The other evening, we were watching a program on television and were reminded of experiences we had with friends from the Native American community. The story was about a young woman who was a horse trainer and one of her horses was refusing to perform at the level he previously had performed. Lost as to what to do, she found a Native friend from her mother’s past, known for his abilities in horse training. He agreed to observe the horse and help her to determine what the problem was. She spent a few days at his ranch but, rather than focusing on the horse, they spent much time on long walks and discussions on life and the need to know your inner-self. The young woman had been experiencing some disappointments and emotional problems in her life which appeared hidden but, were apparently understood by her new friend. She was concerned that no time was being devoted to the horse, only these long walks and deep discussions. When she finally realized the horse was reacting to her inner emotions, as many animals do, she was able to rebuild the confidence of the horse and return him to his previous performance level.
What caught our attention was the ability of the friend to observe and understand the situation and share his Native wisdom and ways, to encourage self-evaluation. There seems to be an ability to observe and understand the inner self and the natural world, among our Native people, in a more compassionate way than our western society. Tribal elders, particularly, seem to have a spirituality to observe and understand the detail of creation and humanity beyond many of us. They also have a gentleness in the way they present themselves which aids in communicating their traditional knowledge. This depth of understanding along with the soft, gentle approach to express themselves, appears to be common among the different tribes, particularly with the elders. There are many lessons to be learned from our indigenous people and the power of empirical observation which appears to come from their spiritual relationship with the natural world and Mother Earth. Charles Eastman wrote, “In the life of the Indian there was only one inevitable duty—the duty of prayer—the daily recognition of the Unseen and Eternity. His daily devotions were more necessary to him than daily food”. Medicine Crow, of the Teton Sioux Tribe, tells us, “in our scared rites the person must have the proper spiritual attitudes to participate”. He goes on to state, “It is possible to learn the outer steps that must be accomplished in a rite without learning the inner meanings that are the key to the scared traditions”. Black Elk of the Oglala Lakota Sioux said, “I am blind and do not see the things of this world, but when the light comes from Above, it enlightens my heart and I can see, for the Eye of my heart sees everything. The heart is a sanctuary at the center of which…. The Great Spirit dwells… if the heart is pure”. Francis Laflescher of the Omaha Tribe points out, “the real character of red people is never fully known until there has been obtained some knowledge of their ……. ideas and their conception of the Unseen Power that animates all life”. Walking Buffalo of the Stoney Tribe tells us. “The Great Spirit has provided you and me with an opportunity for study in nature’s university, the forests, the rivers, the mountains and the animals, which include us”.
Our Native people have studied the meaning of life through empirical observation and developed a spirit filled wisdom about creation, the natural world and the inner sole of the human being. This was clearly revealed in my opening story of the young woman and her horse. Her friend was able to see into the heart of the woman and the animal and in his spiritual way, bring the two back to a respectful relationship. There is a strong message in this story for each of us. Our reliance on the classroom and text books is not sufficient if we care about the future. The wisdom of life comes from the study and observation of nature’s way! Professor Thomas Berry suggests the best way to a desirable future may rest within the traditional knowledge and wisdom of our indigenous people. I am in total agreement with Dr. Berry and believe our indigenous people have much to share with our western culture. It is time to build bridges, not walls, for together we can make a difference! We must rebuild our spiritual respect for Mother Earth, the greatest gift the Great Creator, God, has given to each one of us! Life, including human life, was an inevitable part of the story of creation and our God given intelligence has endowed us with the power to destroy or restore our home, planet Earth. We need help now but, finding that help requires reaching out to a people our culture historically suppressed and attempted to destroy their culture through forced removal from their home lands and required attendance by their children to military Christian boarding schools. These schools required the children to wear western clothing, cut their hair and adopt Christian names. Rebuilding relationships will not be easy and will require sincerity and a recognition we are far more similar than we are different! The issue we face is a universal issue that demands a global response!