A Few Extracts [ page 2 ]
On Silence and Talking
We Indians know about silence. We aren’t afraid of it. In fact, to us it is more powerful than words.
Our elders were schooled in the ways of silence, and they passed that along to us. Watch, listen, and then act, they told us. This is the way to live.
Watch the animals to see how they care for their young. Watch the elders to see how they behave. Watch the white man to see what he wants. Always watch first, with a still heart and mind, then you will learn. When you have watched enough, then you can act.
With you it’s the opposite. You learn by talking. You reward the kids who talk the most in school. At your parties everyone is trying to talk. In your work you are always having meetings where everyone interrupts everyone else, and everyone talks five, ten, or a hundred times. You say it is ‘working out a problem’. When you are in a room and it is quiet you get nervous. You have to fill the space with sound. So you talk right away, before you even know what you are going to say.
White people like to argue. They don’t even let each other finish sentences. They are always interrupting. To Indians this is very disrespectful and even very stupid. If you start talking, I’m not going to interrupt you. I will listen. Maybe I will stop listening if I don’t like what you are saying. But I won’t interrupt you. When you are done I will make my decision on what you said, but I won’t tell you if I disagree with you unless it is important. Otherwise I will just be quiet and go away. You have told me what I need to know. There is nothing more to say. But this isn’t enough for most white people.
People should think of their words like seeds. They should plant them, then let them grow in silence. Our old people taught us that the earth is always speaking to us, but that we have to be silent to hear her.
There are lots of voices besides ours. Lots of voices.
Owning things is what white people’s lives are about. From the first you are told, ‘This is mine, this is yours;” “Don’t touch that, it doesn’t belong to you.” You are told to keep away from things because of ownership, not because of respect. In the old days we never had locks on our doors. There was no stealing, but if someone was hungry, they could go in your house and get food. Why didn’t people take things? Because of respect.
You build fences around your yards and pay money for people to measure the ground to tell you if your neighbor’s fence is one inch too close to your house. You give nothing away unless you can get something in return. Everything is economic. No wonder white people need such big houses. They aren’t to live in, they are to store things in.
We believed everything was a gift, and that a good man or woman shared those gifts. Good people thought that they should give, not that they should get. We didn’t measure people by rich or poor. We didn’t know how. When times were good everyone was rich. When times were bad everyone was poor. We measured people by how they shared.
Things are important when we need them. If we don’t need them, they’re not important. Our ancestors believed that you owned something only so long as you needed it. Then you passed it to someone else.
In our way, everything had its use, then it went back into the earth. We had wooden bowls and cups, or things made of clay. We rode horses or walked. We made things out of the things of the earth. Then when we no longer needed them, we would burn them or leave them, and they would go back into the earth. Now we can’t. Now things don’t go back into the earth.
On Selling Sacred Things
When something is sacred, it does not have a price. I don’t care if it is white people talking about heaven or Indian people talking about ceremonies. If you can buy it, it isn’t sacred. And once you start to sell it, it doesn’t matter whether your reasons are good or not. You are taking what is sacred and making it ordinary.
We Indians can’t lose what is sacred to us. We don’t have much left. What we have is in our hearts and in our ceremonies. The land is gone. It was sold by false Indians who were made into chiefs by white people. Our sacred objects are gone. They are collected by anthropologists who put them in museums. Now there are Indians who are selling ceremonies in order to make money.
When they are gone, all we will have is our hearts. And without our ceremonies, our hearts will not speak. We will be like the white man who is afraid to say the word ‘God’ out loud and goes around trying to buy sacred ceremonies from other people. We will have the same hunger in our hearts and the same silence on our lips.
On Freedom and Honor
The most important thing for white people is freedom. The most important thing for Indian people is honor.
The white world puts all the power at the top. When someone gets to the top, they have the power to take your freedom. In your churches there is someone at the top. In your schools, too. In your government. In your business. There is always someone at the top, and that person has the right to say whether you are good or bad. They own you. No wonder Americans always worry about freedom. You have so damn little of it. If you don’t protect it, someone will take it away from you.
When you came among us, you couldn’t understand our way. You wanted to find the person at the top. You wanted to find the fences that bound us in. Your world was made of cages and you thought ours was, too.
Everything looked like cages. Your clothes fit like cages. Your houses looked like cages. You put fences around your yards so they looked like cages. Everything was a cage. You turned the land into cages. Little squares. Then you made a government to protect these cages. And that government was all cages. The only freedom you had was inside your own cage. Then you wondered why you weren’t happy and didn’t feel free.
We Indians never thought that way. Everyone was free. We didn’t make cages of laws or land. We believed in honor. To us, the white man looked like a blind man walking. He knew he was on the wrong path when he bumped into the edge of one of the cages. Our guide was inside, not outside. It was honor. It was more important for us to know what was right than to know what was wrong.
We looked at animals and saw what was right. We saw how every animal had wisdom and we tried to learn that wisdom. We looked to see how they got along and how they raised their young. We did not look for what was wrong. Instead we always reached for what was right. It was this search that kept us on a good path, not rules and fences. We wanted honor for ourselves and our families.
The only time freedom is important is when others are trying to put you in chains. We had no chains so we needed no freedom. We had always had our freedom, so you had nothing of value to give us. All you could do is take it away and give it back to us in the form of cages.
You took our honor and gave us your freedom. And even you know that is no freedom at all. It is just the freedom to live inside your own locked cage.