When Every Day was Earth Day

Karl Bodmer: Indians hunting the bison. Tableau 31. In: Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied: Maximilian Prince of Wied’s Travels in the Interior of North America, during the years 1832–1834; published London 1843–1844.

Today is Earth Day, reminding us to honor and appreciate our planet as well as treat her kindly. The concept of doing so only once a year is incomprehensible to Indigenous cultures. Native American reverence for all living things extends to the Earth herself. Taking what you need with respect and gratitude is expected; exploiting her resources for the sake of greed is abhorrent.

Every day was “Earth Day.”

For example, bison (erroneously called buffalo) were revered and respected. They killed only what was needed for food, then used the hide, horns, bones, and sinew for such things as clothing, tipis, and tools. Nothing was wasted. Killing for sport or simply for the animal’s hide (much less its tongue), was unheard of.

Then the white man came.

At the beginning of the 19th century 30 to 40 million bison were present on the Plains. By 1895 their numbers had been reduced to roughly 1,000. Upon completion of the Intercontinental Railroad, they were often shot from moving trains. Hide Hunters moved into Native hunting grounds and slaughtered bison, leaving their rotting carcasses behind.

1892: bison skulls await industrial processing at Michigan Carbon Works in Rogueville (a suburb of Detroit). Bones were processed to be used for glue, fertilizer, dye/tint/ink, or were burned to create “bone char” which was an important component for sugar refining.

In 1873, Army Lt. Col. Richard Irving Dodge stated, “Where there were myriads of buffalo the year before, there were now myriads of carcasses. The air was foul with a sickening stench, and the vast plain which only a short twelve months before teemed with animal life, was a dead, solitary putrid desert.”

Historian, Pekka Hämäläinen, noted the effect this had on Native Americans when she noted, “The buffalo was the foundation of their economy and the centerpiece of their cosmology, and the wholesale slaughter shook their existence at its core.”

Rath & Wright’s buffalo hide yard in 1878, showing 40,000 buffalo hides, Dodge City, Kansas.”

Where might our country be today if it weren’t for such wanton destruction? But the real question is have we learned anything since?

THE STORY OF BRIGHT EYES IS COMING TO THE BIG SCREEN

Many indigenous people from various tribes have fought for their rights, whether on horseback or in the halls of Congress. Among them was a young woman named Bright Eyes, about whom plans are in work to make a feature-length movie.

To quote the producer’s website:

It’s the true story of a shy, young woman of the Omaha Tribe whose love for her people and other Native Americans helped her overcome her fear. So, she spoke out against injustice and helped bring about the landmark court case of Chief Standing Bear vs. General George Crook where a Native American was first regarded as a “person” with legal rights!

Can you believe that it took until 1880 for Native Americans to be considered a “person?”

What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s take a look at the founding documents of the United States penned in 1776. How many times have you heard the following words from The Declaration of Independence ?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“All men?” Really? Obviously that didn’t apply to First Nation peoples.

Did you know that in the early 19th Century slaves were counted as three-fifths of a person for census purposes while indigenous people were not counted at all?

Then there’s the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified July 9, 1868, following the Civil War:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Did this apply to indigenous people? Obviously not.

Instead they were considered savages for fighting for their rights to land on which they were the original occupants. A country that shoved them out of the way, yet states in the Second Amendment to its Constitution, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

And why the Second Amendment? To defend our country from a tyrannical government or foreign invaders!

Sound familiar?

Seems to me that’s what Native Americans were trying to do when all other negotiations with the U.S. Government failed.

If more people understood the true history of how indigenous people were treated it could make a huge difference. As I’ve discovered the truth through research I’ve done writing The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits and working with my Northern Cheyenne co-author, Pete Risingsun, I’ve been outraged by the hypocrisy and double standard.

The United States would be a wonderful country if only it followed its own declarations rather than the whims of greedy, powerful individuals who either warp or by-pass the law to their own benefit. And if you think things are improving currently, clearly you don’t understand what’s going on. Why are illegal aliens treated better than our nation’s first people? Everyone who belongs here is losing their rights at an unprecedented rate.

Perhaps it’s a case of “What goes around, comes around.”

I didn’t intend for this blog to turn into a rant, but it’s something I’ve come to feel very strongly about.

Back to Bright Eyes, this wonderful true story about an heroic Native American woman is being made into a feature film. I encourage you to watch the trailer here.

The producers are looking for crowd funding to make it happen. You can help bring this inspiring story to the big screen! Find out more on their website.

First-Hand Account of Someone Raised by a Medicine Man

This short video captures the essence of the indigenous spirit. Some of the comments are worth reading as well. I stumbled upon it quite by accident and it touched me so deeply I wanted to share it with as many as possible.

Indigenous people get a lot of bad press, mostly from history books written by their conquerors who knew little of their beautiful, compassionate culture. There is much to be learned from their wisdom. The world would be a better place if more people embraced their values of family first, hard work, connection with nature, independence, generosity and kindness.

I hope you enjoy this short (about 10 minutes) video and it brightens your day with hope as it did for me.

The Medicine Wheel and the Zodiac

The four sectors of a classic Native American Medicine Wheel superimposed on the houses of the Western Zodiac. Many tribes relate the four colors to the races of man, i.e., white, black, red, and yellow, though each sector relates to a different part of a person’s character. Each house in Western Astrology pertains to a different part of life.

There are many interpretations of the Medicine Wheel, perhaps as many as there are tribes. Nonetheless, there are distinct similarities, all seeking to help a person grow through self-knowledge. The one included here pertains to the principles taught by Sun Bear and Wabun Wind in their book about the Medicine Wheel, but subtitled “Earth Astrology,” which lines up nicely with the zodiac used in Western Astrology.

Not surprisingly, the interpretations for the different “Moons” are about the same as their corresponding zodiac sign.

Sun Bear, an Ojibwa, states that his interpretation of the Medicine Wheel was not derived from western astrology, but acquired through inspiration from the Great Spirit, suggesting that both systems originated with the same source. The purpose of their system is to help all people relate more closely to the Earth Mother and all of creation.

Here are Sun Bear and Wabun Wind’s Medicine Wheel equivalents to the zodiac with their totems.

ARIES – March 21 – April 19

Moon: Budding Trees

Animal: Red Hawk

Plant: Dandelion

Mineral: Fire Opal

Color: Yellow

TAURUS – April 20 – May 20

Moon: Frogs Return

Animal: Beaver

Plant: Blue Camas

Mineral: chrysocolla

Color: Blue

GEMINI – May 21 – June 20

Moon: Corn planting

Animal: Deer

Plant: Yarrow

Mineral: Moss Agate

Color: White and Green

CANCER – June 21 – July 22

Moon: Strong Sun

Animal: Flicker

Plant: Wild Rose

Mineral: Carnelian Agate

Color: Pink

LEO – Jul. 23 – Aug. 22

Moon: Ripe Berries

Animal: Sturgeon

Plant: Raspberry

Mineral: Garnet and Iron

Color: Red

VIRGO – Aug. 23 – Sep. 22

Moon: Harvest

Animal: Brown Bear

Plant Violet

Mineral: Amethyst

Color: Purple

LIBRA – Sep. 23 – Oct. 23

Moon: Ducks Fly

Animal: Raven

Plant: Mullein

Mineral: Jasper

Color: Brown

SCORPIO – Oct. 24 – Nov. 21

Moon: Freeze Up

Animal: Snake

Plant: Thistle

Mineral: Copper and Malachite

Color: Orange

SAGITTARIUS – Nov. 22 – Dec. 21

Moon: Long Snows

Animal: Elk

Plant: Black Spruce

Mineral: Obsidian

Color: Black

CAPRICORN – Dec. 22 – Jan. 19

Moon: Earth Renewal

Animal: Snow Goose

Plant: Birch Tree

Mineral: Quartz

Color: White

AQUARIUS – Jan. 20 – Feb. 18

Moon: Rest & Cleansing

Animal: Otter

Plant: Quaking Aspen

Mineral: Silver

Color: Silver

PISCES – Feb. 19 – Mar. 20

Moon: Big Winds

Animal: Cougar

Plant: Plantain

Mineral: Turquoise

Color: Blue-Green

Equivalents to the Elements in Western Astrology

Fire = Thunderbird

Earth = Turtle

Air = Butterfly

Water = Frog


The introduction to The Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology states, “We have forgotten that we are connected to all of our relationships on the earth, not just our human family. We have forgotten that we have responsibilities to all these relations, just as we have them to our human families. We have imprisoned ourselves in tight little worlds of man-made creations.”

You do not need to be familiar with western astrology to enjoy and understand this approach. If you are, then it will enhance and deepen your perceptions with another layer of insights into yourself and others. The books below, available on Amazon, provide the details and earthly beauty of the system for relating to Mother Earth.


[NOTE:–These books are among the many I’ve read as research material while writing The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits. Co-author, Pete Risingsun, provided the details of Charlie’s journey in the book, but material such as this helped me learn more about Native American culture and prepared me for our collaboration.]


The Medicine Wheel: Earth Astrology by Sun Bear and Wabun Wind

Dancing with the Wheel: The Medicine Wheel Workbook by Sun Bear, Wabun Wind, and Crysalis Mulligan

Veterans’ Day Kudos to Native Americans

Ira Hayes, one of the soldiers depicted in the iconic statue of the Marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima, was a Code Talker.
[Picture attribution: By Famartin – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link]

It’s Native American Heritage Month as well as Veterans’ Day, the perfect time to show appreciation for the many astouding contributions Native Americans have made to the U.S. Military. Their participation rate is higher, 19% having served in the armed forces versus 14% of other ethnic groups. Furthermore, even though they were exempt from the draft, many enlisted.

The “warrior tradition” of Native American tribes was mostly squashed once they were exiled to reservations, yet their love for their country and willingness to defend it remained. They already dealt with the consequences of one “foreign invader” stealing their land. The prospect of things getting even worse with another one was not an acceptable option.

It’s ironic that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Native Americans were forced by the U.S. Government to leave their traditions behind, including their languages. Fortunately, however, their many dialects survived, a fact that was a major factor in U.S. victory during World Wars I and II.

Choctaws in training in World War I for coded radio and telephone transmissions. [Wikipedia]

During that time their unique, unwritten languages were perfect candidates for development into code. If you’re unfamiliar with the “Code Talkers,” here’s a brief summary, courtesy of Wikipedia:

 “…there were approximately 400 to 500 Native Americans in the United States Marine Corps whose primary job was to transmit secret tactical messages. Code talkers transmitted messages over military telephone or radio communications nets using formally or informally developed codes built upon their native languages. The code talkers improved the speed of encryption and decryption of communications in front line operations during World War II.

Comanche code talkers of the 4th Signal Company [Wikipedia]

There were two code types used during World War II. Type one codes were formally developed based on the languages of the several tribes, including the Lakota, Crow, Comanche, Hopi, Meskwaki, Seminole, and Navajo peoples. They used words from their languages for each letter of the English alphabet. Messages could be encoded and decoded by using a simple substitution cipher where the ciphertext was the native language word. Type two code was informal and directly translated from English into the native language. If there was no word in the native language to describe a military word, code talkers used descriptive words. For example, the Navajo did not have a word for submarine so they translated it to iron fish.”

Navajo Code Talkers, Saipan, 1944 [Wikipedia]

Several tribes were represented during the course of various wars and campaigns, including the Navajo, Comanche, Hopi, Meskwaki, Cherokee, Choctaw, Cree, Mohawk, Muscogee (Seminole and Creek), and Tlingit. Military and government honors have been bestowed on them for their contribution, in some cases years later because it couldn’t occur until the program was declassified.

Micah Highwalking, U.S. Military Academy 2010 graduate.

If you’re a history buff, especially as it relates to intelligence encryption, you’ll want to check this out further. Wikipedia has a comprehensive article at here and Military Times published an outstanding piece which includes interviews with former Code Talkers here.

Clearly this honorable tradition is continuing today for both Native men and women. The first Northern Cheyenne to graduate from West Point was Micah Highwalking. As of her 2010 graduation date, she was one of only five Native Americans to accomplish that honor. You can read more about her on Facebook here.

On this special day all former and current members of our military deserve our respect and gratitude, but especially the many Native Americans from all tribes who willingly fought beside those who had previously been their foe. It’s notable that on Veterans’ Day 2020 the Smithsonian Institute dedicated the National Native American Veterans’ Memorial. You can learn more about it here and watch their virtual message in the following video (17:25 min).


OTHER RESOURCES

Print

Available from Southwest Indian Foundation Website

The Navajo Codetalkers

Video Introduction to the book (3 min)

Video

Wyoming PBS Special on Native American Veterans (27 min)

Help Native American Veterans

If you’d like to show your appreciation for their service by helping Native American veterans, Native American Veterans’ Assistance (NAVA) does exactly that. Their website is here and their donation page is here.

An Interview with Author, Pete Risingsun

Q: How did you meet Marcha Fox? You live in Montana and she lives in Texas.

A: I wrote a detailed article about sweet grass, a sacred medicine plant the Cheyenne use in all of our spiritual ceremonies. Marcha read the article in the Soaring Eagle Newsletter, then wrote me a letter and we eventually talked on the phone. She liked the way I wrote the article.


Q: What happened next?

A: We did an interview on the phone. My questions were:

  1. Why are you writing a book about Native Americans?
  2. What made you decide on a Cheyenne character?
  3. How do you want this book written?
  4. Will I be paid for my work?

She called back the next day and said, “I want the book written accurately so when another Cheyenne reads the book they will not be offended.”

After that, she received an A for the first three questions and an A+ for the fourth question.

I told her I had to read her book first to determine if I could help her. She assured me it would be easy.

I read her draft of The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon. I told myself, “Wow. If you decide to help Marcha you are going to change Charlie Littlewolf into a traditional Cheyenne. You will make him a Cheyenne medicine man and warrior and the grandson of an honored and respected medicine man.” I pondered it for a week, thinking it could help my grandson’s college fund.


Q: What convinced you to coauthor with Marcha?

 A. Well, I felt confident that I could help. My question was how we would accomplish telling the story.

I began to understand she needed a Cheyenne medicine man to be a main character in the story. Still I had no answer on how. Then I knew: Ask the grandfather spirits for guidance.

I went to the sweat lodge alone and entered. I called the spirits and waited a long time before they came. The grandfather spirits spoke the truth to me. “You help this woman, she wants to do good things for our Cheyenne people. Tell her your story, only in the spirit of truth. You cannot do this for money, you will fail. Grandson, you have been chosen by Maheo to speak for your people.”

I then had a purpose to tell my story for my people. I went home feeling happy. I thanked the grandfather spirits for their guidance with wisdom and became the coauthor.


Q. You are from two entirely different cultures. Did you experience any challenges because of the cultural differences?

A. The greatest challenge was communicating the details of our Cheyenne spiritual ceremonies. The ceremonial sweat lodge requires detail and protocol. Ceremonial sweat lodge keepers have completed their vows for many ceremonies to earn their right to be a lodge keeper. So therefore they have high expectations of individuals who enter to focus on the purpose and protocol for the ceremonial sweat.

The Sacred Mountain fasting ceremony requires four days and nights on a buffalo robe with a sacred red pipe and the guidance of a painter who earned their right to guide you to complete your vow to fast at the sacred mountain.

The fasting ceremony requires a year of preparation with family support to set up camp and be there when your painter brings you down. Your vow is a commitment to fast without water and food for four days and nights for a purpose.

I came to understand and realize that I had not explained to Marcha who, what, why and how a medicine man became who he is. A medicine man inherits his medicine from his grandfather from a lifetime of teachings. A medicine man has great spirit powers with Cheyenne medicine to heal and clean people of their wounds, illnesses, curses, and call back lost spirits.

I realized how important it was for me to explain and continue to clarify my communications when the main character in the story was to become a medicine man.

We then were able to begin transforming Littlewolf into the grandson of Eaglefeathers, a true medicine man with great spirit powers.


Q. What agreement did you and Marcha have as authors of “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon?”

A. We did not agree on a plan, we just did it. Marcha offered to hire me as a subject matter expert and sent a payment in good faith. We did the hourly rate arrangement for a short time. I then offered the Cheyenne way. I told her, “I will help you write your story and when we are done you can give me a gift of your choice, to show what my work meant to you.”

Cheyennes gift a nice comfortable blanket. So we decided to do this, since Marcha felt this was fair. My grandfather spirits said for me to tell my story in the spirit of truth for my people and not for money. We became a team of good faith to tell a great story.


Learn more about Pete on his author page here.

Every Step Forward Leaves Something Behind

Progress requires change. As new truths become evident, old ones fade away. Sometimes it’s a good thing; others, not so much.

Consider the period in history known as The Enlightenment.

It’s hard to miss the irony of what “being enlightened” meant in the 17th Century versus what it means now.

When it was proven conclusively that the solar system was heliocentric, not geocentric, it unlocked new doors of scientific knowledge. Ecclesiastical authorities trembled, called out for professing a truth that simply wasn’t. Placing Galileo under house arrest did not change the facts, only made the powers-that-be ultimately look like fools, their credibility and power decimated.

Was this progress?

In some respects, yes.

In others, not so much.

Slammed by this undeniable revelation, the faithful stumbled over the rubble left behind. Sadly, this placed the realm of the spirit under scrutiny as well. It was undetectable and thus unable to be proven in the lab. Besides, it was part of the domain of those who’d erroneously insisted upon a geocentric universe. Astrology, which is based on an Earth-centered view of the heavens, was tossed aside as well.

When Galileo observed Jupiter’s moons through his telescope, he realized it was possible for heavenly bodies to revolve around something besides the Earth, ripping the concept of a geocentric universe to shreds.

Replacing the concept of God or the Great Spirit with math was a bold and incredibly reckless step, making scientists no less arrogant than the Church.

Skeptics rail against prayer and any connection to things of the spirit, their mien no different than that of the bishops, cardinals, and popes who once proclaimed the Earth orbited the Sun.

The Enlightenment is largely responsible for where we are today as a planet, for good or ill. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and rediscover what was lost when telescopes and space probes replaced the wonder and beauty of the night sky. Likewise, our connection to each other as well as every plant, animal, and mineral that comprises our Earth Mother. Beyond that, hasn’t science itself told us we are all made of “star stuff,” comprised of elements produced in the stars?

Limiting “truth” to those things that can be proven scientifically denies the many magnificent things that remain just beyond our reach.

The place from which we came and where we’ll eventually return has yet to be detected by scientific instruments. One of the things I love about quantum theory is that it’s the most likely place where all these strange and wonderful unexplainable things could easily reside and thus reconcile the argument between science and religion once and for all. What exactly is the role of consciousness? Do thoughts become things? Does it interact with matter?

Isn’t that what our spirit and body do? Every single day?

Science has yet to provide an answer.

Those in tune with a higher realm are familiar with other ways of knowing.

Fortunately, the flawed concept that the only world that officially exists is the physical one didn’t reach indigenous people. Now they have the opportunity to teach us those things that they wisely retained, in spite of “modern civilization” trying to beat it out of them.  After centuries of bad press, the wisdom of ancient ways and beliefs is finally being recognized, honored, and revered.

At long last a select few are embracing the untarnished wisdom of those who have always known the answers before modern man became smart enough to even know the questions. Only when this wisdom is incorporated into mankind’s heart and soul will we be able to handle today’s technology in a constructive way.

And therein lies the irony, that absorbing this spiritual knowledge and perceiving this magnificent unseen realm is called–

–enlightenment.

A somehow tragic illustration of the Circle of Life.

It’s time to retrace our steps, taking with us what we’ve gained while gathering up those things that were left behind along the way.

Picture credits: Pixabay (Ancient key: Konstantin Krasinkov; Jupiter: Randy Cardoso Garcia; Crazy Horse Memorial: Rudi Nockewel; Heavenly Light: Gerd Altmann)

Night Skies in Diné Bikéyah

The Navajo (Diné) have a rich tradition of starlore that maintains everything is connected. The stars above, the Earth below, and every plant, animal, and human. All are an integral part of nature and the Creator’s greater whole.

To Diné, the night sky is a sacred place. One does not speak of sacred things casually. Talk of the stars only takes place between October and February in Winter Stories, told when bears, insects, and plant life are resting. The only exception is limited discussion around the summer solstice

Starlore has been passed on through oral tradition and differs slightly from region to region. Such knowledge is mostly held my elders and medicine men. Certain parts of the sky relate to healing and societal messages, such as the importance of family. Many parts of the sky are too sacred for discussion among the uninitiated.

The Big Dipper, Casseopeia and Polaris are known to the Diné as one constellation known as Náhookǫs. It is perceived as a male warrior (Big Dipper) facing his female companion (Cassopeia) with the central fire (Polaris) between them. These circumpolar stars remain in the sky all year and represent the eternal nature of the family. During the course of the year, the Big Dipper portion changes orientation as it revolves around Polaris, its position indicative of the seasons.

Waxing Crescent Moon

The Pleiades are known as Dilyéhé, which translates as “seed-like sparkles.” Their appearance in early May on the western horizon indicates the time to plant crops. When they disappear later in June, it’s considering too late to plant and still harvest before the first frost. Orion is known as Átsé Ets’ózí, a young, strong warrior responsible for protecting his family and people.

His association with Átsé Etsoh (Scorpio) has an amusing story behind it. These two constellations are never seen in the night sky at the same time.  Their story declares the wise admonition that a mother-in-law and son-in-law should not see one another in daily life. A traditional Navajo mother-in-law might even wear a bell to warn that she is in the area. How much easier would life be if that were the case in all cultures?

Predawn is an important time that’s considered the beginning of a new day, not midnight as it is for western cultures. The Navajo month begins with the first sliver of a crescent moon. The young moon, combined with the first star or constellation seen in the eastern predawn light in the days following, indicate the beginning of a new month.

More delightful information accompanied by beautiful illustrations can be found in “Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy” by Nancy C. Maryboy, PhD and David Begay, PhD available from the Southwest Indian Foundation here as well as on their website www.sharingtheskies.com.

As a side note, astronomy plays an important role in “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.” It was something Charlie and Bryan shared as teens and helps solve the mystery.

Thoughts on Indigenous People Day

“Powwow” (Photo by Laura Hamilton courtesy Pixabay)

According to USA Today, if you live in Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin – plus the District of Columbia and more than 130 cities, then you observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of (or in addition to) Columbus Day. To the others, including the U.S. government, it’s still Columbus Day.

When I went to the post office in my small Texas town to mail some books on that day it was closed. I mentioned this to a friend, but referred to it as Indigenous People Day. His response was a crack about revisionists. That got me thinking.

There’s been a lot of ruckus this year about discrimination, racism, and the darker side of United States history. Destroying national monuments and tearing down statues because some group finds them offensive as part of a violent protest of the past reflected in the present displays generations of anger and righteous indignation.

But it doesn’t change a thing.

Most law-abiding white people see only violence, disrespect, and lawlessness.

They don’t get the concept of generations of visceral resentment.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

It’s important to consider the context of those times. With 20:20 hindsight it’s easy to see how events and situations that were acceptable centuries ago are now recognized as barbaric and reeking of white supremacy.

More often than not, this is a factual statement.

By today’s standards they were wrong.

Please pause a moment to watch the following video of Marlon Brando saying it far more eloquently than I ever could.

When I was in school many decades ago history class provided biased information. Any journalist knows that a story must contain who, what, when, where, why, and how. Back then history textbooks left out a critical element:

WHY!

We were taught to regurgitate events and dates, perhaps the location, but that was it. BORING! Furthermore, we were not taught to think about what happened, much less why, but simply to accept it as fact.

Fact?

Let’s talk about facts.


History books failed to mention that Native People were here first, had no understanding of the principle of property ownership, often held higher moral and spiritual values than their conquerors, and were defending territory given to them centuries before by the Great Spirit.


We had one side, that of the victors. The Baby Boomer generation grew up thinking Native Americans were savages who were simply in the way. This was further reinforced by movies and westerns on TV to say nothing of backyard games of cowboys and Indians.

History books failed to mention that Native People were here first, had no understanding of the principle of property ownership, often held higher moral and spiritual values than their conquerors, and were defending territory given to them centuries before by the Great Spirit.

Can you begin to see how offensive a holiday celebrating Columbus’ “discovery” of American would be to First Americans after generations of oppression in the supposed “land of the free and the brave?”

At the time of westward expansion–Manifest Destiny, if you will–these atrocities reflected the prevailing attitudes of the western world. The deeds and behavior now recognized as evil were considered normal, even heroic. And sadly, still are, in some parts of the world.

Fort Robinson Massacre

In many cases, Native American cultures were more advanced back then than the United States is today. Granted some were barbaric by western standards, such as the Maya and Aztec, but it’s important to remember that we invaded their land. Most tribes in North America were far more peaceful.

Treaties with First Americans were (and still are) broken as a matter of course. Chiefs would sign a document in good faith, often having no idea what it said, only to have what they thought was agreed upon never occur because Congress refused to ratify it. As far as they were concerned they had agreed to its terms and couldn’t understand why the white men who signed the document didn’t have the proper authority to guarantee their side of the agreement.

And it’s obvious that when indigenous people refused to give away their country, then genocide became the logical alternative.

Did you know that the Pope granted explorers permission to kill or enslave indigenous people? To the Catholic Church’s credit, this opinion eventually switched to missionary and education efforts, except the intent initially was to annihilate their culture and Anglicize them by forcing Native Americans to cut their hair and punishing them for speaking their own language. Thankfully, that has changed. Today’s curriculum includes respect for their culture and history as well as retaining their native languages. The private schools today are doing penance for the past, which is more than can be said about anyone else.

Pike’s Peak Goldrush Map

Indigenous people in the United States were murdered and those that remained driven off their land, usually to reservations in locations no one else wanted. At least until gold or silver was discovered, in which case they were driven off again. Many today live in conditions comparable to those of a Third World country.

How is this okay?

Consider this: The USA helped Europe defeat the Nazis in World War II. Our troops decimated Germany in the process, but we helped them rebuild. Adolph Hitler was a vile threat and avowed enemy. We bombed the hell out of them.

Then stepped in after the war and helped them recover! And did the same thing for Japan, who attacked our fleet at Pearl Harbor!

Seriously?

Photo by David Mark (Courtesy Pixabay)

Yet, for First Nation people, from whom we literally stole this country, we do little to nothing. Rather, we continue to steal and desecrate their sacred sites, then hover somewhere between ignoring their situation and the typical narcissistic response of placing the blame on them.

“Sorry, guys. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

How would today’s Americans respond to Chinese hoards swarming their borders? How would you respond? Would you welcome them with open arms? Or defend your country by embracing your 2nd Amendment rights?

Columbus should be remembered. The sea voyage alone at that time was incredible. He led the way for Europeans to be free and escape oppression. Ironically, this came with a price that imposed far worse circumstances on the First Americans, when millions were slaughtered and brushed aside as vermin. Columbus belongs in the history books, but the effect his “discovery” had on the First Americans needs to be told and acknowledged (as well as some of his less than stellar personal deeds).

The USA has a long way to go before they quit being defensive and admit this behavior was antithetical to what was supposed to be a Christian nation espousing “liberty and justice for all.” We must balance the history books and acknowledge the darker side. It takes a big person (or country) to admit when they were wrong. It doesn’t change the past, but it could heal the present and certainly the future.

Meanwhile, the least we should do is eschew Columbus in favor of Indigenous People Day.

It’s not much, but it’s a start.

Recommended reading: “Great Speeches by Native Americans” edited by Bob Blaisdell. I suggest you buy it here, from the Southwest Indian Foundation.

Spirit Animals: Key to Life’s Answers

Excerpt from “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”

“The Enlightenment” era did more to stop people from being enlightened than achieve it. True, when Galileo et al succeeded in disproving the solar system is geocentric, that was a good thing. Some things deserve scientific scrutiny. However, even to this day, hundreds of years later, there are phenomena many have experienced to be true while those blinded by science debunk them.

That attitude has done more to destroy faith and spirituality than Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. It took decades before technology advanced enough to prove Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Just because it can’t be proven in a lab doesn’t mean it’s not true. Having an open mind is the most scientific thing you can do. My ongoing criticism of skeptics is that they don’t have to prove anything. I think they should have the same standards imposed on them as they expect of others.

Don’t believe astrology works? Prove it.

Don’t believe in telepathy? Prove it.

Don’t believe in past lives? Prove it.

Space Shuttle Columbia Recovery Team, Hemphill, Texas, Spring 2003

Indigenous people as a rule believe in animism, i.e. that everything has an innate soul. We are all  brothers and sisters. Everything and everyone is connected. We all came from the Earth, are part of her, and will return there. Having such beliefs, they’re in tune with their surroundings. Situational awareness at its best. Like the Navajo shown in the picture on the left. We grid-searched the fields outside of Hemphill, Texas together, picking up debris from the space shuttle, Columbia. Men and women who could spot a copperhead sunning on a rock from fifty yards.

Do you have a question? Pay attention. “Ask and ye shall receive” or perhaps, “The truth is out there” are valid principles.

One way Indigenous people find answers is through Spirit Animals. This goes beyond identifying with one particular animal, such as a wolf, lion, bear, mountain lion, etc. Admiring and assimilating the qualities of any animal you encounter can teach you something about

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yourself or your situation.

How do you know what they are teaching you? Often it’s intuitive, because you’re already looking for an answer. Charlie Littlewolf, the main character in “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits” knows this. Coupled with prayer, fasting, and traditional rituals his grandfather taught him, he’ll find answers.

If you prefer more specific help, an excellent book on the subject is “Spirits of the Earth: A Guide to Native American Nature Symbols, Stories, and Ceremonies.”

The stories in particular are delightfully reminiscent of Aesop’s Fables and most are suitable to read to young children. They explain the traditional meaning of various animals, indigenous archetypes, if you will.

But first you have to pay attention.

Excerpt from “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”

Since expanding my awareness to this hidden realm I have encountered numerous valuable insights, from birds in particular. A small flock of sparrows and a single male cardinal at my feeder. Two bald eagles soaring directly above my house. A raven squawking from the top of a phone pole. Hundreds of white pelicans circling above my house as they arrive at their winter home.

What are the odds? Those birds are not out there whenever I happen to look up. We have buzzards galore, but that is not what I have seen when I was pondering an issue. Buzzards, too, have a message, but when they’re out there most the time, there’s far less meaning unless they do something unusual that catches your attention.

How do these animals know when to appear? Pure coincidence? Or, as part of this web of life, are they drawn to us by our asking to provide an answer only they can deliver?

Many would declare such beliefs in the realm of superstition. Have you ever noticed that superstition has the same root as supernatural? The world of the unseen?

There is so much that fails to meet the untrained eye.

Excerpt from “The Curse of Dead Horse Canyon: Cheyenne Spirits.”