Book Reviews

The Little Book of “Native American Wisdom”

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I bought this Lilliputian, book on “Native American Wisdom” from the National Museum of the American Indian, Washington. Somehow, it appealed to me, sitting amongst the other mementos in those imposing racks. Time was short and the supply of money wasn’t very promising. Still the little book was hard to ignore.

As I child I was always inspired by the Red Indians that we used to see in the Western and cowboy movies, some starred by John Wayne. The Native Indians were always portrayed as savages in those movies, which was kind of difficult to understand. But after having read this small book I am convinced they had a civilization of their own, strong beliefs, customs, traditions, society and a way of life. I am going to share some of the sayings of those old Chiefs (who are since long dead), for you to read and decide for yourself. But a little something about the book first.

The book has saying of some of the famous Indian Chiefs of that time which have been documented and photographed by the famous American photographer Edward S Curtis. It has been published by the Running Press. The small little book has four sections each dealing with separate set of sayings.

“We were taught to believe that the Great Spirit sees and hears everything, and that he never forgets; hereafter he will give every man a spirit-home according to his deserts… This I believe, and all my people believe the same.” ~ Joseph [Hinmaton Yalakit] (1830 – 1904) Nez Perce Chief

…everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence. ~ Mourning Dove (1888 – 1936)

The Great Spirit is in all things; he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the earth is our mother. She nourishes us; that which we put into the ground she returns to us… ~ Big Thunder (late 19th Century)

…I am poor and naked, but I am the chief of the nation. We do not want riches but we do want to train our children right. Riches would do us no good. We could not take them with us to the other world. We do not want riches. We want peace and love. ~ Red Cloud (late 19th century) Sioux chief

…I have seen that in any great undertaking it is not enough for a man to depend simply upon himself. ~ Lone Man (late 19th century) Teton Sioux

We are black, yet if we cut ourselves, the blood will be red – and so with the whites it is the same, though their skin be white… I am of another nation, when I speak you do not understand me. When you speak, I do not understand you. ~ Spokan Garry (1811 – 1892) Middle Spokane chief

There is no death. Only a change of worlds. ~ Seattle (1786 – 1866) Suquamish chief

Whenever the white man treats the Indian as they treat each other, then we will have no more wars. We shall all be alike – brothers of one father and one mother, with one sky above us and one country around us, and one government for all. ~ Joseph [Hinmaton Yalatkit] (1830 – 1904) Nez Perez chief

The old Indian teaching was that it is wrong to tear loose from its place on the earth anything that may be growing there. It may be cut off, but is should not be uprooted. The trees and the grass have spirits. Whatever on of such growths may be destroyed by some good Indian, his act is done in sadness and with a prayer for forgiveness because of his necessities… ~ Wooden Leg (late 19th century) Cheyenne 

and here’s on of my favorites…

…the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am Pagan. ~ Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (1876 – 1938) Dakota Sioux

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