First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) has announced 13 new grantees under the second year of its three-year Native Language Immersion Initiative (NLII). First Nations launched the initiative in late 2017 as a three-year project to help stem the loss of Indigenous languages and cultures through community-based programs that support new generations of Native American language speakers.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) provided a $2.1 million challenge grant, which First Nations was required to match with $700,000 of additional funding each year over the three-year period. In the first year (2018), the match was met through the support of Kalliopeia Foundation, Lannan Foundation and NoVo Foundation. In the second year (2019), these three foundations returned to generously underwrite the match again, plus First Nations raised the final $100,000 for the second year from individual donors across the U.S.
The United Nations recently declared 2019 The International Year of Indigenous Languages to increase awareness and appreciation of Indigenous languages and their contributions to the world’s rich cultural diversity. There are currently about 150 Native languages spoken in the U.S., many of them spoken only by a small number of elders. Native communities are at a critical juncture when it comes to the retention and perpetuation of their languages, and some suggest that without targeted language preservation and restoration efforts, there may only be 20 Native languages spoken by 2050.
The following 13 grantees were awarded up to $90,000 each in funding to build the capacity of and directly support their Native language-immersion and/or culture-retention program:
- Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, Chickaloon, Alaska, $90,000 – This project will expand upon current efforts to revitalize the Ahtna language at the Ya Ne Dah Ah or “Ancient Teachings” Tribal School. With this grant, the tribe will create new culture and language curriculum to meet Alaska’s requirements in the areas of history, science and social studies.
- Euchee Yuchi Language Project, Inc., Sapulpa, Oklahoma, $90,000 – The project restores the vitality of the Yuchi language through The Yuchi House, a year-round language-immersion program for students grades K-12. Additionally, this grant will be used to produce an archive of Yuchi language videos and assist with tribal language instructor certification.
- Friends of the Akwesasne Freedom School, Rooseveltown, New York, $89,320 – This teacher training program increases the capacity of current and new teachers of the K’anienkeha (Mohawk) language. Master language educators will develop a training program for 10 new elementary school teachers and teacher aides that focuses on the Akwesasne Freedom School's unique language curriculum.
- Keres Children’s Learning Center, Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, $90,000 – This project will provide expansive professional development to nine teachers through one-on-one and group training sessions on language acquisition, language immersion, cultural knowledge and advocacy. Additionally, this funding will be used to purchase supplies and other materials for elementary classrooms that have recently doubled in size.
- Nisqually Indian Tribe, Olympia, Washington, $70,836 – This project preserves and promotes tribal traditions through the development of a Nisqually Lushootseed-specific language curriculum. With this grant, the tribe will develop and publish 200 new resources, including Lushootseed alphabet and language books. Additionally, the tribe will train up to four more Lushootseed language teachers and create a Lushootseed font application.
- Northern Arapaho Tribe, Fort Washakie, Wyoming, $90,000 – This project will support the development of a master-apprentice language program to educate and empower Northern Arapaho tribal members. Tribal elders will develop Arapaho language curriculum (i.e., Arapaho words, phrases, stories, history and conversational pieces) that they will share with prospective Arapaho language teachers who will, in turn, share that knowledge with students.
- Oneida Nation, Oneida, Wisconsin, $89,954 – This project will increase the number of proficient first-language speakers within the Oneida community by creating an immersion-only classroom that utilizes the current On^yote’aka Tsi Nitwaw^not^ and Head Start “As it Happens” curriculum. Twenty students will participate in this language program. Their parents are also required to attend bi-monthly classes and pass a basic assessment to foster an at-home language environment for their children.
- Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, $90,000 – This project is devoted to build the organizational and professional capacity of the Yaqui Language Immersion Program. Eleven teachers will engage in the study and practicum for their professional development as language instructors.
- Salish School of Spokane, Spokane, Washington, $90,000 – This project will provide Salish training to four interns recruited and hired from among parents of current students at the Salish School of Spokane. Interns will participate in 60 hours of evening/weekend Salish classes per year, with the goal of eventually hiring them as Salish immersion instructors.
- Standing Rock Community Development Corporation, Fort Yates, South Dakota, $90,000 – The project utilizes the newly created immersion curriculum to pilot educational best practices in the classroom, create an immersion teacher training strategy, increase access to high-quality professional development, and leverage existing staff and resources to transition from a program of Sitting Bull College to a community serving school through the Standing Rock Community Development Corporation.
- Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation, Porcupine, South Dakota, $90,000 – This project will allow for 26 language instructors with professional development training. Additionally, this grant will be used to open a second Lakota Immersion Childcare Center to provide immersion education to 15 more Lakota students.
- Wolakota Waldorf Society, Kyle, South Dakota, $86,174 – This project utilizes new and existing resources to provide language immersion to 50 to 60 children in grades K-8. With this grant, it will set up an outdoor classroom to introduce students to indigenous plants. It will develop curriculum to teach words and phrases about traditional plants, fruits, tools and ecology. It will also be used to provide professional development training, and encourage parent and community engagement.
- Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, Mashpee, Massachusetts, $90,000 – This project lays the groundwork to expand the Wôpanâak’s language immersion school to the 8th grade. The school currently serves students from pre-K through 4th grade. With this grant, the school will partner with five regional colleges and universities to provide comprehensive state and tribal language teacher certification. This will allow the school to recruit and hire new language teachers.
About First Nations Development Institute
For nearly 39 years, using a three-pronged strategy of educating grassroots practitioners, advocating for systemic change, and capitalizing Indian communities, First Nations has been working to restore Native American control and culturally-compatible stewardship of the assets they own – be they land, human potential, cultural heritage or natural resources – and to establish new assets for ensuring the long-term vitality of Native American communities. First Nations serves Native American communities throughout the United States.
Honoring Native Foodways Keeps Dietary Traditions Alive
University of North Carolina at Pembroke students and faculty celebrate native food traditions by sampling selections indigenous to the Americas. (Photo credit: UNC Pembroke American Indian Studies)
By TOMEKA SINCLAIR
PEMBROKE, N.C. (AP) _ With the Honoring Native Foodways event marking its 10th year, Professor Jane Haladay celebrates the growth in knowledge of indigenous foods over the past decade.
``It started out very small, as sort of a pre-Thanksgiving, community potluck,'' she said. ``Community at that time meant basically students, faculty and staff. It's grown into a much larger event and it has become a community potluck also for the community outside of the campus.''
Haladay is a professor in the Department of American Indian Studies at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. She is one of the organizers for Honoring Native Foodways, an educational, potluck-style event focused on indigenous foods.
According to Haladay, the four main goals of Honoring Native Foodways are to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November, to educate those who participate about the vast diversity of indigenous foods of the Americas by tasting them, to emphasize the health benefits of indigenous foods and to share how people might incorporate some of these foods into their diets.
``We continue to emphasize the theme of traditional American Indian foods and their foodways, their histories, their diversity of those food, the fact that people are eating those commonly today but may or may not know those foods are traditional to native peoples of North America,'' Haladay said.
Although the event marked its 10th year on Nov. 8, Haladay believes the harvest is honored by indigenous people year-round.
``I say every time native people sit down to eat, it's Thanksgiving,'' Haladay said. ``The term Thanksgiving is not from an indigenous origin, but the idea of sitting down and recognizing and acknowledging the food happens more than once.
``Traditional native cultures have always had first-foods feasts or harvest feasts or some kind of ceremonial marker of the abundance of their harvest or their foods; but it varies from tribe to tribe and region to region.''
Foods that represent the indigenous cultures include earthy themes, such as wild rice and beans; mushrooms; game meats, such as bison and venison; and vegetables, such as turnips, sweet potatoes, corn and squash.
Sean Sherman, a critically acclaimed, award-winning indigenous chef and guest at Honoring Native Foodways, showcased some of these cooking themes during the Honoring Native Foodways event. Sherman has been cooking across the United States and Mexico for the past 30 years, and has become renowned internationally in the culinary movement of indigenous foods. His main focus has been on the revitalization and evolution of indigenous foods systems throughout North America.
Sherman attending the Honoring Native Foodways event at UNC Pembroke. (Photo Credit: The Sioux Chef Instagram)
"The Sioux Chef" contains recipes using ingredients indigenous to North America. (Photo Credit: The Sioux Chef)
His cookbook, ``The Sioux Chef,'' contains recipes that only use ingredients native to North America. This means no flour or wheat-based products, dairy, beef, chicken or pork. The book recently won the James Beard Award.
``Indigenous food to me is food that rises from the plants and animals, the ecosystem of a specific place that has been there for millennia,'' Haladay said. ``And that doesn't mean it existed without human cultivation and interaction because it does.
``A lot of the indigenous foods we have today and that native people have had historically require some kind of human interaction to be cultivated.''
From left: Squash and Apple Soup and Three Sisters Mash.
The indigenous food culture does come with its health challenges. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Type 2 diabetes is most common in American Indian and Alaska Native people.
``Native communities have a lot of high levels of diabetes, high-blood pressure and some cancers,'' Haladay said. ``A lot of these diseases are linked to foods.''
Haladay said this is because of historical policy changes that have been forced out of native traditions.
``Earlier 19th century policies that work to exterminate native people's foods were conscious attempts to also subdue native people and bring them under control, so there's a large history behind why a lot of these indigenous traditional food sources and foodways practices have declined or why many people don't know about them and practice them,'' Haladay said.
Sherman's Wallet Fillet.
Squash and Wood Sorrel.
Haladay believes getting back to the basics, to traditional native cuisine, is the answer to healthier indigenous communities. Honoring Native Foodways was established to bring awareness of the fact that the foods still are here today.
``We should just go back to the simplest stuff,'' she said. ``The health benefits of these foods are amazing.''
Haladay and the Department of American Indian Studies recently decided to continue honoring native foods throughout the year on campus by establishing an Honoring Native Foodways Cooking Club, which meets at the Chancellor's Residence kitchen once a month.
``We just chat and cook, and at the end of the hour we have five or six dishes that are prepared, and we make a plate and sit down and eat together,'' she said. ``That is the monthly Thanksgiving.''
Information from: The Robesonian, http://www.robesonian.com
Lead Photo and Food Image Credits: The Sioux Chef
LA Skins Fest Opens to Fanfare and Corporate Support
“We have seen Native Cinema grow into a genuine force with a voice that is finally being heard,” states Ian Skorodin, Executive Director of Skins Fest and its writing labs geared to support future Native filmmakers.
“NBCUniversal embraces the power of diverse storytelling and has great respect for the rich traditions of Native Americans,” said Craig Robinson, Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at NBCUniversal. “Our partnership with the LA Skins Fest helps us share these unique narratives with the world.”
“As Universal continues to identify Native American talent to broaden the narrative, and introduce these voices to our creative teams, we’re so grateful for the opportunity to deepen our collaboration with LA Skins Fest,” said Janine Jones-Clark, SVP, Global Talent Development & Inclusion.
This year, the LA SKINS FEST opened with Disney’s Ralph Breaks the Internet, the highly anticipated sequel to 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph. The new film features the voices of indigenous actresses Irene Bedard and Auli’i Cravalho. The screening was presented by The Walt Disney Company and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.
NBCUniversal’s Craig Robinson and Janine Jones-Clark.
The festival line up showcased over seventy Native American independent productions that represented hundreds of reservations, nations and tribal organizations from North and South America. This collection of indigenous films and filmmakers made the festival a truly incredible event. Of the movies screened, more than 50 saw their world premieres and all of them had their Los Angeles premiere. The film selections were made from hundreds of submissions from around the world.
“We have seen Native Cinema grow into a genuine force with a voice that is finally being heard. Native filmmakers have been pushing creative limits and will have the acknowledgement they deserve,” said Ian Skorodin, Executive Director of the LA SKINS FEST.
Netflix presented the LA SKINS FEST opening night industry mixer. Taking place at their headquarters on Sunset Blvd, Netflix hosted the event on their two story open air patio overseeing the Los Angeles cityscape. The LA SKINS FEST celebrated Native American filmmakers, writers, actors and community leaders. This was in collaboration with the Sundance Institute’s Native American and Indigenous Film Program.
The annual Native Writers Pitch Fest event had Native American writers pitching creative executives, literary representation and corporate partners. A staged reading of Native American scripts from writers labs followed the pitches. The program concluded with a celebration and announcement of the 4th Native American TV Writers Lab, taking place in Spring 2019, sponsored by NBCUniversal, the Walt Disney Company and Kung Fu Monkey Productions.
LA Skins Fest also hosted a free casting and audition workshop that featured industry professionals. Burgeoning Native American actors received valuable information on working in film and television.
Film programs also highlighted Native American veterans, youth from around the US and women filmmakers. The films ranged from Native American youth activism, learning to heal from trauma and life on the reservation.
To accompany the other events, LA SKINS FEST hosted the first ever Hollywood Pow Wow. On the courtyard of the world famous TCL Chinese Theater, dancers, drummers and singers presented a traditional performance and celebrated their indigenous heritage.
Other activities included a table read of a new digital series from Break The Room, a community-centered revolutionary development process featuring indigenous writers, presented in partnership with Paul Feig’s Powderkeg. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Vision Maker Media presented Empowering Indian Country with Public Media. This panel discussion featured representatives from First Nations Experience, the Sundance Institute and Visionmaker Media. The discussion focused on how Native American influence on Public Media broadens the audience outreach and provides positive exposure for the community. There was a special program focusing on HIV/AIDS presented by the Aids Healthcare Foundation.
The awards gala at the Hollywood Loews Hotel was hosted by world renowned Native actors Q’orianka Kilcher and Kalani Queypo. Honoring filmmakers from across Indian country and great achievements in Native American cinema, the celebration featured an exquisite banquet, live music and guest appearances from more Native American actors.
LA SKINS FEST closed the festival with the acclaimed drama Angelique’s Isle, starring the preeminent and iconic Tantoo Cardinal. A woman stranded on a frozen island must survive the challenges of environment and her inner demons.
Corporate support of the LA SKINS FEST plays an essential role in the life of the festival and emphasizes the festival’s commitment to quality, exploration, and excellence in the art of cinema. The LA SKINS FEST is privileged to partner with some of the world’s most renowned consumer and entertainment brands, including Comcast NBCUniversal, The Walt Disney Company, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, ABC 7, HBO, Turner, 21CF, Sony Pictures, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, A+E Network Television, Wells Fargo, Corporation of Public Broadcasting, Sony Electronics, Vision Maker Media, Kung Fu Monkey Productions, Santa Ynez Band Of Chumash Indians, CBS Corporation, AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), CBS Entertainment Diversity, United Talent Agency, Mike Royce, Motion Pictures Association of America, Sundance Institute, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Bad Robot, Lionsgate, STARZ, Walter Kaitz Foundation, SAG INDIE, MGM Resorts International, Paramount Pictures, Southern California Indian Center, KCET, Final Draft, Golden Road Brewery and the Department of Cultural Affairs – Los Angeles.
About LA SKINS FEST
The prestigious LA SKINS FEST ranks among the country’s best film festivals and is an annual gathering for film industry insiders, cinema enthusiasts, filmmakers, and critics. LA SKINS FEST is considered a major launching ground for the Indian Country’s most talked about films. Our long‐standing commitment is to join filmmakers and film connoisseurs together to experience great Native America cinema. The LA SKINS FEST is a 501 (c)(3) non‐profit educational program. Festival headquarters are in Los Angeles, CA.
Vancouver-Area Church Uses Christian, Indigenous Traditions
By PATTY HASTINGS
VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) _ The Rev. Joe Scheeler thinks Christian and Native American spiritual journeys aren't so different from one another, nor are they incompatible.
``The closer you look, the more alike we are,'' he said.
God. The creator.
Hymnals. Native songs with drums and flutes.
Holy communion. Sacred pipe ceremonies.
Confession. Sweat lodges.
Scheeler, 67, is the vicar at All Saints Episcopal Church, a west Hazel Dell church that blends Christian and Native American traditions in its services. Scheeler belongs to the Lenape tribe. His family's ``ancestral stew'' also inlucdes Ojibwe, Cree, Northern Cheyenne and Assiniboine tribes, in addition to being Irish, French and German. All Saints has families that are Mohawk, Yakama and Nez Pearce.
Every Sunday Scheeler plays his flute and there are some Native American prayers, including an Onondaga gathering prayer:
Today we have gathered, and when we look upon the faces around us, we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one.
On Good Friday, a holiday commemorating Jesus' crucifixion that's typically marked by penance, the church held a ceremony involving smudging and burning bundles of sage alongside traditional drum songs to ``release burdens.'' It's analogous to asking for forgiveness from sin.
``Much like in the Christian or the Buddhist or the Hindu traditions, those ceremonies are meant to be shared and meant to be used _ because at the end of the day, they're simply tools,'' Scheeler said. ``They're simply tools to connect: to connect us, to connect us to the creator as we have an understanding of the creator. So, whatever tool works for someone to do that, by all means that's the one we should do.''
Reverend Scheeler playing flute at the World Labyrinth Walk Celebration
Scheeler was ordained in 2002 in the Diocese of Montana specifically to launch a First Nations ministry at St. Peters Cathedral in Helena, Montana. People were skeptical at first. The ministry met at a community center rather than the cathedral, and it was identified as a society rather than a church.
``The concept of church never really existed in native culture,'' Scheeler said.
Tribes rarely use the word God either. There's typically a term in their native tongue that translates to creator. However, the First Nations spiritual journey relies heavily on ceremonies and traditions to recharge that spiritual connection, much like Christianity.
``The true compatibility between Christianity and the First Nation spiritual walk is both look at the imminence of God or the sacred spirit. God is here. God is now. God is around us. God wraps us,'' Scheeler said. ``The elders say that we walk through a sacred mist of the creator all the time. . The spirit world is intimately close and associated to us. As we get better and better at recognizing that, we're able to connect more and more with God, with the spirit world _ however you choose to call it.''
The Episcopal diocese is interested in reaching out and finding the similarities among the two traditions. It's a kinder and more correct approach, Scheeler said, than the church's history of boarding schools and wiping culture and language. Missionaries didn't recognize Native American traditions as legitimately spiritual or religious.
``All the pieces of society that the First Nations people relied on, the church took those away,'' Scheeler said.
LIVING IN TWO WORLDS
Sheryl Haase, 66, is part Tsimshian, a Pacific Northwest Coastal tribe primarily in British Columbia and Alaska. As she learns more about her Native American roots, she's also on the path to becoming a deacon at All Saints. Her late father was half Native American and half Greek and didn't feel he belonged in either culture.
``I'm having to learn about it now that he's gone,'' Haase said.
Helping her on her journey is the Talking Day Society, a ministry of All Saints that focuses on the healing powers of native music.
Members of the Traveling Day Society
``What we've found is that urban native populations that have been removed from their ancestral lands for generations have sometimes been distanced from their own cultures, as well. And so, they are hungry to reconnect with some of their own cultural traditions,'' Scheeler said.
Some Talking Day Society members belong to the church; others do not. Some are Native American, like Haase, but most are not. Lots of non-native people are drawn to these spiritual traditions, which can be viewed as hijacking Native American culture.
So long as they're done with respect and honor, Scheeler said, ``the spirit elders who are renowned say no one owns sacred ceremonies'' and that they're meant to be shared.
Suzanne Philbrook has been a member of All Saints since 1986 and is part of the Traveling Day Society. Although she's not Native American, the 72-year-old, whose father was an Episcopal priest, grew up going to an Episcopal church on the Windy River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. The experience, she said, ``lived with me'' and now she enjoys playing her buffalo skin drum for the Traveling Day Society.
They've gone to community events and Episcopal conventions, but the small group primarily plays at funerals, hospices and Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, where Scheeler is an associate chaplain.
Clare Imel playing her Twin Grandmother Flute
Music is shown to decrease pain and heart rate, said Heather Keller, music-thanatologist at Legacy, and it supports relief and decreases fear of dying. It helps people let go.
``The idea is to accompany people and their families as far as we can,'' said Keller, who plays the harp during her palliative rounds at the hospital.
The Traveling Day Society performs in the hospital's healing garden on the first Monday of every month. It's supposed to recognize the births and deaths that happen every month, the circle of life. A lot of the songs are contemplative songs about healing or traveling, and the big, energetic native drums are absent.
``This place is sort of like a spiritual airport'' in that people are coming and going, Scheeler said.
In a world that's hungry for spiritual connectedness, there's a lot of joy and richness in the First Nations traditions, he said. The Traveling Day Society doesn't evangelize when it is out in public, and it's not meant to be a device to hook people into coming into church. It's about spiritual care.
For its audience, Scheeler said, it's simple: ``The flutes are amazing. They just unwind your spring.''
Information from: The Columbian, http://www.columbian.com
EPA Announces $2 Million Grant to Clean Up Diesel Engines
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the availability of $2.0 million in grant funding for tribal applicants to establish clean diesel projects. Under this grant competition, each applicant may request up to $800,000 in federal funding.
EPA anticipates awarding up to eight tribal assistance agreements. Projects may include replacing, upgrading or retrofitting school buses, transit buses, heavy-duty diesel trucks, marine engines, locomotives, energy production generators or other diesel engines. Proposals from tribal applicants must be received by Thursday, September 6, 2018.
The Tribal Clean Diesel Funding Assistance Program gives priority to projects that achieve significant reduction in diesel emissions and exposure in areas designated as having poor air quality. Funding priority will be given to projects that address the needs and concerns of local communities, use partnerships to leverage additional resources to advance the goals of the project, and demonstrate the ability to continue efforts to reduce emissions after the project has ended.
This competition is part of the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA) program, which funds projects that clean up the nation’s legacy fleet of diesel engines. Older diesel engines emit more air pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, than newer diesel engines. These pollutants are linked to a range of serious health problems including asthma, lung and heart disease, other respiratory ailments, and premature death.
Since 2008, DERA grants have funded projects that have significantly improved air quality and provided critical health benefits by reducing hundreds of thousands of tons of air pollution, while saving millions of gallons of fuel. This is the fifth tribes-specific competition for clean diesel funding.
For more information on Tribal Requests for Proposals and related documents, visit www.epa.gov/cleandiesel/clean-diesel-tribal-grants.
To learn more about the National Clean Diesel campaign, visit www.epa.gov/cleandiesel.
Book Excerpt: The Soul of the Indian
By Charles Alexander Eastman (Santee Dakota)
Charles Alexander Eastman (February 19, 1858 – January 8, 1939) was a Boston University-educated physician and also regarded as an accomplished writer, national lecturer who wrote and spoke about Sioux history and American Indian affairs.
After working as a doctor on various reservations in South Dakota, Eastman became politically engaged and worked to improve the lives of youths. He founded thirty-two Native American chapters of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and also helped begin the Boy Scouts of America.
Eastman is thought by many to be the first Native American author to write about American history from the Native American point of view.
Excerpt from The Soul of the Indian, published 1911:
The Great Mystery
The original attitude of the American Indian toward the Eternal, the “Great Mystery” that surrounds and embraces us, was as simple as it was exalted. To him it was the supreme conception, bringing with it the fullest measure of joy and satisfaction possible in this life.
The worship of the “Great Mystery” was silent, solitary, free from all self-seeking. It was silent, because all speech is of necessity feeble and imperfect; therefore the souls of my ancestors ascended to God in wordless adoration. It was solitary, because they believed that He is nearer to us in solitude, and there were no priests authorized to come between a man and his Maker. None might exhort or confess or in any way meddle with the religious experience of another. Among us all men were created sons of God and stood erect, as conscious of their divinity. Our faith might not be formulated in creeds, nor forced upon any who were unwilling to receive it; hence there was no preaching, proselyting, nor persecution, neither were there any scoffers or atheists.
There were no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being a natural man, the Indian was intensely poetical. He would deem it sacrilege to build a house for Him who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and yonder in the jeweled vault of the night sky! He who enrobes Himself in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening camp-fire, He who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth His spirit upon aromatic southern airs, whose war-canoe is launched upon majestic rivers and inland seas—He needs no lesser cathedral!
That solitary communion with the Unseen which was the highest expression of our religious life is partly described in the word bambeday, literally “mysterious feeling,” which has been variously translated “fasting” and “dreaming.” It may better be interpreted as “consciousness of the divine.”
The first bambeday, or religious retreat, marked an epoch in the life of the youth, which may be compared to that of confirmation or conversion in Christian experience. Having first prepared himself by means of the purifying vapor-bath, and cast off as far as possible all human or fleshly influences, the young man sought out the noblest height, the most commanding summit in all the surrounding region. Knowing that God sets no value upon material things, he took with him no offerings or sacrifices other than symbolic objects, such as paints and tobacco. Wishing to appear before Him in all humility, he wore no clothing save his moccasins and breech-clout. At the solemn hour of sunrise or sunset he took up his position, overlooking the glories of earth and facing the “Great Mystery,” and there he remained, naked, erect, silent, and motionless, exposed to the elements and forces of His arming, for a night and a day to two days and nights, but rarely longer. Sometimes he would chant a hymn without words, or offer the ceremonial “filled pipe.” In this holy trance or ecstasy the Indian mystic found his highest happiness and the motive power of his existence.
When he returned to the camp, he must remain at a distance until he had again entered the vapor-bath and prepared himself for intercourse with his fellows. Of the vision or sign vouchsafed to him he did not speak, unless it had included some commission which must be publicly fulfilled. Sometimes an old man, standing upon the brink of eternity, might reveal to a chosen few the oracle of his long-past youth.
The native American has been generally despised by his white conquerors for his poverty and simplicity. They forget, perhaps, that his religion forbade the accumulation of wealth and the enjoyment of luxury. To him, as to other single-minded men in every age and race, from Diogenes to the brothers of Saint Francis, from the Montanists to the Shakers, the love of possessions has appeared a snare, and the burdens of a complex society a source of needless peril and temptation. Furthermore, it was the rule of his life to share the fruits of his skill and success with his less fortunate brothers. Thus he kept his spirit free from the clog of pride, cupidity, or envy, and carried out, as he believed, the divine decree—a matter profoundly important to him.
It was not, then, wholly from ignorance or improvidence that he failed to establish permanent towns and to develop a material civilization. To the untutored sage, the concentration of population was the prolific mother of all evils, moral no less than physical. He argued that food is good, while surfeit kills; that love is good, but lust destroys; and not less dreaded than the pestilence following upon crowded and unsanitary dwellings was the loss of spiritual power inseparable from too close contact with one’s fellow-men. All who have lived much out of doors know that there is a magnetic and nervous force that accumulates in solitude and that is quickly dissipated by life in a crowd; and even his enemies have recognized the fact that for a certain innate power and self-poise, wholly independent of circumstances, the American Indian is unsurpassed among men.
The red man divided mind into two parts,—the spiritual mind and the physical mind. The first is pure spirit, concerned only with the essence of things, and it was this he sought to strengthen by spiritual prayer, during which the body is subdued by fasting and hardship. In this type of prayer there was no beseeching of favor or help. All matters of personal or selfish concern, as success in hunting or warfare, relief from sickness, or the sparing of a beloved life, were definitely relegated to the plane of the lower or material mind, and all ceremonies, charms, or incantations designed to secure a benefit or to avert a danger, were recognized as emanating from the physical self.
The rites of this physical worship, again, were wholly symbolic, and the Indian no more worshiped the Sun than the Christian adores the Cross. The Sun and the Earth, by an obvious parable, holding scarcely more of poetic metaphor than of scientific truth, were in his view the parents of all organic life. From the Sun, as the universal father, proceeds the quickening principle in nature, and in the patient and fruitful womb of our mother, the Earth, are hidden embryos of plants and men. Therefore our reverence and love for them was really an imaginative extension of our love for our immediate parents, and with this sentiment of filial piety was joined a willingness to appeal to them, as to a father, for such good gifts as we may desire. This is the material or physical prayer.
The elements and majestic forces in nature, Lightning, Wind, Water, Fire, and Frost, were regarded with awe as spiritual powers, but always secondary and intermediate in character. We believed that the spirit pervades all creation and that every creature possesses a soul in some degree, though not necessarily a soul conscious of itself. The tree, the waterfall, the grizzly bear, each is an embodied Force, and as such an object of reverence.
The Indian loved to come into sympathy and spiritual communion with his brothers of the animal kingdom, whose inarticulate souls had for him something of the sinless purity that we attribute to the innocent and irresponsible child. He had faith in their instincts, as in a mysterious wisdom given from above; and while he humbly accepted the supposedly voluntary sacrifice of their bodies to preserve his own, he paid homage to their spirits in prescribed prayers and offerings.
In every religion there is an element of the supernatural, varying with the influence of pure reason over its devotees. The Indian was a logical and clear thinker upon matters within the scope of his understanding, but he had not yet charted the vast field of nature or expressed her wonders in terms of science. With his limited knowledge of cause and effect, he saw miracles on every hand,—the miracle of life in seed and egg, the miracle of death in lightning flash and in the swelling deep! Nothing of the marvelous could astonish him; as that a beast should speak, or the sun stand still. The virgin birth would appear scarcely more miraculous than is the birth of every child that comes into the world, or the miracle of the loaves and fishes excite more wonder than the harvest that springs from a single ear of corn.
Who may condemn his superstition? Surely not the devout Catholic, or even Protestant missionary, who teaches Bible miracles as literal fact! The logical man must either deny all miracles or none, and our American Indian myths and hero stories are perhaps, in themselves, quite as credible as those of the Hebrews of old. If we are of the modern type of mind, that sees in natural law a majesty and grandeur far more impressive than any solitary infraction of it could possibly be, let us not forget that, after all, science has not explained everything. We have still to face the ultimate miracle,—the origin and principle of life! Here is the supreme mystery that is the essence of worship, without which there can be no religion, and in the presence of this mystery our attitude cannot be very unlike that of the natural philosopher, who beholds with awe the Divine in all creation.
It is simple truth that the Indian did not, so long as his native philosophy held sway over his mind, either envy or desire to imitate the splendid achievements of the white man. In his own thought he rose superior to them! He scorned them, even as a lofty spirit absorbed in its stern task rejects the soft beds, the luxurious food, the pleasure-worshiping dalliance of a rich neighbor. It was clear to him that virtue and happiness are independent of these things, if not incompatible with them.
There was undoubtedly much in primitive Christianity to appeal to this man, and Jesus’ hard sayings to the rich and about the rich would have been entirely comprehensible to him. Yet the religion that is preached in our churches and practiced by our congregations, with its element of display and self-aggrandizement, its active proselytism, and its open contempt of all religions but its own, was for a long time extremely repellent. To his simple mind, the professionalism of the pulpit, the paid exhorter, the moneyed church, was an unspiritual and unedifying thing, and it was not until his spirit was broken and his moral and physical constitution undermined by trade, conquest, and strong drink, that Christian missionaries obtained any real hold upon him. Strange as it may seem, it is true that the proud pagan in his secret soul despised the good men who came to convert and to enlighten him!
Nor were its publicity and its Phariseeism the only elements in the alien religion that offended the red man. To him, it appeared shocking and almost incredible that there were among this people who claimed superiority many irreligious, who did not even pretend to profess the national faith. Not only did they not profess it, but they stooped so low as to insult their God with profane and sacrilegious speech! In our own tongue His name was not spoken aloud, even with utmost reverence, much less lightly or irreverently.
More than this, even in those white men who professed religion we found much inconsistency of conduct. They spoke much of spiritual things, while seeking only the material. They bought and sold everything: time, labor, personal independence, the love of woman, and even the ministrations of their holy faith! The lust for money, power, and conquest so characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race did not escape moral condemnation at the hands of his untutored judge, nor did he fail to contrast this conspicuous trait of the dominant race with the spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus.
He might in time come to recognize that the drunkards and licentious among white men, with whom he too frequently came in contact, were condemned by the white man’s religion as well, and must not be held to discredit it. But it was not so easy to overlook or to excuse national bad faith. When distinguished emissaries from the Father at Washington, some of them ministers of the gospel and even bishops, came to the Indian nations, and pledged to them in solemn treaty the national honor, with prayer and mention of their God; and when such treaties, so made, were promptly and shamelessly broken, is it strange that the action should arouse not only anger, but contempt? The historians of the white race admit that the Indian was never the first to repudiate his oath.
It is my personal belief, after thirty-five years’ experience of it, that there is no such thing as “Christian civilization.” I believe that Christianity and modern civilization are opposed and irreconcilable, and that the spirit of Christianity and of our ancient religion is essentially the same.
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