My passion filled life
Thoughts and threads of passion and experience that have woven the fabric I call my life.
My passion filled life
For the whole of my life I have been a learner. A learner and a reader, and I'm glad that as time has gone on, that has not changed. What bothers me is that as a 'learner', there is so much that I am only now beginning to understand and begin to try and make sense of. So many things that I, like the rest of society, should have been learning much earlier in our lives. If we had maybe today our world would be less of a mess. I often worry that our learning is coming too late and too little, with so many people locked into their skewed ideas and belief systems. Even so, I write this with the hope that maybe one person's heart may be challenged to take a different view of things, and nudge our world one more step forward and closer to the place where we can all have more open minds and open hearts to the journey of another.
To be clear, I have no knowledge of any First Nations geneology in my family lines and my perspective and views do not come with the life experience that many of my friends have lived. My ancestry is as Irish and as Scottish as you can get. But that does not keep me for having a love for other people and a thirst for information that will help me to better understand my world, so that I can pass that understanding along to others. I do believe that our society is past the point where it is okay to turn a blind eye to what has been created. We can believe there might have been good intentions, but we can't ignore that whatever the intention was, the outcome is bad. One way or another we need to lean into that and start growing forward. For me that means to listen, talk, read and learn and work towards having a better understanding so that I might become a better advocate and a better person as a result.
Last night, I finished my reading of the book 'Black Elk Speaks'. It took my a long time to get to the book in it's entirety, but for a long time I have been fascinated and drawn to his words and his wisdom. Nicholas Black Elk (1863-1950) has been working to get my attention for a long time it seems, through so many coincidences and experiences in life. But when we're ready, the teacher does arrive. This teacher died in 1950, but fortunately for our world, he opened his heart and shared his wisdom.
The book was originally published in the early 1930s, after Black Elk met with John G. Neihardt, the author, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. His intent was to share his powerful and inspirational experiences and message to all that would be open to them. During their time together, he relayed the stories from his earliest memories as a boy in th 1860s through to the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, and the final efforts of his people to maintain their freedom and their way of life. He was a warrior, a hunter, a medicine man and a healer who lived his life in an effort to move ever closer to the vision he had experienced as a young boy of 9. He shared his visions in the book, trusting that John would pass them along to a world that needed to know and understand what he had seen. He did this at a time when it was not common for a man of his stature to talk about those things with a stranger, but Black Elk felt the deep need for that message to be shared and so he did.
Through his story, we are given an opportunity to see that horrific time period through the eyes of those who lived on the receiving end of the decisions being made to secure the United States as a nation. A story that is very much the same as our own story in Canada, with it's brutality, battles and manipulation. Black Elk shares his memories of what the First People were experiencing throughout those years of Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Custard and the army's continued movement west. It is a much different perspective from what we are taught by history books.
He tells the reader about many of the horrible battles that took place between the Indigenous people and the soldiers. One of the paragraphs that haunted me really made me think about the things we see happening today, in 2016, at Standing Rock. "Wherever we went, the soldiers came to kill us, and it was all our own country. It was ours already when the Wasichus (white man) made the treaty with Red Cloud that said it would be ours as long as the grass should grow and the water flow. That was only eight winters before, and they were chasing us now because we remembered and they forgot." (pg 83)
The book is full of the broken promises and broken dreams of a people who were forced to bend to the ways of the invading world, and reading it, I couldn't help but see the role that is still playing in what is happening around our continent today, but most noticibly with with what is happening at Standing Rock. As he talks about the treaty agreements that were made by a few on behalf of the many, treaties and agreements that pushed them further and further from the land and the life they had known he relays "only crazy or very foolish men would sell their Mother Earth. Sometimes I think it might have been better if we had stayed together and made them kill us all." The people lived through heartbreak after heartbreak as he shares stories of the battles, the hunger, the massacres, the Ghost Dances and the broken promises.
After the Massacre at Wounded Knee, when the people gave up their fight he was quoted as saying "I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes still young. And i can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was burried in the blizzard. A people's dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. " pg 169
Black Elk died believing that he had not accomplished what the Grandfathers had set out for him to do. He never saw his people regain the footing lost or their old way of life, traditions and spiritual belief systems reestablished. What he had visioned for his people was not possible in the world that had been created and with the restrictions that were placed on our Indigenous people, throughout North America.
But I wondered, as I read through it, if Black Elk wasn't also fortelling of some of what is happening today? His vision fortold of the days ahead, the disappearance of the buffalo herds, of the 'black road' that his people would be forced to walk. But it also fortold of a day when "I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one Mother and one Father. And I saw that it was holy." (pg 26)
As I look at the gatherings that are happening in Standing Rock to support the people who are fighting for their water, I begin to wonder if that gathering may be part of what Black Elk envisioned? People from all tribes, faiths and races coming to stand for the common goal of preserving and fighting for what is here, before everything is gone. People starting to take notice and realize the wisdom that was embedded in the beliefs that lived here long before my ancestors arrived.
My heart aches for the old man who returned to the place of his vision one last time. "Hear me, not for myself, but for my people; I am old. Hear me that they may once more go back into the sacred hoop and find the good red road, the shielding tree." (pg 172)
It has been a slow resurgence, but I believe it is beginning to happen. Idle no More, people saying no to the big corporations, our commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation work. Change is in the works, and the winds have shifted direction. And from the Voice of Black Elk's vision, "Behold this day, for it is yours to make." So I ask, what are you going to do?
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