Three chapters from the book: If You’ve Forgotten the Names of the Clouds, You’ve Lost Your Way : An Introduction to American Indian Thought & Philosophy
By Russell Means
Every part of this Earth is sacred to my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove... the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to our footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors...
Seattle, Suquamish, mid 1800s
Come with us now on a journey to another world...the way it was everywhere on Earth, when people all across the globe lived in paradise. Today, only in scattered locations, in small shrinking pockets and forgotten remote islands and mountains and jungles, does this paradise still exist.
To understand the American Indians, or any indigenous people, it is essential to start with the Ancestors. Our Ancestors are vital to the Indian world-view, and are held in as high regard as if they were alive today, and walking among us.
Our Ancestors are our constant witness and companion. They know everything. They are part of us, as we are part of them. In this way, an American Indian is never a solitary or lonely individual. Existential angst is unknown. We know who we are and we are never alone. We are part of something greater than ourselves.
This makes us responsible. An entire family or clan is responsible for any act of violence of any of its members, not only in the present and the past, but even into the future. Honor is not purely individual, it exists among individuals of course, but it also incorporates our immediate families, our clans, the Ancestors, and extends out to include the entire Universe.
An American Indian is aware that if disgrace or dishonor is brought upon oneself, then our Grandmother Earth has been insulted as well. These beliefs and principles are real. They are based on the clear and obvious connection between ourselves and the natural world that nurtures and supports us in every moment of our existence. Our connection to the Ancestors guides our actions in every situation.
THE GLOOMY REALITY OF THE PATRIARCH
Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the Earth?...How can we have confidence in the white people? When Jesus Christ came upon the Earth you killed Him and nailed Him to the cross... Where today are the Pequot? Where are the Narragansett, the Mohican, the Pocanet, and other powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the greed and oppression of the white man, like snow before the summer sun...the bones of our dead will be plowed up, and their graves turned into plowed fields...
Tecumseh, Shawnee, 1811
Patriarchy is imperialism—oppression and exploitation of “the other” began as soon as patriarchy reared its ugly head over 6,000 years ago. Patriarchs are masters at justifying any and every kind of monstrous misdeed—we grew up learning in school about the evil Puritans and how they extracted false confessions from suspected witches” via the dunking stool and other tortures...and now suddenly waterboarding and other forms of torture are a good idea when applied to suspected “terrorists”—even though all evidence refutes the effectiveness of such techniques. You can say this for the Patriarch—he certainly is consistent in his irrational inconsistency.
Science is the religion of the Patriarch. This is not to be confused with Indian Science, which is based on gleaning truths from observing the natural world in action. There’s nothing natural about the science that supports the monumental misdeeds and injustices of the patriarchal system. Like any religion, the Patriarch’s version of “science” is replete with ritual, dogma, sacrosanct texts, articles of faith. These are all tools that are used to reinforce patriarchy. Scientists rip apart monkeys and dogs for research. How is this acceptable to anyone with the slightest shred of “humanity”?
Science is utilized as a weapon by the Patriarch, in the hands of the Patriarch science becomes a killing machine. The nazis prided themselves as extremely scientific—at what cost to their humanity? Scientific research runs rampant, and yet to what end? Human lifespan is increasing incrementally but still falls short of indigenous societies—cultures famous for longevity around the world today are not in scientific societies, but are in places where people live very naturally. In scientific societies the aged are housed in inhumane warehouses, alzheimer’s and dementia are increasing. Parkinsons disease never existed before the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution.
Today, protestors of scientific research are called terrorists, and grouped with those who would destroy the very fabric of society—and yet it is scientists themselves who are the only group that threatens to truly destroy Earth’s balance of life. Indigenous people lived innumerable centuries without imbalance or destruction, then in only 6,000 years of patriarchy Earth has been brought to the brink of total destruction.
In patriarchy, mass murder and destruction of every kind of life is justified by the benefits to the privileged few at the very tip of the food chain. Wall Street is no different from all the tyrannies and kingdoms of history.
LAKOTAH MORNING THANK-YOU PRAYER
O holy Great Mystery, thank you for this day.
I thank you for the Universe, which is our tabernacle, our house of worship.
Thank you for the Star People, who watch over our water and all that lives, and give us direction and a place in life.
Thank you for the Moon, which also watches over the water and purifies the women naturally.
Thank you for the water.
Thank you for our sacred Grandmother, the Earth, mother of all living beings, for they are our relatives.
Thank you for the East Wind, which brings the Morning Star which gives us the dawn of a new day, so that we will not repeat the mistakes of yesterday. The East Wind brings a newness into our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits, renewing the spirits of our sacred Grandmother, the Earth and of all our relatives.
And thank you for the Black Tail Deer People, who live in the East and watch over us.
Thank you for the South Wind, which brings warmth and generosity to our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits, as well as to our sacred Grandmother, the Earth, and to all our relatives.
And thank you for the Owl People, who live in the South and watch over us.
Thank you for the West Wind, which gives us the lightning and thunder spirits, which bring the cleansing and refreshing rains for our sacred Grandmother, the Earth, and all our relatives, and which brings cleanliness and refreshment to our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.
And thank you for the Buffalo People, who live in the West and watch over us.
Thank you for the North Wind, which brings strong and enduring winds that give our sacred Grandmother, the Earth, and all our relatives strength and endurance, and brings strength and endurance to our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits.
And thank you for the Elk People, who live in the North, and watch over us.
Thank you for all the winged beings of the air for their teachings, their generosity and their sacrifices. Thank you especially for the eagle, who flies the highest, sees the furthest, and is faithful to its mate.
Thank you for the four-leggeds, who give us so much and teach us so much, for their sacrifices and sharing.
And thank you especially for the buffalo, because as the buffalo goes, so go our people.
Thank you for all our relatives who crawl and swim and live within the earth, for their sacrifices and sharing and their generosity. Thank you for all their teachings and for everything that they give us.
Thank you also for all the green, growing things of the Earth. They teach us so much and give us so much. Thank you for their sacrifices and for their sharing.
Thank you especially for the tree with the whispering leaves, for its strength and independence and its teachings. And thank you for the sacred Tree of Live, which we must nourish and care for to ensure that it blossoms once again, allowing our people to live as they were intended.
Thank you for the salmon and the other fishes, who teach that it is our birthright to return to our home.
Thank you for the spider, who teaches us the foibles of life in the guise of Iktomi, the Trickster.
Thank you for each of the sacred ceremonies brought us by the holy White Buffalo Calf Woman.
Thank you for our purification lodge, which enlightens us with understanding of purification and cleanliness.
Thank you for the Sundance, which allows men an opportunity to comprehend the miracle of new life by sharing, in a small way, the experience of childbirth.
Thank you for the Crying for a Vision Ceremony, which permits us to recognize a positive and independent road to follow throughout life.
Thank you for the Making of Relatives Ceremony, which allows us to bring new citizens into our nation, our family, our clan.
Thank you for the Keeping of the Spirit Ceremony, which allows us the privilege of showing respect for our ancestors, and brings the community together to share and celebrate the deeds of the departed.
Thank you for the Throwing of the Ball Ceremony, which brings the community together as one heart, one mind, one spirit, one body.
Thank you for the Making of Woman Ceremony that allows girls and young women to aspire to being worthy of the universe.
Thank you for the healing ceremonies and sweet medicines produced by our green relatives who grow. Together they care for the infirm, the crippled and the sick.
Thank you for the soil, for the clouds, for the white blanket that comes to cover our Grandmother, the Earth, in the time of cold.
Thank you for the sacred colors, together representing everything that is worthy in life, and individually teaching us so much.
Thank you for the wind that travels in a circle, for it teaches us respect and wonder and awe.
I thank you for everything that is holy and sacred and good.
We are all related.
Lakotah Morning Prayer
In traditional Lakotah society, the husband wakes at first light, in the early pre-dawn. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t wake his wife sleeping beside him. He goes outside, alone, and speaks the Lakotah Morning Prayer with the Morning Star when it is the only star left in the dawn sky. Speaking the Morning Prayer clears the mind of all worries and anxiety, and makes a person aware of his place in the mosaic of life. It humbles you.
Ready to start the day, the husband turns back inside the Tipi, and goes and combs his wife’s hair. Neither one speaks a word. The husband’s first interaction of the day with his wife is a very sacred exchange. Hair is very important as it grows from the head, where the brain resides. Hair holds memory. It is only cut when one is in mourning. This first exchange between husband and wife is a caressing touch, on a sacred part of the body.
Russell Means, an Oglala Sioux, as a young leader of the American Indian Movement who helped resuscitate Indian nations throughout the hemisphere, had the privilege of learning traditional Lakota ways and knowledge from Elders who were steeped in these ancient teachings. Russell died Octdober 22, 2012, at the age of 72. His wife, Pearl, carries on the task of passing along this timeless and timely wisdom to a world starved for balance and truth. The book, co-written with Bayard Johnson, can be ordered from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and most anyplace books are sold.