Wambli Sina Win: Iktomi legend teaches us about human nature

We Lakota still speak of our ancestral legends and our Origin stories. Our supernaturals’ names still ring off our grandfather and grandmother’s tongue, whether in memory or in a special place within our souls. I can still recall my grandfather speaking of our legends next to our campfire. His words still linger in my thoughts. Little did I realize at the time that he was passing down some of our Lakota history and knowledge. Each story was a lesson about life and taught us about our relationships with the Tunkasilas, our Grandfathers found within the Great Mystery.

We Lakota fondly recall the Iktomi character, with all his misguided adventures, many laughable exploits that actually exemplify some of the attributes, good and bad, which are found within all of us. According to Lakota legend, Iktomi had a brother named Eya, whose hunger had no end.

The teachings about Eya concern the greed of human nature and how greed can easily become our undoing. Fortunately, we had our trickster Iktomi, to save the day from his brother Eya’s greed. We also had a legend about Ite Nunpa, the two-faced woman, who on one side of her face was beautiful and the other side was a hideous sight, perhaps like “Medusa.”

Ite Nunpa represents the two-faced duplicitous nature which we Lakota sometimes act and speak from. The more I think of these ancient legends, the more I see that through these myths are caricatures of human nature which may be found within our people.

Unfortunately, not all of our supernaturals possessed good or exemplified any of the seven virtues of our Native People. Just as some people in the past and today that have, minimal blood quantum, speak from the acculturation of so-called “Happy” or “Hang around the Fort” Indians. This mindset has helped to undo thousands of years of our traditional and spiritual way of life and also has helped to undo families and allow our language to be forgotten. The fact is, whether we are happy or not, when a tribe loses it identity and direction, it is no longer a tribe.

Let the “Happy” Indians stay to the side and let the “Real” Indians stand up and rise. One cannot be happy with the diminishing shadow of pride, culture and sovereignty that is becoming the roots of our cultural extermination. How can anyone look back at our history and current state and not become enraged?

It takes the taste of dissatisfaction to strive for change and to stand for better. If we don’t do it, who else will? We should not be willing to sit back and watch our sacred ceremonies co-opted or being exploited. Oppression, ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide is still a part of the present, whether we admit this or not.

And this lack of respect and injustice will continue into the future unless we stand and actively participate to resolve these issues. We must pray and take action. Happiness for an Indian will be when we are respected as a people, no longer oppressed by judicial and social injustice and with our cultural and sovereignty intact, for future generations. Then, we may celebrate together.

We have new story tellers who must speak of their own exploits, as legends. Uncle Tomahawk is no longer an urban legend. He is becoming a real part in our history. Looking back, I am unable to find one of our super naturals who in our legends, embraced Custer or Custer’s way of life. Today there is much concern about titles and the esteemed found within in main-stream society.

Our heroes, who are sometimes unnoted, exist today. Those of our Red Nation, who struggle each day with the realities of poverty, yet strive for success, are the backbone of our ancestors. They are the strength found within our people and are the legends of tomorrow. It takes the fundamentals of our culture and the strength of our ancestors just to make it as an Indian today.

It takes great effort to expose and enrich our children with all the wisdom of our culture and spirituality. School systems generally do not teach or expose our Native American children to their culture. I recall how the Oklahoma schools required our Native children to participate in their annual April “land run” renditions. My children (now grown) refused to participate in this re-enactment of the destruction of a way of tribal life and they were punished. I am told that this has finally changed.

The stories of our beloved Iktomi with its valuable lessons of insight into human nature, will not be found in the contemporary textbooks of our Lakota youth. Public school systems do not see the value of teaching our traditional values and ways of life. Up north in Rapid City, South Dakota, a fellow Lakota, Bryant High Horse, works hard to reach and teach our youth our traditional values and ways of life. Phil Two Eagle, who by example, has taught his sons to speak Lakota and a more traditional way of life on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation is another good example of a teacher.

Here in Oklahoma, I feel fortunate to be able to work with college students from many different tribes and to see them participate in cultural activities. It makes me proud to hear our Mississippi Choctaw students, interacting as many of them still speak their native language. I applaud Floyd Jones, a Creek Nation colleague of mine, who speaks his own Creek language and encourages students to be proud of their Native American heritage.

We must teach our culture, values, traditions and our version of our history, for our youth will not find these teachings in schools as they are today. In the past, each Lakota tiyospaye (band) had its own elders and wisdom keepers who were in essence, the “hearth” who kept the fires of knowledge, values, history alive for the youth.

Our ancestral legends are our own and Iktomi his greedy brother, Eya and Ite Nunpa, the two faced creature, are every bit as relevant today as they were many years ago when our grandparents shared these stories with us. Our youth deserve an opportunity to hear these stories too.

Wambli Sina Win (Eagle Shawl Woman) is currently an Associate Professor and Director of the Bacone College Criminal Justice Studies Department in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her grandfather was John Fire, Chief Lame Deer Tahca Uste, a well known Lakota Holy Man from the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. One of her sons is also a medicine man. She has served as a Tribal Judge for the Oglala Sioux Tribal Court, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, a Tribal Attorney and as a legal Instructor for the U.S. Indian Police Academy at Artesia, N.M. You may contact Wambli Sina Win, J.D. at wamblisinawin@yahoo.com She can be reached at wamblisinawin@yahoo.com.

Related Stories:
Wambli Sina Win: Uniting Indian Country with indigneous pride (3/28)
Wambli Sina Win: Don't take your elders, holy men for granted (3/21)
Wambli Sina Win: Lakota outraged by theft of sacred ceremonies (3/14)

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