Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Chief Luther Standing Bear

Painting by Kirby Sattler

The white man does not understand America.
He is far removed from its formative processes.
The roots of the tree
of his life have not yet
grasped the rock and the soil.

The white man is still troubled by primitive fears;
he still has in his consciousness
the perils of this frontier continent,
some of it not yet having yielded
to his questing footsteps
and inquiring eyes.

He shudders still with the memory
of the loss of his forefathers
upon its scorching deserts
and forbidding mountaintops.
The man from Europe is still a foreigner and an alien.
And he still hates the man
who questioned his path across the continent.

But in the Indian
the spirit of the land is still vested;
it will be a long time until other men
are able to divine and meet its rhythm.
Men must be born and reborn to belong.
Their bodies must be formed of the dust
of their forefathers' bones.

Chief Luther Standing Bear - Oglala Sioux

Nothing the Great Mystery placed
in the land of the Indian
pleased the white man,
and nothing escaped his transforming hand.
Wherever forests have not been mowed down,
wherever the animal is recessed in their quiet protection,
wherever the earth is not bereft of four-footed life -
that to him is an "unbroken wilderness"

But, because for the Lakota there was no wilderness,
because nature was not dangerous but hospitable,
not forbidding but friendly,
Lakota philosophy was healthy -
free from fear and dogmatism.
And here I find the great distinction
between the faith of the Indian and the white man.
Indian faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings;
the other sought the dominance of surroundings.

In sharing, in loving all and everything,
one people naturally found a due portion
of the thing they sought, while,
in fearing, the other found the need of conquest.

For one man the world was full of beauty,
for the other it was a place of sin and ugliness
to be endured until he went to another world,
there to become a creature of wings,
half-man and half-bird.

Forever one man directed his Mystery to change the world.
He had made; forever this man pleaded with Him
to chastise his wicked ones;
and forever he implored his God
to send His light to earth.
Small wonder this man could not understand the other.

But 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 led to lack of respect for humans, too.
So he kept his children close
to nature's softening influence.

Chief Luther Standing Bear - Oglala Sioux

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