. They went on paths through our land. We tried to help these people and they helped us in certain ways. But then, as more and more strangers came, these strangers shot animals just to kill them. They left them lying in gullies. They made paths through the land that were heavier than our paths. We had never seen the kind of things they did. For us, the earth was alive. To move a stone was to change her-to kill an animal was to take from her. There had to be respect. We saw no respect from these people. They chopped down trees and left animals lay where they were shot. They made loud noises. They seemed like wild people. They were heavy on the land and they were loud. We tried to stay out of their way; but they made us angry.”
Lakota Elder continues: “We would watch your people and listen to you until we knew what you really wanted-you wanted the land we inhabited.
You wanted the resources on our land for your own profiteering. Then we would back up even further. The trouble is, when it came to land, there wasn’t far enough to back up. Wherever we went, you chased us. We heard you coming and we smelled you coming. Even before you even knew we were there, we knew you were coming. The animals told us. We saw it in their eyes and heard it in their voices. We knew it by their diminishing numbers, their change in habits.”
Black Elk, Lakota holy man, Lakota of the Ogalala band. His father’s name was Black Elk, and his father before him, and he was the fourth to bear the name. Black Elk had a great vision and the Blue Man was the warning:
“Blue Man, symbolizing the cause of unnatural and chaotic suffering and destruction on our planet due to greed and lack of respect. Black Elk, in the book, Black Elk Speaks is quoted: “A long time ago my father told me what his father told him--that there was once a Lakota holy man who dreamed what was to be; and this was long before the coming of the wasichus (white man). He dreamed that the four-leggeds--animals--were going back into the earth and that a strange race had woven a spider’s web all around the Lakota people. And he said: When this happens, you shall live in square gray houses in a barren land, and beside those square gray houses you shall starve. They say he went back to Mother Earth soon after he saw this vision, and it was sorrow that killed him. You can look about you now and see that he meant these dirt-roofed houses we are living in and all the rest was also true. Sometimes dreams are wiser than waking.”
And, we now see that the Native people’s centuries early prediction of the four-leggeds is true - they have been ‘going back into the earth’-it is called Extinction in our language.
Joseph Bruchac also agrees, unlike European thought, where reality and dream are not the same, dreaming is often regarded as very real by Indians. Dreams are sacred.
Crazy Horse, a relation to Black Elk, was said to have dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that spirit world. (Crazy Horse was opposed to being photographed)
“Sometimes dreams are wiser then waking.” -- Nicholas Black Elk
The Great Spirit has many ways of communicating with the human being. He talks to us through the five senses-sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. For example, we can observe nature and see a lesson or get an answer. These five senses function primarily in the physical world. But we also have the ability to receive communication from the Unseen World. To do this we have a sixth sense. It comes in the form of dreams, imagination, intuition, inspiration or a hunch. Along with the dream or intuitive thought there is a feeling, a knowing. We just know it’s true without the need for proof. We need to pay attention to our dreams and intuition. Don’t cast them off as being silly or useless. Be respectful to our dreams and feelings.
Ignatia Broker, 1919-1987, Ojibway author of Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative details the remarkable life of her great-great-grandmother, Night Flying Woman, who was born in the mid-18 hundreds and lived during a time of enormous change and hardship for Minnesota’s Ojibway people. “Remember this day, my child,” Grandfather said to her when she was five years old. “For all your small life, this village has been your home, but now we must move toward the setting sun. We have been happy here and have lived here a long, long time. A very long time even before you were born. At the council it was decided that we shall seek a new place. We move because there is another people who are fast coming into the forest lands. Their ways are different and we wish to be free of them for as long as we can.”
Lakota Elder states: “To us the land was alive. It talked to us-we called her our mother. We had to do good things for her and live the way she thought was right. She was the mother to everything that lived upon her, so everything was our brother and sister-the bears, the trees, the plants, the buffalo, the streams. If we didn’t treat them right, our mother would be angry. If we treated them with respect and honor, she would be proud.”
Ignatia Broker, Ojibway author of Night Flying Woman: An Ojibway Narrative confirms this sentiment.
She says: “The Anishinabe have always been a thriving people born to the woodland way of life. We know the secrets of the forest and receive the gifts of Generous Spirit. These we repay by honoring and respecting the living things in the forests: the animal people and the plant life which in itself is life-giving. We do not waste the precious gifts, but share them with our brothers. Some of us are hunters, some fisherman, some woodsmen, and some planters; but all of us are blessed in the belief that the earth is precious and the spirits of the Animal Brothers clean. She continues: Our life cycle follows the circle designed by Grandmother Earth.”
In another part of her story: “I do not like cutting the trees,” said Father. “I think too often of the animal people. They will be few, and they will be gone from this land. When we have enough of the lumber, I shall no longer cut the trees or travel the rivers on them. My heart cries too often when I do this.”
“My heart, too, cries often,” said Mother. “It cries because we are surrounded by white strangers who cut the trees are many. And my heart cries for the Ojibway children who will never feel the moss beneath their feet or look up at the tall trees, as Oona has done.”
Mother told Father about the sickness that was in the big Ojibway village--where they were forced to settle by the white man. “We met some kinsmen from the big village who told us that the food promised to us the by the great chief in Washington D.C. does not come and there has been much hunger. We must plan, said Mother. We will accept the strange lodges and thing that go with that way, but we must do the things we have always done, for they are still necessary.”
In Messengers of the Wind: Native American Women Tell Their Life Stories, edited by Jane Katz, an Ojibway woman, after finding various animals stuffed in a taxidermist’s shop for sale, including the head of an alligator turtle, recounts: “None of these animals had the kind of quick, clean and respectful death they should have received. The way they are killed is, to me, disrespectful. The same is true of the way the trees are slaughtered. The animals or trees are just objects to be exploited--to white people--for their own material profit. That’s why this planet is so doomed. You can’t keep on taking, taking and taking from the earth and not giving anything back.”
In Messengers of the Wind, Skagit tribal elder, Vi Hilbert, born 1918, describes the respect and honoring shown by tribal people through practice of ceremony to animals who sacrifice their lives to provide sustenance to the people. She explains: “...a feast honoring the spirit of the salmon. After the feast, the skeleton of the salmon is put back on a bed of ferns and returned to the waters, to his people. It is said that the spirit informs the Salmon People” that it has been treated respectfully in--our tribe--so the salmon will return another year to be food for the people.”
Ceremony is an aspect of First People’s customs that touches my heart. Through spiritual ceremony we are reminded of the sacred relationship that exists between all things and the responsibility we humans have to remember and to honor that relationship. Bruchac informs it was explained to him by an Elder: “...humans are forgetful. Remember to give thanks every day and then behave in a thankful and respectful manner....But each time we forget, we need to be given more ceremonies to help us remember.”
In Messengers of the Wind, an Alaska Native woman confirms: “Our responsibility as Indian people is to protect our culture and environment. The Gwich’in people lived on the land for thousands of years, hunting and trapping. My father wasn’t out there trapping to get rich, just to survive. We always took just what we needed. But when the white trappers came up the Yukon River they killed a lot of fur-bearing animals. The trappers were only interested in profit. They wanted the animals only for their hides. They put liquid strychnine on their bait, the animals ate it and died. The skinned, poisoned animal body was left there to poison other unsuspecting animals. After that the ecosystem suffered. It’s never been the same since.
“Today, although the Gwich’in people of Alaska hunt with rifles and not bow and arrows, they still follow ancient laws: no matter how hungry they are, they permit the first band of caribou that appears before them each spring to pass by them undisturbed; they kill a caribou only when in need. The Porcupine caribou herd has gone to the same calving ground for thousands of years; we consider it sacred. If we don’t take care of these places, they’re not going to be there for the next generation.”
Lakota elder continues: “For white people the land was not alive. It was like a stage where you could build things and make things happen. White people understood the dirt and trees and the water as important things, but not as brothers and sisters. White people saw these things only as existing to help you humans live--to have more.
Lame Deer distinguishes indigenous value of the land: “Our beliefs are rooted deep in our earth, no matter what you have done to it and how much of it you have paved over. And if you leave all that concrete unwatched for a year or two, our plants, the native Indian plants, will pierce that concrete...”
“Then something strange happened. These new people started asking us for the land. We did not understand this. How could they ask us for the land? They wanted to give us money for the land if their people could live on it. Our people did not understand and did not want this. There was something wrong to the Creator in taking money for the land. There was something wrong to our grandparents and our ancestors to take money for the land.”
“Only crazy or very foolish men would sell their Mother Earth.” -- Nicholas Black Elk.
This same exact sentiment is expressed similarly by Ramona Bennett, former chairwoman of the Puyallup Washington tribe in: Messengers of the Wind: Ramona Bennett states: “When white people came here, they pointed up at the Mother Mountain--Mount Rainier-- and said, Who owns that? And the Indians cracked up-what a funny idea, to own a mountain! For us, the Mother Mountain is for everyone...bringing fresh water, it’s where our river comes from....It’s sacred. Then the white people wrote up title to the mountain, they cut roads and put ski slopes on it....It’s like putting a recreation center on the Virgin Mary’s breast.”
Lakota elder continues in conversation with Nerburn: “Then something happened that we didn’t understand. The white people who came said that we didn’t belong here anymore. That there was a chief in Washington-a city far away-who said they could live here and we could not. We thought they were crazy! The elders said to be careful because these people were dangerous. Most of us just laughed. But, then, these people would ride across the land and put a flag up, then say that everything between where they started and where they put the flag belonged to them. We saw it as someone shooting an arrow into the sky and saying that all the sky up to where the arrow went belonged to him, now. We thought that these people were crazy-what they said made no sense to us.
“And here’s what was really happening: They were talking about property. We were talking about the land. White people came from Europe because they wanted property for their own. That was what they needed to farm and raise the food to live. They had worked for other people who had claimed all the property and took all the things they raised. They never had anything because they had no property. That was what they wanted more than anything. That was what was behind the whole idea of America as a new country-to get property of their own. We, Indians, didn’t know this. We didn’t even know what it meant to own property. We just belonged to the land. They wanted to own it.
“I think this is very important- White people couldn’t understand what it meant to us to have our religion in the land because your religion didn’t come from the land. White people couldn’t understand that what was sacred for us was where we were, because that is where the sacred things had happened and where the spirits talked to us. White people did not know about the land being sacred. We did not know about the land being property. We could not talk to each other because we did not understand each other.
“But white people were stronger-there were more of you, so your way won out. You took the land and turned it into property. Now our mother is silent. But we still listen for her voice. And here is what I wonder: if she sent diseases and harsh winters when she was angry with us, and we were good to her, what will she send when she speaks back to you.
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