James Giago Davies: Don't judge anyone's depth of Lakotaness

The following opinion by James Giago Davies appears in the latest issue of the Native Sun News. All content © Native Sun News.

A close-up of a monument in progress to Lakota leader Crazy Horse. Photo from Crazy Horse Memorial / Facebook

Blood is not thicker than reality
Even for a direct descendant of Crazy Horse
By James Giago Davies

One thing there has never been is a shortage of heap big spiritual chiefs, deciding for the rest of us what is holy and proper; deciding what is sacred for other men, like some big corporate boss dictating to his secretary; enjoying undeserved respect and prestige because his grandfather and uncle started the company.

Last time I checked, individual merit determined a man’s standing among the Lakota, not pedigree, because pedigree is for show dogs, race horses and inbred European royalty. Not for men, not for ikce wicasa.

Maybe by sacred magic those related to those who were holy men are made equally holy, and those not related are men of lesser spiritual wherewithal, but such magic doesn’t seem very sacred or likely, does it? It seems self serving, misguided and smacks of the taint of Wasicu spirituality, not traditional Lakota practice. It is knock-off spirituality, designed to promote us over someone else, and uses Wakantanka as a cudgel against people we don’t like, and curiously enough, always makes us look strong and wise, and those we oppose, weak and foolish.

We should never decide for other people the depth of their Lakota-ness. Besides, even an atheist Lakota is not less Lakota than a traditional Lakota. How could he be? He doesn’t have the right to think for himself, you have decided you know better? Such intolerance and inflexibility are not part of Lakota history, but honoring the individual above all else, is.

A woman once wrote me a letter telling me her grandson could not be guilty of the misbehavior I had witnessed, because he was “a direct descendant of Crazy Horse.”

Her grandson apparently had virtue at birth that could not be undone by his ugly actions as a man. Blood was thicker than reality.

When our minds become locked into this ignorant pattern of thinking, it dumbs down the entire culture, creating a generation of Lakota largely tone deaf to actual character and intelligence.

Opportunists abound in such a toxic mix, able to exploit and manipulate every aspect of society—families, communities, schools, tribal councils. They dupe everyday people with truly stupid assertions, because everyday people tend to have ears only for what they want to hear, and it takes just one assertion from the opportunist to trump a dozen honest-hearted voices of reason.

Indoctrinating an impressionable new generation into distorted self-serving behaviors doesn’t require hard work. You don’t have to sundance or fast three days high on a cliff face. All it requires is your big mouth and maybe a six pack of Budweiser.

When all of this is boiled down to the elemental, what remains is a simple, uncompromising truth—wisdom, authority and merit are products of individual character. They don’t just happen, and they are maintained through a diligent sense of kindness and fair play. They only thrive when the individual is honored and respected based upon who he is as a man, not because his grandfather, uncle and father were respected holy men or elders.

But acknowledging that merit should be earned and not given by birthright is only half the battle. You then have to recognize merit by actually recognizing merit, and most of us don’t look for merit, wouldn’t know it if we saw it, and probably wouldn’t care for it if we did.

“That person said something I don’t like, that person has something I want”—we all feel such things, but we don’t think about how we are feeling, we just act on it, and there is seldom a wise person to counsel us otherwise, and even if by some miracle there is, there’s a good chance all he gets for grabbing our attention is a beat down.

I have lived on several Lakota reservations, and each of them failed to honor individual merit, always it was might makes right, and those who tried to escape that reality were crabs being pulled back down into a bucket.

Lakota culture is threatened by a complicated outside world of billions of people, with their own histories and stories and priorities, most are not aware any of us even exist. Nothing allows us to face that world, compete in that world, and defend our world, like the strength of each individual person. No one can stop you from hurting others like you can—the best way we respect the individuality of others is by taking responsibility for our own behavior.

And try to do that while telling some jokes. I have come to realize that humor is so important to Lakota because it brings us together with smiles; it is amazing how often people who commit horrendous acts of violence against others aren’t laughing and joking while doing it. One of you please come up with a human kindness joke where “Hoka Hey” is the punch line.

(James Giago Davies can be reached at skindiesel@msn.com)

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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