Sunday, January 2, 2011


    I am fortunate that I was born a Lakȟóta.  I could not have asked for a better life.  As an individual, I look for and find meaning within the unique honor that this fact of my birth has bestowed upon me.  It is a choice to continually look for and find meaning about what to do and how to act upon this responsibility; for the responsibility of the Lakȟóta way of life, as I understand it, demands that we unconditionally accept all people and all living things as our relatives.
    One of my most poignant memories is of a time -- years ago, as a volunteer "from the outside" to help Native American inmates at the Nebraska state penitentiary with spiritual ceremonies -- when I was asked to pray with an inmate who was brought out alone from the unit where the most violent were kept, into a yard where the armed guards in the towers had a clear shot at him, with his wrists manacled to a chain around his waist and his ankles chained together.
    He held the ceremonial pipe and prayed a traditional Lakȟóta prayer in the Lakȟóta language.  It was not a desperate prayer for deliverance from the cruel conditions of his imprisonment.  Instead, it was a beautiful prayer.   He asked that his life might be accepted as a sacrifice so that all people everywhere else might be helped to overcome the desire or the need to harm or to commit wrongs to another. 
    It seemed to me then that within that moment, as he prayed there, it was the only time he was ever truly free and happy.  He accepted himself in his situation — having wronged — and he prayed in his own tongue that his misery was a worthwhile, acceptable sacrifice that would help others, as he addressed his concerns and aspirations about, and for, the lives of others. 
    However, one of the amusing, useful and insightful things I have been privileged to learn concerns another time in my life: My time in the marines.  The combat-tested drill instructors emphasized the recognition of the potential for denial as a defense -- a psychological response -- to the violence and terror of combat in preparing marines for war.  The DIs would yell out a command in a booming voice "Marines!  When you jump off that huey chopper and land in that rice paddy under heavy enemy machinegun fire, you will not focus on a bug crawling on the stalk of rice in front of your face.  Marines!  You will not refuse to accept the situation!  You will adapt!  You will improvise!"
    Although daily survival occurs on a different level the threats are still there: Threats such as complacency; and this is one of the reasons that I write the Lakȟóta the way I do; for, traditionally, Lakȟóta survival in the wilderness relied on the ability to perceive and convey critical, accurate information. Ambiguity simply is not good enough and will never do when it comes to the Lakȟóta way of life.  When the wašíču introduced the horse and the rifle, we did not reject them because they were "wašíču".  We accepted our situation.  We adapted.  We improvised.  Who but an enemy of the Lakȟóta would try to encourage us — the Lakȟóta — to abandon the advantages that came our way?  So, I write Lakȟóta the way I do because the Lakȟóta deserve the very best of everything and this includes our daily individual efforts to improve the conditions of all.
    For, after all, mitákuye oyásį is a statement that comes only from the Lakȟóta dialect: We are all related. 

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