|The following opinion was written by Ivan F. Starr. All content © Native Sun News.
The ‘progress’ that destroyed the Indians is now destroying the world|
By Ivan F. Starr
Most people in this country hold the view that our Lakota ancestors were primitive and this includes some of the enrolled members of the new Oglala Sioux Tribe.
In other words, that “Indian” of olden times did not have the mental capacity to reason or rationalize. For this, my ancestors were feared and eventually slaughtered by the newcomer under the notion that they were less than human.
Actually, both of these people from the opposite hemispheres of the globe regarded each other in the same manner. They each observed a strange looking person who spoke a strange garbled language. In fact, we have a standing argument where Natives argue that the European language is backwards while the newcomer argues that the Lakota language is backwards.
One thing that can be considered in reverse is in sentence structure. Putting it in simple terms, if the English language is object, verb, subject, and then the Native language is subject, verb, and object. The problem is that this observation has turned into an unwavering argument that continues indefinitely which makes this a senseless squabble.
I am Lakota and learned my language during the first years of my life and was able to read and write English within one year of attending a parochial residential school. I am fortunate today to be able to speak, read, and write both languages fluently or enough to communicate effectively with both languages.
However, because my Lakota language is not as widely received and understood as the English language, I offer a couple of explanations that I hope will present a clearer view of Lakota thought and philosophy. I cannot do anything about the general biased view or perceptions but I can provide a tangible perception through my first language.
The first involves a cultural protocol or perception of the child in Lakota society. The second is about a life-long situation affecting everybody, both native and non-native, in the field of education from a Lakota point of view that originates from actual historical experience. In other words, for our Lakota ancestors, education was not what it means to the majority of people today.
But first, let’s take a quick peek at the Lakota word for child or children, Wakanyeja. I deciphered the word by breaking it into syllables. The base word is Kan. Wa – makes a noun more general (sometimes pluralizes). Kan – a vein, artery, sinew, tendon, cord, or string. Kanyeja or Kanheja – a child. Cekpikan – the umbilical cord. Kanyewapa – inwards; towards the center.
This interpretation falls in with the ancient protocol wherein the tiwahe (family) was the foundation of the tiospaye (extended family group). This refers directly to the nuclear family, meaning a self-reliant family with a male, female, and their children. Such a union contributed to the strength of the tiospaye and a number of such tiospaye contributed to the strength of the Oyate (nation).
When a man and woman decide to have a child (ren), that child became the mainstay of that family. In other words, children were the glue that held a family together. The parents had specific roles that served to protect and nurture the child who is, in essence, the center or core of the family unit, the lifeline of the tiospaye and the nation.
A taboo is a ban or inhibition devised and observed by a group for its own protection. Ancient taboos also played an important role in ancient Lakota society. The fact that many could not readily grasp intense philosophical concepts called for such a ban or taboo to steer them toward a desired action. Therefore, considering a child sacred is accurate in a worldly sense, not so much in a religious or mystical sense.
Now, let’s take a quick look at the concept of education in this country. Education can occur anywhere, whether it is on the open plains, a kitchen, on the job, catching a horse or burping a baby. It is a life-long process that begins at birth and is an integral part of our lives. Education involves both formal learning in schools and the whole universe of informal learning.
Schooling, on the other hand, is a specific formalized process that is limited to the young. Unfortunately, schooling is where the ancient cultures of Native America became obscure. This process was deliberate and meant to eliminate the “Indian” from the consciousness of the new society. Our ancestors were well aware of what was happening but had been rendered powerless.
Next, let’s peek at Native music. Songs were composed for nearly every part of their lives, such as lullabies, songs to commemorate deeds, songs of love to reinforce stringent courting standards, etc. Songs recorded history too, good and bad. One old song speaks of the young men who were responsible for retrieving their song and dance from federal prohibition by fighting in WWI.
Someone composed a song commemorating the genocidal process of the 1800s. Even the tune or melody elicits feeling of sadness and captures their desolation. I estimate this song to be approximately 100 to 150 years old. I present the words here for the sake of awareness. The language is old and quite different from the language we speak today. Its translation process took a very long time.
“Wayawapi ki bli (hi) ciyapo, wounspe ki ecela tka, nake (nu) la yaunpelo. Anpetu iyohila Wasicu ki tehiya unkaupelo. Wayawapi ki nagiksapapo, Oyate ki wacin niyanpelo."
Translation: "Readers (students), motivate yourself and work hard, Education is all that is left, yet you live carefree. Every day the Whiteman brings us hardship. Readers (students), be alert, the people (nation) are depending on you."
Our ancestors were looking at this deliberate eradication process squarely in the face, as one would say. They endured wars waged against them simply because they were in the way of the newcomer’s so-called progress. Let’s be mindful that this “progress” is now destroying the globe.
Anyway, they were forcibly herded from their ancestral lands to other unfamiliar territories where many died from exhaustion and hunger and left there on the path. They survived the senseless massacres of unarmed men, women and children, their relatives. They signed over 500 treaties with the new sovereign and honored each one while the newcomers defiled every single one of them.
While all this was happening, the newcomer looked upon them as primitively regressive and treated them accordingly. As we enter the 21st century, a majority of their descendants still hold the same views their so-called pioneer ancestors had. Some Native people today also hold views that speak of animosity toward the Wasicu.
All-in-all, we have come a long way in terms of time. For many though, time did not change much of anything.
(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, P.O. Box 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448; firstname.lastname@example.org)