William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

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Luther Standing Bear

Chief of the Oglala, Lakota (1905-1939)


"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 power."


THE LIVING SPIRIT OF THE INDIAN
by Luther Standing Bear


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 belonged.
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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