Ivan Star: Being Lakota is something that comes from the heart

The following is the opinion of Ivan F. Star Comes Out. All content © Native Sun News.

Ivan Star Comes Out

Being Lakota comes from the heart
By Ivan F. Star Comes Out

In the space of 500 years Native America endured massacres, exile, broken treaties, reservations, boarding schools, smallpox infested blankets, poisoned rations, religious persecution, eradication of language and culture, alcohol, prison, hazardous waste, sterilization, medical experimentation… and it seems all the new society can say is, “Get over it!”

I realized and was stunned by the fact that my ancestors, erroneously called the Sioux, spent the entirety of their lives tenaciously tolerating this destruction and valiantly kept their identity intact. I for one spent a good portion of my life re-learning my culture, history, spirituality. As I look around today, I see their centuries-old struggle continuing amongst a small and dwindling group.

In adhering to the European creation story, these people tried mightily to mold me into their likeness. Ironically though, they refused to accept me as one of them. In fact I am continually reminded of my “soulless, sub-human” status, at least in the eyes of the majority. This is my personal statement and it is solidly founded on a lifetime of experiences with this new society.

Anyway, I chose this article to respond to a complicated question asked of me many years ago. I did not run away nor did I forget. I simply needed time. There is too much rigid spontaneity these days and also a childlike inability to listen. Sometimes one has to back away from a situation for the simple purpose of providing breathing room.

Anyway, the question was about what makes a person “Indian” or “Sioux.” On one hand, that is a rather easy one to answer. All one needs is a federally sanctioned Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB). Of course a person’s ancestry must be traceable to a certain time period in our history to be accepted as an enrolled member of the federal government’s own Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Those obscure federal agents even defined its “Indian” criteria down to the tiniest of fractions of “Indian” blood a person is supposed to have. This precise formula is certainly a logical left-brain function. People with a dominant left-brain are supposedly more intelligent than right-brained people. However, it appears those government formulators of this system of blood quantum missed the boat.

But in referring to what makes a person Lakota, we have an entirely different story. To be one requires more than a federal government sanctioned piece of paper. I begin with a bit of our history. I grew up hearing my parents and older relatives talk about a prophecy wherein Lakota people were blue or green eyed, “yellow”-haired and -skinned, but spoke Lakota and lived accordingly.

Today, I see that the physical part of this prediction has come to light. However, the most imperative elements, the language and culture, are severely lacking or totally absent. At the same time, I see people who are obviously native, dark skin with black or brown eyes and hair, yet they do not speak Lakota and are unaware of their culture.

Seemingly true to the prophecy, I have seen a few light-skinned ones who speak Lakota and possess a discernible knowledge or understanding of Lakota culture. Most of these men and women had been raised by an older Lakota relative. This is a stark contrast to the fact that many today are trying to learn the language and culture from a book, computer, or some other media.

All of today’s remaining language speakers learned, along with the culture, in a home environment where Lakota language and culture were more prominent. In other words, they did not become adept with the language from a book or a computer or any other European based method.

Active use of the language and involvement of culture are indispensable to what makes a person Lakota. If a person was raised in an environment that was immersed in language and culture, that person will live those particular indigenous principles instilled in his or her mind, heart, and soul. So I must conclude that being a Lakota person comes from the heart.

This involves more than hearing about Lakota oral traditions, it requires absolute acceptance. Oral tradition begins with how the world was created which establishes the very foundation of Lakota thought and philosophy. These ancient teachings, our language and culture, spirituality and rites, arose directly from Lakota thought and philosophy. They are not “cute little Indian stories” nor are they primitive views.

These traditions include the familiar “Iktomi” anecdotes which contain lessons of ethical value. Others establish the origin of many elements of Lakota life, including the seven rites which some Lakota still live by. The European creation story (the Bible) has its own set of values, similar yet different in that it is a foreign doctrine. So what we have today can be compared to the proverbial circle and square.

However, I believe this particular duality is a deterrent for the modern initiate’s difficulty with learning to speak Lakota. The Lakota way of life was shattered and strewn about when the European arrived here. Prior to that time, all of these elements were one, including the language. In other words, all the vital components are no longer present in their entirety within the modern mindset.

We have been trying to relearn and teach only one part of the whole and it is not working. I believe all the elements must be relearned together, oral traditions, language, spirituality, history, etc. As food for thought, I know of one spiritual interpreter (erroneously called “medicine men”) discuss the idea of disallowing the English language in the inipi (they purify; erroneously called sweat lodge).

I am not sure what would happen if this was ever enforced. Personally, I think it would aid the ongoing language retrieval movement. But of course someone of the contemporary generation will bring discrimination into it.

We must never forget the fact that a few very steadfast Lakota people made every effort possible to maintain highly ethical standards in their daily lives and lived in veneration of nature. In other words, this is a way of life for Lakota people. When Europeans tried it, they ended up brutally converting others to their doctrine because theirs is the only true one and all others are false.

Anyone wanting to learn to speak Lakota should make an effort to go to those who still speak it. They may not sit you down and teach you but they may expect you to learn from them through experience. This process involves a sincere interest on the learner’s part and without it, learning will not occur.

Of utmost importance, I believe that complete acceptance of our oral traditions goes hand-in-hand with learning language and everything else. One must be able to accept them without qualms. They establish purpose and reason for wanting to speak Lakota.

(Ivan F. Star Comes Out, POB 147, Oglala, SD 57764; 605-867-2448; mato_nasula2@outlook com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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